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Trolling - Why Bother?

OT Trolling 2006

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#1 Rhea

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Posted 16 January 2006 - 01:32 PM

I'm interested in a discussion on the nature of trolls and trolling. I would ask that nobody use specific names or examples, please.

There's an interesting article in Wikipedia about trolls and trolling:

http://en.wikipedia..../Internet_troll

I found this bit particularly interesting:

Quote

Motivation
Self-proclaimed "trolls" may style themselves as devil's advocates, gadflies or "culture jammers", challenging the dominant discourse and assumptions of forum discussions in an attempt to break the status quo of groupthink the belief system that prevails in their absence.

Critics have claimed that genuine "devil's advocates" generally identify themselves as such, out of respect for etiquette and courtesy, while trolls may dismiss etiquette and courtesy altogether. Most discussion of what motivates Internet trolls comes from other Internet users who claim to have observed trolling behavior. There is little scholarly literature to describe either the term or the phenomenon. The comments of accused trolls might be unreliable, since they may, in fact, be intending to stir controversy, rather than to advance understanding of the phenomenon. Likewise, accusers are often motivated by a desire to defend a particular Internet project, and references to an Internet user as a troll might not be based on the actual goals of the person so named. As a result, identifying the goals of Internet trolls is most often speculative. Still, several basic goals have been attributed to Internet trolls, according to the type of disruption they are believed to be provoking.

Proposed motivations for trolling:
  • Trolling can be described as a breaching experiment, which, because of the use of an alternate persona, allows for normal social boundaries and rules of etiquette to be tested or otherwise broken, without serious consequences. This may be part of an attempt to test the limits of some discourse, or to identify reactive personalities. By removing identities and histories from the situation, leaving only the discourse, some scientists believe that it is possible to run social engineering experiments using troll methods. However, few believe that troll organizations are engaged in science, and a few scattered individuals, with no particular method or thesis, cannot be described as scientists. They might however be engaged in research.
  • Anonymous attention-seeking: The troll seeks to dominate the thread by inciting anger, and effectively hijacking the topic at hand.
  • Amusement: To some people, the thought of a person getting angry over statements from total strangers is entertaining.
  • Anger: Some people use trolling to express their hostility to a group or point of view.
  • Cry for help: Many so-called trolls, in their postings, indicate disturbing situations regarding family, relationships, substances, and school although it is generally impossible to know whether this is just simply part of the troll. Some believe that trolling is an aggressive, confrontational way by which trolls seek a sort of tough love guidance in an anonymous forum.
  • Self-proclaimed trolls, and their defenders, suggest that trolling is a clever way of improving discussion, or an alternative method of viewing power-relations.
  • Setting oneself a challenge, simply to see if one can do it, and be successful: One member of an online forum, for example, joins under an unrecognizable identifying name to see if the other members of the forum can be fooled and, if so, for how long.
  • Wasting others' time: One of the greatest themes in trolling is the idea that a troll can spend one minute of time posting a troll, causing multiple other people to waste several minutes of their time, catalytically affecting others. Most trolls enjoy the idea that they can waste others' time at comparatively little effort on their behalf.
  • Domino effect: Related to amusement, but in a more specific fashion, it starts large chain reactions in response to one's initial post. Achieving a disproportionately large response to a small action is the general theme. This is similar to how a young child that goes "missing" (but is actually hiding) may act with glee, seeing a large number of people conducting a massive search in response to the supposed disappearance.
  • Suppression of information: A particularly nihilistic troll often aims to curb the sharing of helpful information between forum participants. For example, the skilled troll can turn an informative discussion about tips and techniques on coping with disease X... into a completely useless flame fest. This can keep essential information out of the hands of those who need it most, thus proliferating human suffering.
  • Effect change in user opinions: A troll may state extreme positions to make his or her actual beliefs seem moderate (this often involves sock puppeteering or duals, where the bad cop is a sock-puppet troll) or, alternatively, play the role of the devil's advocate to strengthen the opposing convictions (with which he or she actually agrees).
  • Test the integrity of a system against social attacks or other forms of misbehavior: For example, blatantly violating terms-of-use in order to see whether any action is taken by the site administrators.
  • Overcome feelings of inferiority or powerlessness by getting the experience of controlling an environment.
  • Self-promotion.
  • Fight "groupthink": Many trolls defend their actions as shocking people out of entrenched conformism.
  • Satire: In these cases, the individuals do not think of themselves as trolls, but misunderstood humorists or political commentators.
  • Satisfaction gained from personal attacks.
  • Harassment: following a person who has been targetted for harassment in one forum, but who has chosen to escape being victimized by moving on and trolling the forum as a means of making that new "home" an uncomfortable place for that person to be online.
  • Anonymously testing an alternate persona.
  • Emptying a forum: this is usually only feasible if the forum is small.
It is difficult to gauge the motivations of trolls, since most of the justifications offered by alleged trolls for their behavior are nothing more than ruses concocted to continue whatever mischief they imagine themselves to have started. This is unfortunate because, as the above list supposes, there are legitimate reasons for engaging in the sort of actions for which trolling is known. Still, etiquette is simple and straightforward enough that most people can advance the aims professed by self-exculpatory trolls, without actually resorting to these methods. Since there is a wide spectrum of possible motivations for trolls, some of these functions being benevolent and others, clearly malevolent, to typecast users as trolls in the negative sense is often rash.



