Social media has become a significant part of our lives, allowing us to connect with others, express our views, stimulate discussion, share with friends or even generate income.

As a community tool it is fantastic, wherever you go you’ll find local groups on Facebook. In Crouch End and Hornsey we have over 20 local groups – I am an admin of 12.

While most use platforms like Facebook responsibly, it only takes a few to create chaos, disruption and upset other users. The trolls!

In Crouch End, one group become so toxic that it earned us the name, 'The Valley of the Trolls'. No surprise really, Guardian-reading Crouch Enders are well educated, but highly opinionated and a few are seriously self-righteous.

The challenge as an admin is to get the balance right between free speech and comment vs capping and even banning those that abuse the platform.

Many will respond positively when called out, often not realising that in the heat of the moment that their comments were possibly too aggressive or even abusive.

But some just don't get it. They cannot see the damage they do.

I recently found myself the target of trolls following an incident around trees being chopped down in my local park – I chair the park’s Friend’s group.

Ham & High: Chris Arnold asks what makes people online trollsChris Arnold asks what makes people online trolls (Image: Chris Arnold)

While some hide behind the mask of fake identities or abstract names, I was surprised how open some people were. Blunt, aggressive, often misguided, they were happy to post comments no one would be prepared to say to anyone’s face - all under their own name!

Trolls are very destructive to community, they have a massive negative social impact and have even been blamed for discouraging people from volunteering. They seek to find the negative in everything, spread gossip and fake information, even creating conspiracy theories. They bully, ridicule and insult people publicly.

For me the comments on social media were unpleasant, but in some case comical as the author obviously didn’t have the facts. What got to me were the personal messages which were vicious, vile and in one case, threatening.

This left me wondering what goes through the mind of a troll? So I did what any curious person would do – I asked a few. What I discovered was fascinating and they banded into four types.

  • Those that do it for sport, seek attention and a reaction.
  • Those that use social media as therapy to let out their frustrations.
  • Those that have a cause and will criticise regardless of fact and reality.
  • Those that are just nasty.

The trouble with social media is that it is an open platform for everyone, with little to no regulation. But to avoid becoming a troll, the next time you decide to comment ask yourself, “would I say this to them in front of their family?”

  • Chris Arnold is co-founder and director of the Crouch End Festival.