Godwin’s Law, trolling and how the internet makes us mean

internet bullying

Inside all of us you will find a mean and crap version of ourselves that we have trained to stay quiet. The internet allows this little crap version to find a voice. It gives them anonymity which allows internet users to say things to and about people that they would never dare say ‘in real life’. When I first heard of trolling I assumed that it was carried out by some maladjusted people lashing out from the comfort of their own home. What shocked me was that it is often perfectly ‘normal’ people who troll online, just because they can. It’s possible that they’re also a bit weird. The internet has created some unchartered territory for it’s user,s meaning that people who have learned how to act in the real world lose the run of themselves when they get online where there are no rules.

This article by Ciaran McMahon reminds us of the immense changes that the internet has made to communication and why exactly trolls exist. The relative newness of the internet means that it can’t yet be regulated effectively and therefore it’s very difficult to punish the online mad people. McMahon claims that the nature of the internet has led to increased levels of ‘disinhibition’, ‘deindividuation‘ and ‘dissociation‘. This basically means that we say and do things online because the internet allows us to disassociate ourselves with the people we may be offending. This fascinating article written by a man who managed to track down his troller (who threatened to kill his family, sending him ashes in the post which were meant to represent his jewish relatives). Without ruining the article, the troller turned out to be someone the victim knew, someone he would never have suspected.

Take the Steubenville rape case as an example. Aside from the fact that sympathy was offered to the rapists rather than the victim, the online backlash from those who should have had shown empathy was also disgusting.

Not only has the internet introduced new social realities such as trolling, there is also a new phenomenon which occurs between trollers or people who speak online, adding a new layer to the complexities of the internet. One of the most fascinating of these is known as Godwin’s Law theory. Godwin’s law theory was developed in 1990 but was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2012 due to it’s growing prevalence online. The theory, also known as ‘Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies’ is based on the observation “that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis”. Once this comparison is made the debate is seen as exhausted. It is also described below by Stephen Fry :

It’s not as if I’d rather the internet didn’t exist, it’s just interesting to see how it’s impacting on human behaviour. It will also be challenging to find a way to monitor the internet without impeding on peoples right to free speech.

 To avoid online bullying and trolling can seem as easy as turning off your computer but it penetrates beyond the screen as recent cases in Ireland have revealed. Three people in Ireland of various ages have taken their own lives in the past year, apparently all because of trolling and online abuse. It means that users, especially younger users, need to be educated on how to deal with trolls. It seems that those who experience a sense of power from terrorising on the internet, will always exist, especially when they feel they’re getting a reaction.

beat internet trolls

The internet has uncovered the latent pleasure that people experience from anonymously provoking a reaction from others. This fascination with trolling will either recede or people will hopefully find ways of coping with the abuse that people dish out under internet pseudonyms.


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