Some users of Internet forums are considered to be "trollhunters", or "trollbaiters". They willingly enter into conflicts when trolls emerge
. Often, trollhunters are as disruptive as trolls. A single troll-post may be ignored, but if ten trollhunters "pounce", following a troll, they will drive the thread off-topic.

What do you think?

I'm specifially interested in why it's considered ok to harass people anonymously on the Internet when we consider it a prosecutable offense when done over the phone or face to face? What's the difference?

Edited to add: The bolding is mine

Edited by Rhea, 16 January 2006 - 02:20 PM.

The future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.
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When I don’t understand, I have an unbearable itch to know why. - RAH


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#2 Spectacles

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Posted 16 January 2006 - 03:19 PM

Quote

Overcome feelings of inferiority or powerlessness by getting the experience of controlling an environment.

I can't help but think this is at the heart of much trolling. It's not something that secure people with a healthy sense of boundaries do.

But it's also interesting to consider that most of us can slip into troll-like behaviors if we're not careful and if we're angry enough.
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#3 waterpanther

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Posted 16 January 2006 - 03:42 PM

What I'd like to see explained, if anyone has a handle on it, is the troll groupies/fangirls/whatever you want to call them.  At a now defunct board--and at several which are still alive and well--there was once a particularly obnoxious creature with a certain, very specific, sexual fixation on a specific famous person.  He was "adopted" by a number of the female posters who seemed to respond to him with an odd combination of teenage crush on the BMOC and Jocasta-ish incestuous smother-mother behavior.   They treated him as just the cutest little thing they'd ever seen, while wailing loudly that everyone else was just so dishonest and mean for not ever giving him a chance, he just wasnted to make friends and fit in, etc., etc..

The odd thing is, I've also seen the pattern play out in real life.  The head of the department in which I taught for a number of years was, to put it bluntly, a sociopath.  Malicious, manipulative, deeply jealous of members who had "better" degrees than his, sent the dept. secretary around to check who was talking to whom during office hours, "reviewed" the grading practices of anyone he was currently out for, that kind of thing.  And with one exception, his biggest supporters were middle-aged, not terribly attractive women who were having trouble of one sort or another in their marriages.  (The exception was a not-terribly attractive middle-aged male with a penchant for casting himself as a revolutionary and ultimately martyr.)

So what motivates this behavior?   Maybe it's the writer in me, but this kind of self-destructive behavior is in some ways more interesting to me than the troll's more obvious purposes.  Any takers?
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#4 Rhea

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Posted 16 January 2006 - 03:56 PM

View Postwaterpanther, on Jan 16 2006, 12:42 PM, said:

The odd thing is, I've also seen the pattern play out in real life. The head of the department in which I taught for a number of years was, to put it bluntly, a sociopath. Malicious, manipulative, deeply jealous of members who had "better" degrees than his, sent the dept. secretary around to check who was talking to whom during office hours, "reviewed" the grading practices of anyone he was currently out for, that kind of thing. And with one exception, his biggest supporters were middle-aged, not terribly attractive women who were having trouble of one sort or another in their marriages. (The exception was a not-terribly attractive middle-aged male with a penchant for casting himself as a revolutionary and ultimately martyr.)

