As a child of the internet, I’ve watched social media morph from MySpace musicians to Tik Tok influencers. One thing that hasn’t changed is “trolling,” or being mean to random strangers just because it’s fun. It’s a child of cyberbullying, but not a direct copy — cyberbullying is defined by law and mostly relegated to school-age children, while trolling can be done to anyone, or anything.
Redact.dev, a company that seems to exist solely because not everyone got the “be smart about what you post online” talk in school, found that North Carolina has a higher-than-average number of social media users who have trolled someone — 23 percent of N.C. survey respondents said they have done it, versus 17 percent of all people surveyed.
Based on the 3,846-person survey, we are meaner online than Floridians, South Carolinians, Virginians, Texans, New Yorkers, and New Jerseyans. We’re actually tied with Colorado and Maine, and lose out on this honor — dishonor? — only to Oklahoma, Kansas, and West Virginia.
It goes without saying that a survey of this size, supposedly speaking for all internet users in the United States, is probably skewed. It’s hard to believe that North Carolinians have more vitriol for other internet users than anyone else, especially considering the entire country was led by an internet troll for four years. But let’s entertain the idea for a moment: what would make North Carolina a breeding ground for trolls?
North Carolina is pretty average, in terms of other internet usage. The state has fewer home computers and less broadband access than the average U.S. resident, but only by one and two percentage points, respectively. We’re also slightly older than the average U.S. resident, and we aren’t one of the fastest-growing states among people 25 to 29. This could be counter-intuitive, but could also explain what we’re seeing. Again, the millennial and Gen Z generations got at least one lecture on internet etiquette. For those who didn’t grow up with that lesson, it could be easier to let your guard down and add to the internet pile-on.
Aside from age and technology, we are also an incredibly purple state, with several polarizing politicians. This means our political conversations are also polarizing to the point of comedy. Thom Tillis was getting bullied so much on Twitter that I wrote about it in 2020. Madison Cawthorn and Mark Robinson make inflammatory statements that rile up the left, and Mark Walker recently made national headlines for having what may have been the worst Waffle House order in history.
On the left, every tweet and video from Roy Cooper is littered with right-wing trolls calling him a fascist for our threadbare mask mandates and COVID protocols. Former U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham made two blunders — one about barbecue, the other an extramarital affair — that frustrated voters. Plus, considering how difficult it can be to get the attention of our politicians, social media is one of our only options.
North Carolina Political Memes, an anonymous Twitter account making jokes about the state’s politics, says it could also be “bless his heart syndrome.”
“Some guy from Boston is gonna tell you how much he hates you to your face, but my meemaw out in rural Bertie is primarily whispering about the personal failings of her neighbors to other neighbors when she sees them at the church bake sale,” the user said to me in a message.
It’s also entirely possible that “trolling” is too vague a term for a random survey. You could consider “trolling” the folks making fun of Thom Tillis in the reply section of his tweets. It could also include “doxxing,” or the act of publishing someone’s address or phone number to a public forum. It could be making fun of Walker’s aversion to anything resembling a spice, or it could be hate speech and bullying.
Listen: if being a hater is “trolling,” I’m under the bridge with the best of them. As a chronically impulsive person who shares my opinions for a living, it’s easy for me to see a bad post from some politician and immediately jump on it. It’s worked for me to get answers: criticizing UNC-Chapel Hill’s administration on social media forged a relationship between me and their communications team, and is part of what has helped hold them accountable. Some of these criticisms have a touch of humor, and if that makes them trolling, that’s your interpretation.
And if Redact.dev’s data is in fact inaccurate, well bless their hearts.