It is often stated that bullies act out of a lack of self-esteem. But it is postulated that the opposite is also true: early humans that were good at convincing others of their superiority were perched at the top of the social hierarchy and demeaned others to keep their lofty position. Their followers aped their behavior and adopted their opinions.
They know that participants tend to conform to the rules and mindset of the bullies.
The problem is, people who would never consider themselves bullies, who would never intentionally hurt others, can be drawn into the fray. They may agree with the troll's position, not necessarily the way it was expressed. The troll could be a friend (virtual or real), a relative, or a coworker, but acquaintance is not necessary to gain support. People jump in for myriad reasons.
The opposite of the troll is the cooing elf. Positive posters are motivated by the same phenomena. When the top “elf” loves something, others rush in with praise in their desire to be part of the “in” group. Elves also adopt the opinions and behaviors of their leader.
That is how books that are inherently flawed and barely readable can rise to the top of the NYT bestseller list.
When an elf is attacked by a troll, the battle becomes a free-for-all, dragging in totally innocent bystanders. You end up with a gallows mentality. A faction of the population enjoys a good show, particularly a gruesome one. It is why crowds gather to cheer on combatants when a fight breaks out.
But the positive review elves don’t cause any harm, right?
Not entirely, but there are steps we can take.
It would be nearly impossible to eliminate the cloak of anonymity offered by a virtual world, but attempts are being made to discourage trolls. An administrator can take down any post they consider inappropriate, but how do they decide which posts are “appropriate?” It’s a thin line between abuse and freedom of opinion. You can report abusive messages or direct threats from a troll. The administrators can block the accounts, but that doesn’t keep the troll from assuming a new identity.
As for society as a whole, we could aim for higher standards of online behavior: