On inauguration day, 20 January 2021, Yelp let me know that they had taken down a review by a troll who seems to be part of a loose trolling tag team or a troll tribe (See below). That’s a minor victory and she wasn’t targeting me. She was targeting a business and not one she actually had an experience with.
The Psychology of Trolls
According to a 2017 article in ABC.net’s “The Conversation” by Evita March, a lecturer in psychology, trolling is “deceptive and disruptive online behaviour, which typically involves posting inflammatory and malicious comments to deliberately provoke and upset people.”
Merriam-Webster defines trolling as:
2a: to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content … trolls engage in the most outrageous and offensive behaviors possible—all the better to troll you with.— Whitney Phillipsb: to act as a troll (see TROLL entry 3 sense 2) on (a forum, site, etc.) … is also notorious, for trolling message boards on the Internet, posting offensive material he himself has written and then suing anyone who responds in agreement.— Mark Hemingwayc: to harass, criticize, or antagonize (someone) especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts The switch came after the Chargers became the butt of jokes, memes and derision on social media. The NFL tweeted the initial logo Thursday, but later deleted it as the Chargers even got trolled by other pro and college sports teams over the logo that looked like a cross between baseball’s Dodgers and hockey’s Lightning.— Arnie StapletonBut [Niki] Caro told The Los Angeles Times this week that there might be music after all. Caro said she got trolled by fans because of the rumor of a lack of music.— Herb ScribnerThe club has been trolled in a brutal (and somewhat brilliant) manner—by having a giant poster of Tevez scoring his last-day winner plastered outside their Bramall Lane ground.— Will Magee
Trolling takes it toll:
Regardless of the strict definition, trolling (and antisocial online behaviour in general) can have serious physical and psychological effects on victims.
These include lowered self-esteem, sleep disruption, depression, and in some cases suicide.
According to a 2014 study in Volume 67 of “Personality and Individual Differences,” “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun,” trolling is a sign of deeper issues:
Trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, using both enjoyment ratings and identity scores. Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.
Trolls are not people who are invited “by creating a positive social environment” but “show higher motivation to achieve negative social rewards, like creating social mayhem and disruption.”
You’ve probably experience “everyday sadism.” According Traci Stein in her Psychology Today essay, “Dealing With Everyday Sadists and Other ‘Dark Personalities’,” common examples of everyday sadism include:
- Intentionally repeating secrets that the ES promised to keep private
- Portraying someone in a false or unflattering light in an effort to damage their reputation
- Working to bring about someone’s being fired or otherwise jeopardize their job in the absence of cause
- Seeking to ruin another person’s relationship
- Theft of property—physical, financial, or intellectual
- Deliberately marginalizing a coworker, classmate, or family member, or student
- Cyber or other bullying
In a 2019 article written by Grant Hilary Brenner for Psychology Today, which begins with a quote by Amy Tan (“Our uniqueness makes us special, makes perception valuable—but it can also make us lonely. This loneliness is different from being ‘alone’: You can be lonely even surrounded by people. The feeling I’m talking about stems from the sense that we can never fully share the truth of who we are. I experienced this acutely at an early age.”), Brenner notes that loneliness and aggression are correlated. “Because loneliness represents a state of chronic frustration and unmet need, it can trigger aggression toward others as a way to discharge tension or express oneself—even if in maladaptive ways.”
Both articles discuss the Dark Tetrad personality traits (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, everyday sadism, and narcissism). This differs from the Dark Triad because it “includes a direct measure of sadism.” Sadism is defined as “when people get pleasure and gratification, especially with a sexual charge, from the pain, suffering, or humiliation of others.” This is something that I sensed and note below.
In the presence of loneliness, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism all were associated with increased internet trolling. Moreover, when higher levels of loneliness accompanied higher levels of Machiavellianism or psychopathy, internet trolling was even more likely. …
More sadistic study participants were more likely to troll, regardless of loneliness, and narcissism, loneliness and chance of trolling did not correlate with each other.
The Pew Research Center noted in a 2017 study on online harassment that about four in ten US citizens have personally been harassed online and 62 percent consider it a major problem.