So what motivates this behavior? Maybe it's the writer in me, but this kind of self-destructive behavior is in some ways more interesting to me than the troll's more obvious purposes. Any takers?


Probably the same thing that motivates women to be prison groupies. And now you've got me interested in that specific subject. I'll see what I can find.

Edited to add: There's a book by Clifford Lind called "Prison Groupies."  He says: "She has convinced herself that she is in love with this guy, that he was a naughty boy who needed to have his boo-boos kissed away. And she's going to be -- she's going to be the Florence Nightingale."

It can be very dangerous, because that's a form of projection - seeing what you want to see whether it's there or not. Lind says that a lot of women who marry prisoners are later murdered by them when they're released. (I want to read this book - it sounds fascinating, in a skewed sort of way).

I suspect the same sort of thing was going on with your office troll.

We're off topic, but this is interesting. ;)

Edited by Rhea, 16 January 2006 - 04:05 PM.

The future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.
- Robert A. Heinlein

When I don’t understand, I have an unbearable itch to know why. - RAH


Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.  - RAH

#5 waterpanther

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Posted 16 January 2006 - 04:08 PM

Quote

The thing that interest me the most is that some of the most virulent trolls I've ever met are extremely quiet, shy people in real life.

That probably goes back to Specs' observation about a person who feels powerless attempting to control his/her environment--as well as "payback" to a group s/he perceives as having disparaged him/her.  (I don't know how much longer I'm gonna be able to hold up the PC here without just giving way to the masculine pronoun.)  Stephen King's villains tend to fit into this kind of mindset, and so do the killers in  some of Tony Hillerman's and Mary Willis Walker's whodunnits, to name a couple writers just off the top of my head.
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#6 Nonny

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Posted 16 January 2006 - 04:14 PM

View PostRhea, on Jan 16 2006, 12:56 PM, said:

Lind says that a lot of women who marry prisoners are later murdered by them when they're released. (I want to read this book - it sounds fascinating, in a skewed sort of way).
How very, um, Darwinian. :eek4:  And fascinating.  

Nonny
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#7 Rhea

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Posted 16 January 2006 - 06:12 PM

View PostNonny, on Jan 16 2006, 01:14 PM, said:

View PostRhea, on Jan 16 2006, 12:56 PM, said:

Lind says that a lot of women who marry prisoners are later murdered by them when they're released. (I want to read this book - it sounds fascinating, in a skewed sort of way).
How very, um, Darwinian. :eek4: And fascinating.

Nonny


Isn't it? I wouldn't even stay married to a man who hit me. I can't imagine marrying a murderer or a rapist. It's just too weird (but fascinating's the perfect word).
The future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.
- Robert A. Heinlein

When I don’t understand, I have an unbearable itch to know why. - RAH


Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.  - RAH

#8 Cheile

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 03:06 AM

i'm surprised lack of a life wasn't mentioned--that these people really do have nothing better to do than harass others and can't be bothered to stretch their narrow little brains and use their online time productively.

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#9 Nonny

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 09:39 AM

View PostRhea, on Jan 16 2006, 03:12 PM, said:

View PostNonny, on Jan 16 2006, 01:14 PM, said:

View PostRhea, on Jan 16 2006, 12:56 PM, said:

Lind says that a lot of women who marry prisoners are later murdered by them when they're released. (I want to read this book - it sounds fascinating, in a skewed sort of way).
How very, um, Darwinian. :eek4: And fascinating.

Nonny

Isn't it? I wouldn't even stay married to a man who hit me. I can't imagine marrying a murderer or a rapist. It's just too weird (but fascinating's the perfect word).
Boy howdy, preachin' to the choir!  I once dumped a boyfriend as his fist left my face, and the other women at work were all sympathetic while I was sporting purple, green and yellow.  But when I wouldn't return his calls and evaded his stalking, he turned to them and by the time I looked like myself again, they started muttering behind my back, uppity woman, won't go back to yo man!    :blink:  :suspect:  :o  

Nonny
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The once and future Nonny

"Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank, give a man a bank and he can rob the world." Can anyone tell me who I am quoting?  I found this with no attribution.

