Infamous “troll” Piers Morgan must be currently experiencing whip-lash. His trademark aggression is being praised for holding the government to account. This newfound anti-establishment stance puts him on the same side as the “snowflakes” he used to attack, and he’s finding more support than ever before.
I can’t help but feel Piers might benefit from this wash of support. Doing something for the good of could have a positive effect on the chronically-corrosive journo. Ultimately he’s human like the rest of us, with feelings and a soul. Don’t we all just want to be included, even hateful trolls?
It’s well known these people become worse the more pain and exclusion you throw at them. “Don’t feed the trolls” became a mantra for a reason. Engaging with their aggressive standards doesn’t just violate your moral integrity, their aggression is corrosive. Being cruel and reactionary creates cruel reactions, and who ends an argument by being insulted and walking away? We stay in that horrible mess because we ultimately all want to be included.
We want the other person to admit they hurt us, to apologise, to reconcile with us. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know them, or that they also believe they’re the wounded party. What matters is our ape-brain won’t rest until this dissident either reconciles with us, or we annihilate them. It’s dangerous to accept anything less.
Walking away from a threat is a major psychological battle. And online it’s harder to walk away; you’ve no risk of physical harm and no end to your conversation. You’re not standing arguing on a street corner, you’re lazily typing from your couch.
Often the other person insists that they are the wounded party, but we don’t see it. Whether it’s because we’re blinkered by our own perception, or because they are living with delusional expectations, it’s a road block to meaningful conversations. We don’t want to validate a harm that we can’t see ourselves. It’s not human nature to be false, especially to a stranger. We want to help people and to be sincere, not lie to them, even if it’s what they want to hear.
Our harms are individual to us. Whether they come from a specific identity, like being disabled, or LGBT, or from our lived experiences, it’s not always easy to convey to someone else, especially in an online space. Realities are complicated and nuanced across cultures, classes and identity. The internet, with it’s universal and near-anonymous platforms, is an easy place to confuse people, whether purposely or by accident.
But even if people actively lie, does that mean their claimed “pain” isn’t valid? If someone is consciously lying to another person, there’s usually a reason. And online, it’s your eyeballs that they want. Social-media platforms are a perfect for exploiting audience emotions. That’s how you get r/thatHappened and #ThenEveryoneClapped stories.
People who lie for attention are routinely maligned. No one likes to be manipulated for something as cheap as internet points. These liars are seen as pathetic people without real lives who need the attention of others to feel valid. But if they are that pathetic, what should our response be? Like people who are only mentally ill “for the attention”; people who lie “for attention” probably need it.
A human on their own is vulnerable, we don’t survive well on their own. We have an instinctive need to find safety in being seen by others. In a healthy environment, we’d go to our parents, our friends, our support network and find relief there, but not everyone has that. Families can be cold, unsupportive, or non-existent. Friends can be toxic, support networks can be shallow. Viewed from this lens, the internet is a last desperate resort of someone dying to be seen.
The trolls and the liars who live off your attention are the weak ones, but this is reason for mercy, not hatred. They are people with something missing in their lives, and they’re trying to fill it with empty attention that won’t ever work. Neither hatred or clout will fix what’s making them feel empty inside. Like anyone addicted to social media, there’s a deeper social need that people need to feel whole.
Can we realistically fill that hole over the internet? Truthfully, it’s unlikely. There’s a reason why therapy and local support exists. You need real humans to see you. It’s hard to feel accepted and validated from an empty online gesture. “Ask for help if you need” doesn’t land for people who don’t even realise they’re in pain.
If someone believes their problem is caused by everyone else and they just need to be listened to, it’s all they’re going to seek. Listening online isn’t going to fix them or harm them, and will likely just waste your time. You’re worth more, and can do something better with your attention.
But next time you’re seeing a grown adult act with the maturity of a toddler, remember the human. Something’s gone pretty wrong in their life, and adding fuel to their fire won’t help them or you.
Thanks for reading.
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