Around four-in-ten Americans (41%) have been personally subjected to at least one type of online harassment – which this report defines as offensive name-calling online (27% of Americans say this has happened to them), intentional efforts to embarrass someone (22%), physical threats (10%), stalking (7%), harassment over a sustained period of time (7%) or sexual harassment (6%). This 41% total includes 18% of U.S. adults who say they have experienced particularly severe forms of harassment (which includes stalking, physical threats, sexual harassment or harassment over a sustained period of time).
According to an opinion piece by Ginger Gorman, author of “Troll Hunting,” trolls are “mostly a cohort of angry, white men aged 18-35 and they police discourse on the internet with themselves at the centre.” They are not, contrary to myths:
- Living in their mothers’ basements
- Uneducated losers
- Unable to hurt you in real life
Gorman also noted that trolling didn’t only target “loud-mouthed feminists.” In her study in Australia, about 34 percent of men experienced online harassment. One person harassed people who were “not far enough left.”
A Black Female Troll and her tribe
While trolls are generally White men, and I’ve had experience with such trolls, the latest trouble I had were with what might seem to be their opposite: Black women. Now one doesn’t really know who is at the other end of the Internet, but these people identified themselves as Black women: Nicole Camara Tarver and her friend Irena Robinson. Tarver had, on a now deleted exchange (she decided to block me) invited her posse of friends to harass me because she was upset with a review I wrote on a 30-minute Netflix documentary on Surya Bonaly. (Tarver belongs to a Facebook fan page for Bonaly).
Tarver didn’t seem to dispute the facts of my article on Bonaly, who I met when I was a sports writer. Eschewing netiquette, Tarver decided not to initially comment on the blog, but to find me on Facebook and then on Instagram. I blocked her on Instagram (where I post photos of dogs, food and face masks), but I generally do not block people on Facebook. Tarver attempted to hijack more than one post by going into an exchange on Bonaly and then followed with how I was racist although she did not dispute the facts. Then she veered off into telling a few lies.
This correlates with the Pew Research Center findings:
About one-quarter of all adults (26%) have had untrue information about them posted online, most commonly about their character or reputation (17%). Half (49%) of those who had untrue information posted about them tried to get the inaccurate claims removed or corrected, and around one-in-ten Americans (9%) say they have experienced mental or emotional stress because of something untrue posted about them online.
Tarver was eventually joined by Robinson. Both Tarver and Robinson made personal attacks. They attacked my writing skills. That’s easy to ignore because other people have validated my writing skills and I thank them for it. Tarver doesn’t seem to understand the fallacy of personal attack.
Tarver went for my age, my disability, my personal attractiveness and attacked my husband’s masculinity. Except for the last point, she reminded me of the predominately White men who I had encountered and turned down when I was dating online: bitterly angry and determined to tell me how I should live my life even if the reason was something objective like living in a different state. Tarver, who claims to have been an educator, also diagnosed me as being autistic. I guess that’s one way people dismiss logical argumentation.
Robinson decided that she would attack my attractiveness, too. One of the two wrote that I must be fat and my breasts must be saggy. You have to wonder three things:
- Do these women really think they are that attractive?
- Do women of a certain age pose nude because they get similar comments?
- Did these women expect me to prove that I wasn’t one of these things by posting nude photographic proof and if that doesn’t make them seem like misogynistic lesbians?
When I was dating online, some of the men who I turned down often came back with the lesbian insult as well as emasculating the men I might date or Asian men in general.
Tarver was so obsessed that she found my post supporting a friend who had ovarian cancer and taunted me with being “barren.” That’s pretty low on the personal attack scale. It isn’t clear that either of these two women are married and since Robinson took the time to launch a few comments on New Year’s Eve, I’m guessing these are lonely women. Yet they took pains to portray me as lonely even though I am married and added I have no friends because they mistakenly think that all of my Facebook activities are:
- On my Facebook page
Women who evaluate women on their physical appearance and their ability to bear children are living in the past. Tarver and Robinson are, from my perspective, misogynistic. If a man wrote post that included “boo” and “hun,” we’d likely call him sexist, meaning that he was writing demeaningly toward women or he was a male chauvinist.