Fatal miscarriages are forever.

Stupid is stupid, this I believe. And ignorance is the worst kind of stupid, since ignorance is a choice.  Suzanne Brockmann

All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone's feelings. Diderot

#10 Zwolf

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 10:56 AM

I think trolling is kinda a "trench coat mafia" thing.  The more you look at these people (and I've seen thousands of 'em), the more you see some inadequate damage cases.   They're people who, for whatever reason, feel inadequate and think they have to prove something, either to themselves or to others.  I've known a few who were either physically or mentally crippled and didn't deal with that well and wanted to take it out on the world, but it's pretty safe to say that they're all at least emotionally crippled and got abused by somebody - parents, siblings, or the other kids in high school.  Most people get bullied somewhere along the line, but most people are also strong enough to deal with it.  Some aren't, and they want revenge against everybody.  They're not strong or brave enough to get it in the physical realm, so they use the "equalizing" power - as well as the anonymity - of the internet to try to make somebody pay for their pain, as well as to bully somebody else and see how the other half lives.   The 'net is the only medium that acts as an equalizer for them.  They try to come up with all kinds of rationale - "freedom fighting," whatever blah-blah b.s they want to tag onto it - but at the end of the day they're just people who can't stand seeing other people get along, because that makes them feel even more left out.

Pretty pathetic, really, but I guess it keeps 'em from suicide.  Unfortunately, in some cases.

Cheers,

Zwolf
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I'm never talking to you again
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Trying to talk to you

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#11 Cheile

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 02:25 PM

^ not everyone who has suffered abuse and "isn't strong enough" goes about trolling to feel better about themselves.  some of us use our time more productively.

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#12 Zwolf

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 02:33 PM

Quote

^ not everyone who has suffered abuse and "isn't strong enough" goes about trolling to feel better about themselves. some of us use our time more productively.

That's exactly what I mean.  The people who were abused and don't go trolling are strong enough to deal with it productively.  The same way every kid who gets picked on in high school doesn't become some "trench-coat mafia" goon who shoots all his classmates.   Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were the weaklings for not being able to deal with things in a more constructive way.

Cheers,

Zwolf
"I've moved on and I'm feeling fine
And I'll feel even better
When your life has nothing to do with mine."
-Pittbull, "No Love Lost"

"There are things that I'd like to say
But I'm never talking to you again
There's things I'd like to phrase some way
But I'm never talking to you again

I'm never talking to you again
I'm never talking to you
I'm tired of wasting all my time
Trying to talk to you

I'd put you down where you belong
But I'm never talking to you again
I'd show you everywhere you're wrong
But I'm never talking to you again

I'm never talking to you again
I'm never talking to you
I'm tired of wasting all my time
Trying to talk to you

I'm never talking to you again
I'm never talking to you
I'm tired of wasting all my time
Trying to talk to you."
- Husker Du, "Never Talking To You Again"

#13 Rhea

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 10:18 PM

I'd still like to go back to my original question: why is it more acceptable to harass someone anonymously than it would be if you did it face to face or on the telephone?

And why, if such behavior (and I'm talking about threats here) is actionable and criminal when it takes place on the telephone or in person, is it ok on the Internet?



(I feel like I should break into a chorus of the Cheers theme song, only in reverse - "I wanna go where nobody knows my name". :p)
The future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.
- Robert A. Heinlein

When I don’t understand, I have an unbearable itch to know why. - RAH


Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.  - RAH

#14 Rhys

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 10:41 PM

View PostRhea, on Jan 17 2006, 10:18 PM, said:

I'd still like to go back to my original question: why is it more acceptable to harass someone anonymously than it would be if you did it face to face or on the telephone?

I think it's related to "road rage".  In both cases, it's easy to ignore the fact that there's an actual person on side of the equation.

