Don’t feed the trolls.
You know the ones I’m talking about. They prey on news forums, chat rooms, and other online communities. Their purpose: to disrupt any conversation or thread, and to get an emotional response from some unwary person. Ignoring them and not responding to their posts is your best option.
What kind of people are trolls? They’re cowards. Lonely cowards. Their posts seldom show any real imagination and often resort to childish name-calling.
Trolls are often extremely pedantic and rarely answer direct questions. There are some exceptions, but most aren’t smart enough to make a reasonable argument. They’re not interested in reason. They repeat themselves and say stupid, off-focus things to disrupt conversations.
Some trolls like to brag about their IQ. They try to come across like rocket scientists to lure the unwary and then pounce with a verbal attack. Trolls count the responses they get. It must be highly pleasurable for the poor creatures to count coups if they disrupt other people’s emotional equilibrium.
Trolls call it “Lulz,” a corruption of “LOL” (laugh out loud). Jason Fortuny is the most famous troll in America (using his real name in an interview). He was interviewed in the New York Times on August 3, 2008. This article is the best read I’ve found on the subject of trolls.
Fortuny’s passion for “pushing people’s buttons” made him the most prominent troll on the Internet according to the Times. He managed to thoroughly embarrass a lot of men with his infamous “Craigslist Experiment” as described in the Times article.
Like many trolls, Fortuny claims his pastime is just a big joke, a social experiment. He lives alone, spends countless hours anonymously insulting people, doesn’t have a full time job, is 32 years old, and brags (to anyone who will listen) about being a troll.
For all of Fortuny’s faults, no one has ever accused him of murder, like the woman in the Megan Meier cyberbullying case.
The suicide of a teenage girl highlights another type of troll. A deadly troll, sometimes called a cyberbully, took on a fake identity and seduced a vulnerable girl in MySpace. When the troll was sure she had fallen in love with the fake identity she (this woman posed as a man) broke up with the girl and said terrible things to her.
It was more than Megan Meier could stand and she killed herself. The warning is clear here. You never really know who you are talking with on the Internet, especially in online communities like FaceBook and MySpace.
For a guide on trolls go to flayme.com, which offers an Intelligence Test for Trolls. For an insight into cyberbullying check out the book “BullyBaby: Portrait of a Cyberbully,” by Andrew Heenan. “Dealing with Internet Trolls,” posted on lockergnome.com on April 17th, 2009, is another good information source.
Legislating cyberspace to go after trolls isn’t feasible in my opinion. The web is a new frontier for freedom of speech and I don’t want to see that changed by Orwellian laws that make it a crime to hurt someone’s feelings.
So what do you do about trolls? Recognize that they are part of the Internet community and will be there as long as there are lonely misfits and people who have trouble communicating in the real world.
They crawl through cyberspace seeking to create chaos. It gives them a sense of power when they feel powerless in the real world. They get to say things they’d never dare say to people directly. At best, they are lonely cowards. Ignore them and don’t let them spoil your use of the Internet.
Trolls are not hard to spot. For example, go to an online newspaper community like the Times-Standard’s Topix Forum. In no time, you’ll begin to recognize some names posted in every topic. Realizing this, trolls will sometimes change their identities, but their repetition and negative comments generally “out them” to an aware community.
There are also paid political trolls. They actually get paid to surf through online communities and disrupt meaningful conversations while touting their party line. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this underhanded practice.
As It Stands, there’s really only one practical way to deal with trolls: don’t feed them!
Dave Stancliff is a columnist for The Times-Standard. He is a former newspaper editor and publisher. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or davesblogcentral.com.