The Female Misogynist
Berit Brogaard, writing for Psychology Today wrote: “12 Ways to Spot a Female Misogynist: Women who Hate Woman May Not Consciously Realize it. But their Acts Reveal Them.” Brogaard notes that, at least on Twitter, “women use misogynistic language more frequently than men do.” Brogaard divides female misogynists into four categories:
- The Puritan
- The ideal woman is the domestic, subservient and youthful.
- She is subservient to her man.
- She hates women who deviate from the stereotypical feminine ideal.
- The Self-Critic
- She is disdainful toward women who are too fat, too big, too masculine, too angry, too loud, too competitive, or too alpha.
- She favors traditional gender roles.
- She may regard herself as a feminine misfit.
- The Self-Loather
- She feels contempt for all women including herself.
- She regards all women as promiscuous, manipulative, dishonest, irrational, incompetent or unintelligent.
- She denies her own self-loathing, but not her contempt for other women.
- The She-Devil
- She sees herself as superior to other women and at least on the same level if not above the men she encounters.
- She is in constant competition with other women.
- She has dark personality traits which tend to be subclinical.
Brogaard writes, “Like their male counterparts, female misogynists are driven by either unjustified hate or contempt for women.” She suggest that female misogyny is more toxic than male misogyny.
Dealing with Trolls
When online dating was relatively new, and I complained about harassment, I was told to turn off my computer or ignore harassment. This is not really effective with people who are angry trolls. That is not effective in dealing with stalkers. I didn’t accept those two recommendations and they don’t really work with die-hard obsessive trolls and cyberstalkers.
Ignoring people like Tarver, who attempted to post–not once, but twice on my blog on the same day, isn’t going to dissuade these people. I have complimentary comments that I have neglected to post on that blog, but for Tarver, not posting her comment is really doing her a favor. She wrote a sentence which states that I am Black due to a dangling modifier. She also doesn’t have a blog on WordPress and typically such people only want to comment without contributing to the actual blog community.
On a Saturday when I was away from my computer, Robinson decided she wasn’t getting enough attention so she doxxed me. I took a screenshot of that. Then when I didn’t respond, she decided to dox me again. She also made a subtle threat to a family member.
However, Robinson, like Tarver is a practiced troll. They know enough to take down things. Tarver blocked me this month (January), even though our exchanges were limited to her posting on my Facebook page. She also took down most of her more bitter and potentially embarrassing posts that attacked my physical appearance. Robinson knew enough to take down the doxxing before 24 hours had passed.
I had already seen this pattern on Twitter. When a Black Twitter mob attacked me because I stated that Egyptians could be played by Asians (since, after all, Egypt is intercontinental), some members of Black Twitter weren’t above slinging a few racist words. Those were taken down within 24-hours. You can’t really reason with trolls. In this case, even a map wouldn’t make them back down and some of them didn’t realize that Israel and Palestine were in West Asia. You can’t reason with trolls like Tarver and Robinson on lynching even if the statistical information is from Tuskegee.
After the threat to my relatives and the doxxing, I was compelled to report Robinson to Facebook. Robinson and Tarver had approached my friends and they weren’t above telling lies about me and what I write.
Tarver claimed she had information from the Pasadena Weekly and both attempted to get the attention of the Pasadena Weekly. They do not know how comical their claims were. Claims were also made that the Black Lives Matter organization had been contacted.
I’m not a fan of Black Lives Matter LA because of their tactics and tendency for emotional appeal. However, this is the same criteria I use for any organization. I’ve been involved in truly peaceful demonstrations such as the March for Science and Women’s March.
Tarver and especially Robinson were upset about an essay in which I dissected the racism inherent in the Tuskegee Institute statistics on lynching. They didn’t dispute the facts. They were not above telling falsehoods in attempts to win allies from amongst my Facebook friends.
Robinson had enough time to make memes and, more importantly, let me know she was posting them on some Black Power group. It made me wonder if she or Tarver had been dumped by some boyfriend for an Asian woman or if they were just jealous of Asian and Asian American women in general. It was already well-known that according to an OK Cupid study, Black women and Asian men were the least popular.
When I posted the NPR article, “‘Least Desirable’? How Racial Discrimination Plays Out in Online Dating,” one of the two didn’t notice the article was about a gay Asian American man. This is something I had discussed with my husband. One of these Black female trolls responded on Twitter, a social media platform they had not been on before. The new presence on Twitter seemed to be more of a response to making my Instagram private and reporting Robinson’s doxxing. I blocked and reported. Another Twitter account was opened. I blocked and reported.
