Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Desk psychopaths – The Psychology of abuse

Meet the desk psychopaths

A friendly, smiling female doctor working in the ER who is openly abusive on social media towards a particular community and doesn’t think twice before hurling sexist abuses at other women.
A loving father, with his daughter’s picture as his DP who uses abusive language and threatens those who hold different political views.

A student who trolls and abuses women journalists online because he feels their articles do not support his world view.

These are familiar profiles on twitter. They seem to be educated – students, doctors and bankers - regular people with jobs and families, supposedly leading a normal life. But they are also leading another life as an online monster. The desk psychopath could be your dentist or your colleague or your son’s best friend. You can almost picture him typing out a sexist abuse while helping his daughter with her math homework. The picture is both tragic and frightening.
The social media is flooded with abusers. While differences of opinion are common and everyone enjoys a discussion laced with wit, mockery and an occasional insult, the rampant online abuse and threats bring out the dark side of social media.  

Are the abusers a special breed of psychopaths lurking around or are these normal people behind a mask, not fundamentally different from the scores we meet and interact with in our daily lives?

The role of anonymity
Anonymity on twitter has its advantages. It allows a person to express his or her views freely without fear of repercussion. But there is another sinister side to it. It allows the person to take on a dual personality. He can now be somebody he always wanted to be and lead an exciting and adventurous online life behind a mask.

However, anonymity alone doesn’t create monsters. It may neither be a necessary or a sufficient condition. For every three anonymous abusers, there is also one who proudly displays his names and credentials.
Ideology and propaganda

Abusive behavior is not random. It is directed towards those who are perceived as different. Difference could be in terms of religion, nationality, political ideology or just about anything else.
Abusers hold deep rooted prejudices. These have been strengthened over the years by a selective interpretation of the world around them. These prejudices are also reinforced by propaganda that influences their values, beliefs, emotions, reasoning and behavior. It creates individuals who have lost their ability for free thinking.

While extreme prejudice predisposes a person to abuse, not all those who are prejudiced are abusive. I believe a certain personality type is an essential ingredient to convert prejudice into direct abuse.
Personality type

Here is my attempt to profile a desk psychopath:
He is the extremely average person seeking attention in his online life. He wants to appear cool.  Among his twitter followers, there is a clear correlation between abuse and admiration. He thrives on reinforcement he gets when his radical views are liked and RTed by others.

He is often from a conservative and religious background with a strict upbringing. He has grown up obeying authority figures and has seen obedience around him. He has internalized the propaganda and relies on it rather than thinking for himself. He feels victimized and believes he must act to deliver justice and restore glory for his people. He intolerant and is easily provoked. He is convinced that he is on the right path. He classifies others as morally wrong. He finds opposing viewpoints disturbing. They evoke a deep sense of insecurity in him triggering feelings of aggression. He doesn’t want to debate. He wants to teach them a lesson. He believes that women deserve more abuse. He is an online warrior. Abuse makes him feel triumphant. It gives a release for the frustrations, failures and inadequacies he faces in his real life.    
In Freudian terms such behaviors are rooted in childhood experiences and the “unconscious”. I will not go into a discussion of possible fixations at this time. It is sufficient to say that each word of online abuse reveals deep seated beliefs and value systems. It belittles whatever the cause the abusers support and diverts attention from the real issue.

Lewis Mumford, the American sociologist refers to large hierarchical organizations as megamachines—a machine that uses humans as its components. He calls the people who calmly carry out the extreme goals of megamachines as "Eichmanns". This name itself comes from Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who conducted the logistics behind the Holocaust.  In her book on Eichmann, the author Hannah Arendt introduced the famous phrase, the “banality of evil". According to her, Eichmann appeared at his trial to have an ordinary and common personality and displayed neither guilt nor extraordinary hatred because he believed he was only “doing his job”. Others have argued that Eichmann was indeed a face of the evil as he was a strong believer in the Nazi ideology and view him an instigator and not just a cog in the wheel.
Welcome to the abusive world of virtual Eichmanns on social media. They are slaves of their ideology who think they are “doing their job” by teaching a lesson to people who dare to think differently.

As someone rightly said, “Babylon in all its desolation is a sight not as awful as that of the human mind in ruins.”




  1. He is often from a conservative and religious background with a strict upbringing.

    Not completely accurate unless you are only talking about Right Wing Bhakts and even there, there are some shades of differences. You can find a non-conservative right winger like say a Rupa Baniyan.

    As for the abuse eventually diluting their cause, in some cases like religious fundamentalism, it actually furthers their cause.

    Just a thought :)

  2. Thanks for your comments. Really appreciate them

    The conservative upbringinging often underlies low tolerance & aggression but you are right that it may not always be the case. I dont agree with the example though as I feel that while she may be insulting or mocking in her style, she will not directly abuse anyone like many others do.

    On the second point, actually abusers will attract others with a similar bent of mind. They may form cliques & act together and therefore in a sense they are furthering their cause among like minded people. When I said diluting their case, I meant more in terms of winning sympathy for their cause from a wider audience.

  3. Having experienced large number of freinds hatered for muslim colleuges. Prolonged propoganda by psuedo secularist made 90% hindu believe that muslims are bad elements. Due vicious propoganda 85% hindu farasi of 14% muslims