The rising trend of social media trolling


When Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook, it appeared to be a brilliant idea. Initially, it served as an online mug book for college students, but it quickly evolved into something much larger. People of all ages and backgrounds joined the platform, connecting with their high school classmates and distant relatives. Even churches, bands, and hobbyists formed groups to engage with their followers. These connections, like a complex web, led to even more connections. Eventually, it became possible to be “friends” with everyone you had ever known, including numerous strangers.

However, very few of us stopped to consider whether all 1234 of our “friends” deserved access to such personal information.

At first, we didn’t question the idea of being friends with every person we had ever known and countless strangers. It was the norm, and sharing everything from dating experiences and concert videos to political opinions and breakfast choices was simply what people did.

As a result, many of us unknowingly shared intimate details of our lives with thousands of people, without stopping to think if all 1234 of our “friends” were truly deserving of this information.

In the past, many of us didn’t realize that by accepting friend requests from acquaintances, we were unintentionally exposing ourselves and our families to potentially harmful individuals. This excessive sharing of personal information on social media became a goldmine for trolls — individuals with no occupation or meaningful activities, who would spend their days scrolling through our comments and family photos, passing judgment and making comments about our lives.
Trolls in the realm of social media are much more than mere creatures lurking under bridges, waiting to startle us. They are persistent followers who feel compelled to correct everything, from grammar mistakes to religious and political opinions.

Some trolls even go so far as to invade your personal life, instructing you on when to interact with your narcissistic mother or advising you to stop discussing a particular issue that bothers you. Trolls often assume the role of an unwanted and malevolent conscience, lying, bullying, and gaslighting you. In certain cases, trolls may even jeopardize your livelihood and pose threats to your life.

According to a 2017 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 40% of Americans claim to have experienced online abuse. The majority of these individuals reported being subjected to name-calling or embarrassment, while 18% reported being stalked or physically threatened. Additionally, 73% of respondents stated that they have witnessed online bullying. Women are more likely than men to report instances of online abuse.

The stakes seem to rise when religion and politics intersect. Recently, the teacher of an online class I had been following for ten years started posting political blogs. Some of his remarks revealed his white privilege and could be interpreted as racist by some. When I challenged his views, he claimed to be unbiased, but the content of his blog, which leaned towards the right, along with his occasional remarks in class, exposed his true stance. After he ignored my questions and directed me to read yet another one of his blogs, I chose not to engage further. I decided not to be a troll. He has the right to his opinion just as I do.

This is not limited to politics and religion. Sometimes seemingly innocent connections can turn into scenes from a psycho-sexual thriller.

I thought the religiopolitical discussion had ended, but a fellow class member began challenging me to speak out because he “wanted all of his online friends to get along.” I attempted to explain why I spoke up, but he seemed more interested in passing judgment on me and influencing my conscience. We had been online friends for ten years and I held him in high regard, but evidently, he did not respect me. In the end, I had to unfriend him. I was confronted with the realization that what I once believed to be a safe spiritual community was not.

There is a reason we tell children to avoid strangers. Disliking someone simply because they are different is not the same as ensuring the safety of a stranger before engaging with them. Even adults require discernment and wisdom in deciding who we allow into our lives.

Online trolling extends beyond politics and religion. Sometimes seemingly innocent connections can turn into scenes from a psycho-sexual thriller. When my friend Zainab Manzoor (not real name) came across the name of a boy named Adil Bhat (not real name) in the “people you might know” category on a social media platform, with whom she attended middle school, she sent him a friend request. They hadn’t seen each other in decades, but she had a photo of them when they were twelve, taken in front of the walnut tree at summer camp. It seemed harmless to say hello, but she unleashed a troll.

Within five minutes of her sending him a friend request, he attempted to call her through messenger. She ignored the call and informed him that she did not accept calls. He asked why. She explained that she was busy. He inquired about her occupation, and she found herself explaining her life to a stranger. She wanted to appear nice and polite, but he did not reciprocate the same courtesy.

It turns out that Zainab was unaware that Adil had been obsessed with her since middle school. He couldn’t believe his luck when she finally reached out to him after thirty years. He began sending her messages every morning, and when she withdrew, he increased it to three times a day. He then managed to obtain her email and phone number, inundating her inbox and voicemail with messages that began friendly but grew angrier as she ignored them. He even started complaining about how she had rejected him in middle school, though she had no recollection of doing so.

Things escalated to the point where Adil threatened to visit Zainab’s family and expose her as a treacherous woman engaging in an emotional affair with him. Zainab was dumbfounded. She denied any affair and revealed that he had been bullying her. However, Adil insisted he had “proof.” Poor Zainab didn’t know what to do. Every time she tried to respond nicely and answer his intrusive questions, he would save it as evidence of their relationship. Eventually, Zainab blocked him and hoped he would forget about her, but her trust in people and sense of security would never be the same.

In today’s world, the definition of “friend” has evolved to include online acquaintances, making it crucial to screen the people we connect with.
What prevents many of us from unfriending people who pose a threat to us? It’s not just narcissistic parents or ex-partners, but also the “flying monkeys” who spy on us, bully us, judge us, and misrepresent us to others.
While complete privacy cannot be guaranteed in today’s times, there is one thing we can do to make things easier for ourselves — screen our friends. Since the meaning of “friend” has shifted to encompass online connections, it is essential to screen the people we interact with. We may connect with others on social media for various reasons, but we can all agree on situations where unfriending someone or not befriending them in the first place is necessary, especially when things become strange.

At the same time, it’s crucial to be aware that we can also exhibit troll-like behaviour, such as engaging in pushy or questionable practices when selling a product. Practising good online etiquette and respecting the boundaries of others is essential for maintaining healthy relationships on social media.
Ultimately, there are numerous reasons to not be friends with certain individuals on social media. It may be more efficient to focus on compiling a list of reasons why you want to be friends with particular people, such as family members who enjoy keeping up with your children’s activities or friends who share common interests. By curating your friend list and selectively sharing your stories, you can discover that social media remains a remarkable tool for connecting with like-minded individuals.

Disclaimer: The names used here are hypothetical and the number 1234 used is also randomly selected to make the story more engaging.

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