Why, then, do we tend to fall for it? Particularly when the trolling so obviously and eagerly craves our outraged response? Why do we think we gain from quote-tweeting or replying to politicians and journalists who say things we find hateful? However clever, snarky or “fierce” our replies may be, we all know we’re helping to spread the very messages we want to discredit.
The answer may lie in a version of what Natasha Dow Schull, in her study of machine gambling, calls “losses disguised as wins”. Gamblers, hooked on the machine, are almost certain to lose most of their money, most of the time. Yet the experience is punctuated with regular rewards, apparent wins signalled with flashing lights, noise and the clatter of change falling into the dispenser. Social media, with its notifications of likes and shares, offers similar pseudo-victories in exchange for our engagement.
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