Then a third account was opened, which I blocked and reported. In each case, I was notified because the new account included me in the Tweet and I was the only person commented on. One of the accounts took a photo of me from my Instagram account and compared me to Black women to prove the Black women were more attractive. Looking at the photos of the Twitter accounts, it seems that one of those three accounts was Tarver, but since this is the internet, who knows if Tarver and Robinson are two people or one person. (The Twitter accounts are: The Revolution Will Be Televised, @BlackBe47355153; Belle McWhite, @BelleMcWhite and Irena Robinson @IreneRo26462415).
Robinson and Tarver seem to believe that a woman’s worth is based on her attractiveness to men. That in itself is sad.
No doubt that Robinson and Tarver are lonely people. Both use the race card to bully people. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter do not have a policy to handle cyberbullying and targeted harassment. It was hard for me to even discover how to report someone on Facebook when I had evidence of the doxxing. Like I noted above, people who are sly and well-practiced know they can get away with some things. I took a screenshot of the first time, but not the second time. Since the posts were taken down before Facebook could attend to them (but they had been up and public for hours), this was a non-issue for Facebook.
When Robinson or Tarver introduced themselves to my friends, they could seem reasonable enough. Trolls and cyberstalkers can be intelligent (see above for Dark Tetrad traits), but psychologists feel that while they understand emotions, they enjoy terrorizing or hurting people emotionally. These are emotionally damaged people.
While doing research for this essay, I noticed that Tarver and a Robinson had been involved in posting “reviews” about a specific employee. I don’t know what the specifics are, but I wonder if these two trolls had attacked this person until she blew up and said some regrettable things. Tarver and Robinson certainly felt free to use misogynistic language, calling me a hag and telling me to “shut up” on my own Facebook page. Patience is necessary to deal with trolls.
Another reason for writing this essay, is I would worry about the people that Nicole Camara Tarver teaches after these exchanges:
I did learn that autism is now a form of denigrating people with higher degrees. Don’t do this. It might be considered hate speech. There’s nothing wrong with being logical, even if you’re not Vulcan.
- Autism, a neurotype not an insult
In many ways, Tarver and Robinson are not unlike Donald Trump: Like Trump, they attempt to denigrate me as a woman by noting my physical attributes, age and even disability. Rules of netiquette or etiquette don’t apply to them. In order to attain their goal, they are not restricted by facts. This style of discussion has no place in a polite society, but neither Tarver nor Robinson nor Trump are polite. They are trolls and Tarver and Robinson seem to be members of the same troll tribe. Ignoring them just results in an escalation, not unlike the reaction found in abusive domestic partners when the abused person attempts to disconnect.
While the usual advice on trolls and cyberstalkers is to ignore them or don’t feed the troll, this is not really effective. A 2017 article by Scott A. Bonn for Psychology Today, “Cyberstalkers Are Difficult to Stop: Lack of Internet Regulation Benefits Cyber Stalkers,” demonstrates this. Bonn initially did not respond to his cyberstalker. As he explains:
My years of training in criminology told me not to respond to her because, in all likelihood, that is exactly what she wanted—my attention and reaction. I knew that any direct response from me would only encourage her to continue or even escalate her assault. Instead, I blocked her on all social media platforms so that she could no longer see my profile or communicate with me.
I also blocked her incoming email messages. Nevertheless, her emails continued, and accumulated in my “junk mail” box at a rate of one-to-two-dozen new messages each day.
By the end of June, my friends and colleagues around the country began to ask me whether I was aware that a woman was defaming me “all over the Internet?” I told them that I was indeed aware, and my defense strategy was to block and ignore her—hoping that she would eventually find a new obsession and stop fixating on me.
His experience in 2017, were similar to mine from my internet dating days. Even then I argued with customer service that turning off my computer or ignoring them was not the best procedure. Bonn’s evaluation of Twitter and Facebook reflect my experiences. Twitter had a better response:
To its credit, Twitter quickly took action to censor my stalker’s false public accusations about me. Facebook, however, refused to remove similar lies and defamatory content, despite the fact that a large group of my social media friends and followers reported her abuse to its administrators.