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#15 Delvo

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 11:25 PM

View PostSpectacles, on Jan 16 2006, 03:19 PM, said:

Quote

Overcome feelings of inferiority or powerlessness by getting the experience of controlling an environment.
I can't help but think this is at the heart of much trolling. It's not something that secure people with a healthy sense of boundaries do.

View Postwaterpanther, on Jan 16 2006, 04:08 PM, said:

...a person who feels powerless attempting to control his/her environment--as well as "payback" to a group s/he perceives as having disparaged him/her.

View PostCheile, on Jan 17 2006, 03:06 AM, said:

i'm surprised lack of a life wasn't mentioned--that these people really do have nothing better to do

View PostZwolf666, on Jan 17 2006, 10:56 AM, said:

They're people who, for whatever reason, feel inadequate and think they have to prove something, either to themselves or to others... it's pretty safe to say that they're all at least emotionally crippled and got abused by somebody...they're just people who can't stand seeing other people get along, because that makes them feel even more left out.

Pretty pathetic, really, but I guess it keeps 'em from suicide.
This reminds me of the old plattitude that school bullies are actually cowards with a serious lack of self-esteem. People have long seemed to like to say that, so much so that it went unchallenged for years, but I've never seen or heard a speck of evidence for it and the only serious study I'm aware of that ever really took a look at it found the opposite to be the case.

Somehow, belittling inexplicably mean people (other than themselves) as also pitiful and miserable is just something people like/want to do. But it isn't necessarily the real explanation.

#16 Spectacles

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Posted 17 January 2006 - 11:41 PM

Quote

Me: But it's also interesting to consider that most of us can slip into troll-like behaviors if we're not careful and if we're angry enough.

Don't forget that part, Delvo.

And for the record, I try to  monitor my own "inner troll" very carefully.

That's one reason I always post under "Spectacles." And, yeah, I have a temper and don't claim to be a candidate for sainthood. But I do, as do many others, wonder about what causes someone to aspire to be a troll. I don't. And I wonder why some people do.
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#17 Cardie

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Posted 18 January 2006 - 12:04 AM

It's kind of like kids who ride through neighborhoods knocking down mailboxes with baseball bats.  They get a kick out of it, apparently, although I've never been able to understand vandalism against strangers or the joy some feel in destruction for destructions sake or upsetting people just to watch them squirm.

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#18 QueenTiye

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 05:22 PM

View PostDelvo, on Jan 17 2006, 11:25 PM, said:

This reminds me of the old plattitude that school bullies are actually cowards with a serious lack of self-esteem. People have long seemed to like to say that, so much so that it went unchallenged for years, but I've never seen or heard a speck of evidence for it and the only serious study I'm aware of that ever really took a look at it found the opposite to be the case.

Somehow, belittling inexplicably mean people (other than themselves) as also pitiful and miserable is just something people like/want to do. But it isn't necessarily the real explanation.

Recent research agrees with you:

Quote

http://www.papillons...m/exSplodin.htm

For decades, psychologists believed that low self-esteem was an important cause of aggression. One of us (Baumeister) challenged that notion in 1996, when he reviewed assorted studies and concluded that perpetrators of aggression generally hold favorable and perhaps even inflated views of themselves.

I came across this while researching scientist Joaquim Krueger, one of the authors of the journal paper I'm discussing in EtU.

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#19 veganmom

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 07:29 PM

Hi!
Re. trolling: Same as when you see a guy who is too too eager to show off his new sports car.




Compensating.



:devil:

#20 Niki Jane

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Posted 19 January 2006 - 08:36 PM

In my experience, a lot of trolling is done by people who don't have the most assertive offline persona. They often let people walk all over them in real life and overcompensate in their online lives by becoming trolls.

I've known several people like that offline, who I discovered were trolls when I ran into them online at a message board. In real life, they were pretty quiet and unassertive and online they were the complete opposite, taking out their frustrations on everyone they came across.

I'm not saying all trolls are like that, but it's what I've known to be true. It seems like trolls are the school bully. They pick apart other people to make themselves feel better about their own inadaquecies.

I just have to wonder what it is about the internet that makes these people feel like it's ok to treat another person with that much disrespect.

The one thing I hate about the 'net is that it's easy to forget that the other posters are real people on the other side of that computer screen.



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