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Joe is a writer, bad musician, broadcasting type guy, and all around human. He writes things for The Hudsucker, and anywhere else that will publish him. And twitter @slothraps

The Truth About Internet Trolls

I find the notion of the Troll to be very interesting. I think this is because it is a strange notion. A “Troll” can be a person, a state of being, or an intention. A Troll can be anything on the spectrum between annoying to downright dangerous. I want to take the time to deconstruct the idea of the Troll and explore what it might mean.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

I should probably start out that I am a relativist. That is, I don’t really subscribe to the philosophical idea that there is a hard and fast line between good and evil. I don’t necessarily think that an action, or a thing, or a person, or an idea can be inherently good or bad. Meaning, I don’t entirely agree with the notion of Truth; at least I am not comfortable talking about Truth in any sort of definitive way without feeling like I am being dishonest. That means that in this article I will do my very best to explore the notion of “Trolldom” by looking at patterns and notions. Hopefully, if you are interested in the “Ecology of the Troll” after reading this article then you will take it upon yourself to do additional research and come to your own conclusions based on your own context, experiences, and narrative.

First I want to talk about the notion of the Troll as a person. A person who is either self identifying as a Troll or who is being called one. (This is different from just trolling, which we will discuss later.)  Due to the nature of the internet, being that it’s anonymous, it is hard to pin down what type of person can be a Troll. I find the image of the fat neckbeard dude in a dark basement to be counter productive on just about every level, so let’s strike that image for at least the amount of time it takes to finish reading this article. This means that literally any person could be a Troll: your boss, your zen master, your mom, me, you, whomever.

What makes a troll then? I suppose the answer would be something close to: a troll is a person who partakes in  acts of trolling frequently enough so that entire sessions of internet use may be directed solely on the act of trolling. From there I think it would be useful to at least talk about what it means to troll, and how the act of trolling may or not make someone a Troll.

The act of trolling, seems to have a pretty defined idea of a definition: an act that is meant to upset another person. There are degrees of trolling, as anything. But this is where things tend to get fuzzy. The act of trolling, suggests that there is intent. Meaning, because someone has an ill-informed or offensive opinion and they state it on the internet does not make their action one of trolling. It just means you take offense to their action. So you kind of have to be around Trolls and their behavior long enough to be able to notice it. There are websites out there that act as bastions for Trolls and their ilk, but I am loath to list them here as they have been known to take down websites for fun. If you do some quick Google searches I am confident you will find the droids you are looking for.

So as you can see, it is hard to tell who is a Troll and who isn’t and who is just trolling at that moment, because of the sheer amount of people on the internet. So we will have to do a decent amount of hypothetical “situation-ing” for us to be able to explore any further but let’s continue on anyway.

Here’s the situation (bonus points if you sung the next line in the Will Smith song) we have a person. We’ll call him T, and T is a Troll. T spends their days on Twitter and Reddit and other sites annoying people. He’ll say things to make a feminist rage, or make an atheist angry. T will often makes jokes about rape or murder or other ideas that people find infuriating, simply because they find them infuriating. T might do any number of things, ranging from the tame to the almost criminal. T might reverse engineer his way into finding someone’s password just so T can use that person’s information against them. T might just spam their Twitter feed with more accounts than that person can block. T is a troll. It’s what T does.

The psychological impairments of the average troll. Photo Credit: Best Psychology Schools Online via Mashable

It’s important to note that the idea of trolling started gathering steam as an online occurrence. But as the more accurate form of the saying goes: Practice Makes Permanent. T might find them-self spouting rape jokes around their friends at school, or endlessly reciting memes at work like he was a Noam Chomsky fanatic. Part of trolling is convincing the trolled person that they somehow deserved it. This doesn’t happen all the time, but I have seen it happen enough because the idea of the Troll is kind of that of method acting. Few times will the Troll break down and just admit to trolling, unless that to is an act of trolling. This means that T will have built up a reservoir of reasons why their sexist, racist and other generally offensive ideas are actually valid—whether or not T believes these reasons outside of the trolling situation. However, the danger becomes that the more you say something, the easier it is to believe. That’s why people tell you to smile when you are sad. That’s why you sing the alphabet. That’s why ceremonies are always done the same. That’s why people value traditions. Repetition causes a belief that there is a reason for that repetition.

The truth about trolling is that people like T exist. I have seen them. I have been on websites filled with people like T. I have at one time or another been stuck in their reasoning and had to pull myself back up until I could see the light of doing acts of compassion. I think that could be the simplest way to define what trolling is. The opposite of compassion. It’s different from having sociopathy where you can’t have empathy, it’s that you choose not to use it. The truth about trolling isn’t that Trolls are just young kids with no friends who live in a basement who feel the need to bully. It’s not that Trolls are sad people or bad people. The truth about trolling is that we are all capable of it. We all can just decide to say the mean thing because it is funny to us. And the thing is, it’s easy. It’s so much easier to be mean than to be nice. Some may disagree with me, but something in our culture and our interactions with other people have made it hard for us to automatically empathize with other people.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I guess it depends if you prefer Ayn Ryn or Spock.

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