India presently has 448 million social media users. And although social media connects us to like-minded individuals and communities, sometimes the violence present in our world spills onto our devices. Let’s address one kind of violence we may face online: trolling.

What is trolling?

According to the basic dictionary-style definition by Merriam-Webster, trolling is “ a way to antagonize others online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.”

In short, trolling is a systematically conducted activity that hurts, if not directly harms, a social media user.

Representation image (Image credit: Very Well Family)

Why do people troll others?

Dr. Shraddha Shah, a consultant psychologist at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, explains the reasons as to why people resort to trolling. In an interview with TN Plus, Dr. Shah talks about the ‘dark tetrad’ or the four kinds of people who resort to online trolling.

Dr. Shah says, “The first kind of people are narcissists. These kinds of individuals want to establish their superiority at any cost, keeping their personal opinion at the forefront. The second category of trollers have a personality trait called machiavellianism. They are extremely cold and detached, and focused on their own interests, and will not hesitate to manipulate the other person to achieve their own goals.”

The other traits making up the dark tetrad are sadism and antisocial personality disorder. “Sadists are people who get pleasure in hurting and distressing other people, while people with antisocial personality disorders never work within the rules or laws of the society”, adds Dr. Shah.

Representation image (Image credit: ElNorteDeCastilla)

Similar research done by doctors outside of India, like Dr. Jennifer Golbeck of the University of Maryland, also links online trolling with the ‘Dark Tetrad’ of personality traits.

How to react to trolls?

Generally, trolls aim to harm individuals who do not agree with the general perception. And, many of these trolls are racist or sexist. However, in a country like India, with varying political and religious ideologies, trolls are multifaceted. Anonymity, which in a positive online space, can strengthen the privacy we enjoy, is misused by trolls to escape accountability and consequences to their harmful actions.

As Dr. Shah says, “The only way to deal with these trolls, is when a victim or the person to whom the troll is directed at, tries to humanize themselves and becomes more than a face on the profile picture.”

Looking ahead

As India expands its internet base and more and more people shift to the online world, we must recognise trolling as a form of harassment and violence and combat it.

In spite of the existence of multiple laws on cyber bullying in the country, there are multiple instances of trolling or online harassment that are reported everyday. This in turn compromises safety, increases fear, and leads to the eventual withdrawal of those who face trolling on social media platforms.

Instagram is one of the major social media platforms where people, especially the youth, face cyber bullying. Global online survey as of 2021 (Image credit: Broadband Search)

How can we, on an individual level, ensure we do not partake in or stay bystanders when we witness an incident of trolling or other forms of online violence? The first step, we believe, is acknowledging that the online world is as real as ours and poses the same, if not more, challenges we must gradually learn to tackle.


Edited by Anjali Hans & Roshni Shroff


Some resources to help you learn more about trolls or cyber-bullying:

What we learned about online harassment in 2020 and how it has changed
79% of Americans think social media companies are doing an only fair to poor job when it comes to addressing online harassment or bullying.
In one year alone, cyberbullying of Indian women and teenagers rose by 36%
Meanwhile, conviction rates in this period fell to 25% from 40%.
Trolling And Abuse On Social Media Undermines Debate & Creates A Culture Of Fear
We are descending into an era of trolls. Internet trolls who disrupt conversations by posting...