Bonn was able to convince the police to charge the woman in her hometown. He understands that the woman is mentally ill, and was unsure of how the case would end. He concludes:
I will try to accept the official outcome of this case, as well as my stalker’s fate, whatever they may be. In some ways, accepting an unknown criminal justice outcome is easier than accepting the indifference of social media networking services to the harms of cyber stalking.
Someone, Claire Jack, who actually has low autism, also wrote about her experience with trolls for Psychology Today in a 2020 essay, “Why Do Internet Trolls Act the Way They Do? Research shows trolls have psychopathic and sadistic traits and low empathy.” She believes in not feeding the trolls. Her casual analysis (from her own experiences and anecdotal experiences from other bloggers) concludes:
- Trolls never offer constructive criticism.
- Trolls offer criticism that may be taken as compliments.
- Trolls don’t read or understand your output.
- Trolls find the worst thing about you to attack.
- Trolls are always angry.
Jack notes that often, trolls attack a person’s appearance (real or imagined). In her case, Jack has mild autism. Sometimes trolls are offended by one word and often they take it out of context. Jack concludes: “If you’re on the receiving end, it’s never nice to experience someone else’s anger but you need to remember they’re just projecting all their self-dislike onto you. “
My tactics for dealing with trolls are as follows:
- Patiently pointing out their logical fallacies
- Do not get emotional
- Asking them to support their claims
- Checking their sources (fact-checking)
- Requiring them to follow netiquette (e.g. not be off-topic)
- If they are rude, repeatedly and briefly indicate such
- To protect friends from harassment, I made some FB posts for friends only
- On certain pages or social media (Instagram), I blocked (but as noted, this led to more harassment)
- Notifying people of the issues of trolling including the local police after I was doxxed
- Going public with this problem (the reason for this blog entry)
I did also in one case post quotes from various religious texts, but I haven’t done that in the last ten years. To stay under the radar of cyberstalkers, one website suggests keeping a low profile. That isn’t really an option for a writer. In many ways, that seems like telling a person to stay at home or turn off their computer. I did have someone, a fellow writer, volunteer to round up a posse, but I thought that was unnecessary.
Just as you can’t reason with Black Twitter users who won’t accept the map of Egypt, you can’t reason with trolls. Tarver played the race card and then took offense when I noted her race.
How many times can one drop their race and still not expect the other person to address it? We have to be able to discuss race and not be afraid of being labeled racist.
We have to be willing to investigate allegations that someone is racist before passing judgment. Don’t accept statements at face value because you don’t know of the intent behind those internet faces. There are everyday sadists and they know how to hurt people.
Sometimes, trolls can be dizzying in their reversals and twists and turning. Usually, they will reveal their true nature and that’s what one wants to see. I prefer to reveal the true nature of people and leave it online for other people to discover should they also find themselves in a similar situation with these people. In this manner, we can hold trolls and cyberstalkers and trolls who cyberstalking accountable for their actions.
From Tarver and Robinson’s actions, I was sure I was not their first target. I write this as both a record and a warning to people who might be similarly trolled by Nicole Camara Tarver or her friend Irena Robinson. If Trump emboldened White Nationalists and White racists, it also seems that the rise of Black Lives Matter has emboldened Black trolls to play the race card.
Sometimes the face of racism isn’t White; It’s Black.
The supposed anti-Black articles:
- ‘Black Panther’: Asians Thrown Under the Bus in Busan
- ‘Black Panther’ Marvel-verse Best, But Also Displays Covert Racism Toward Asians
- ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ African Americans and Expendable Asians
- Don’t Blackout History: Lynching Beyond the Binary of Black and White
- Letter to the NAACP: History of Lynching
- Ms. Geek Speaks: Asian America and Black America
- Uplifting while Down Putting: Representation and Racism in the Marvel-verse
- ‘BlacKkKlansman’ : Contemplating Colorado Springs
- ‘BlacKkKlansman’ Asks: ‘Why you acting like you don’t have skin in the game?’
- ‘Driving Miss Daisy’: Two Rides to Take
- ‘Green Book’ : White, Black and in Between