Friday, July 20, 2018
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Pinoy Kasi

‘Nuno sa’ internet

You feel this terrible itching and swelling on your foot (or, worse, further north in a private area) and wonder what caused it. If you’re male, you might remember you took a leak by the roadside but didn’t excuse yourself (“Tabi-tabi po”).

Oh, no, you realize, you’re being punished by the nuno sa punso, supernatural creatures inhabiting anthills or termite mounds. Sometimes they’re just called dwende, the Spanish-derived word for dwarfs, but the nuno description is more ominous; the word is derived from ninuno or ancestors — a reference to their being nasty little old male supernatural beings.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go back to the nuno to apologize. Instead, you go to a traditional healer, an albularyo, who will perform healing rituals.


Medically speaking, the swelling might indeed have been caused by the anthill — not by the nuno inhabitant but by the ants, or other insects, biting you. The itching and swelling could also be an allergy reaction to contact with insects, or even plants.


These days I’d worry more about a mutation of this nuno sa punso, much more virulent than the original: the nuno sa internet, known in English as trolls.

I first used the term “nuno sa internet” in my classes some years back, more tongue-in-cheek, to refer to the irritating human creatures who like to “flame” people by posting insulting comments online.

People in western countries seem to have noted the similarities between these internet provocateurs and their own mythological creature, the troll, which started out in Norse and Swedish folklore as a giant bull but became a dwarf or imp with time until it was imported into England.

For years the internet trolls were tolerated as minor nuisances, until they became more like bullies and stalkers. In 2011 a man in Scotland, Sean Duffy, was tried and sentenced to jail and community service for his posts mocking dead teenagers and their families. Since then, there have been trolls implicated in driving people to suicide or near-suicide, leading to calls for antitroll legislation.

Trolling has taken another dark form: people who disrupt social media sites with fake news and inflammatory comments, usually directed at those whose political views are different from theirs. The trolling is no longer mischievous; the trolls are being hired by politicians and even governments (Russia is a prime suspect) for destabilization.

I have wondered what these trolls are like, suspecting that they must have psychological problems to be so ruthless in what they do, spewing their venom from one site to another.

It turns out that psychologists in North America and in Australia have conducted studies on trolls and have found evidence of psychopathology.


These psychologists use rather novel research methods, tapping online survey sites such as Mechanical Turk and SurveyMonkey to recruit internet users to participate in their studies. The volunteers, who are given a very small financial incentive (in one study, US$0.50), answer a battery of personality questions, as well as questions about their internet use and activities (frequency and length of time, and specific activities like chatting, debating, commenting and, of course, trolling). The researchers then look for correlations between personality and internet use.

Dark Triad, Dark Tetrad

If the trolls get you anxious, here’s more: The psychologists doing the troll research tend to draw on earlier work around the “Dark Triad.” That’s not a gang but a cluster of pathological personalities marked by sadism (pleasure at seeing other people suffer), Machiavellianism (devious manipulation), and psychopathy (causing serious harm). The term was coined by Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams of the University of British Columbia and used in an article published in 2002. The two authors proposed that people could have these conditions subclinically, meaning they can still function well in society, even be perceived as pleasant and charming, and yet cause harm to people around them.

Paulhus and Williams’ work has since been expanded into a “Dark Tetrad,” the fourth condition being narcissism. Those afflicted are described as “grandiose self-promoters who continually crave attention.” We sometimes hear it described as “I, me and myself,” or in Filipino, “KSP” or “kulang sa pansin” (needing attention). But KSP is usually mild compared with narcissism, which involves constant bragging about oneself.

Two research reports suggest that trolls seem more likely to be sadists. The most recent study, by Natalie Sest and Evita Marsh and published just this year, found that trolls actually score well in cognitive empathy, (they can tell how people are feeling), but lack affective empathy (they couldn’t care less if people are hurt and, even worse, derive pleasure from knowing they have hurt people).

In the Australian and Canadian research, narcissists are less likely to troll, spending more time on Facebook. Now not all FB users are narcissists — you can check to see how much of “I, me and myself” you are.

I’m hoping our psychologists — faculty and students — would take up the challenge to look at our nuno and other dark creatures on the Net. I suspect, for example, that our nuno may not just be sadists but narcissists as well. I’ve also wondered if some trolls have Asperger’s (a condition where a person is unable to read people’s emotions), as in the case of Sean Duffy. Maybe we do have different types of nuno sa internet.

There are many practical applications for this kind of research. People involved in a company’s human resources office, for example, know that those with the Dark Tetrad of conditions can be quite good at getting through job interviews and even screening tests, and then become a real pain once they start working. Think, too, of what could happen if sadists end up getting jobs in the police or military. Perhaps the applicants’ behavior on the internet might present clues to the Dark Tetrad personalities.

Because trolls are now all over the internet, we need to be able to educate people to survive their assaults. Let me qualify that many of the trolls I’ve seen are quite amateurish, and others are clearly doing it halfheartedly and crudely, for the money. But others do have malicious intentions, and are out for the kill.

I tend to agree with the advice not to feed the trolls. You reward trolls when their comments anger you, making them even more savage in their attacks.

Here’s a dark thought: Do be vigilant about family members and friends showing signs of trolling and the Dark Tetrad. I worry especially about the young, who, seeing all the trolling, might believe that it is acceptable behavior. The young should learn that rational debate can be healthy while trolling is not. I shudder at the thought of our country becoming one big punso, inhabited by so many spiteful and vicious nuno.

Tabi-tabi po.

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TAGS: Dark Tetrad, Dark Triad, dwende, Inquirer Opinion, internet, Michael l. tan, nuno sa punso, Pinoy Kasi, social media, trolls
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