On a trip to Oklahoma City a few days ago I engaged in a lively discussion with my son. He had recently written a blog post about Internet trolls for his site "Eyes On Everything" and so the subject came up as to whether it was necessarilly a "bad" thing to be one. Admittedly it had been a few days since I'd read his article, so I wasn't really prepared to talk about the points he had brought up. I think it was mainly about the definition of a "troll" and a description of the different methods they employ. It may have had a bit more to it, but we took the conversation to another level so I don't think it mattered that I wasn't up-to-speed about what he had written. In other words, there wasn't anything in the post that I didn't already know.
So...is it okay to be a "troll"? Is trolling a good thing or bad? If the former, to what ends? If the latter, why? What does engaging in trollish behavior say about the person who practices it? Does it matter? Is it just a necessary side effect of the anonymity the Internet provides?
Pretty vague questions, to be sure. Is it "okay" to be a troll? Well, you'd think it was no big deal seeing the vast armies of trolls plundering YouTube, facebook, Twitter and countless message boards/communities. The only way to avoid them is to ignore them (remember that, it's important...nay, essential). So is it socially acceptable? Does it even matter? After all, the rules have changed with the widespread cultural saturation of the Internet. Only time will tell if the intense negativity of trolls (and the vile screes of genuine haters) will become manifest in cultural indifference as time goes by.
But what do I think? Is it okay? Personally I say "no", it's not okay. It's not cool. There is nothing about trolling which benefits anyone, especially the one doing the trolling. It's a waste of time. The kind of pleasure that can be had in trolling is on the same immature level as picking the wings off of flies. It's mean and manipulative. Manipulation is what trolling is all about, everyone knows that. So who has that right? Who has the right to manipulate another human being? From where within the psyche does this urge to manipulate arise? I'd venture to guess that it's not a *good* place, and it's certainly not a method of catharsis that is healty, mentally or spiritually.
"But that's just it," says the troll. "It's catharsis. It allows me the chance to get out all my aggressions without physically hurting anyone." Sounds good, until you consider the chance that your mode of aggression therapy has the very real power to hurt another person. Feelings are hurt easily...this may not sound like such a big deal, kind of wimpy, right? People's "feelings"... they should grow thicker skin, eh? Well, they shouldn't have to. It's hard enough to deal with the bullshit life throws your way without having some idiot tell you your mother's a cow or the religion you hold dear is a pack of lies... And you never know. You could well be messing with someone who has just about had enough, who is one insult away from buying a gun and shooting himself in the head...or using that gun to mow down a few school kids before turning it on himself. You'd think that the remote POSSIBILITY of something like that happening would be a wake-up call to the trolls, that they would realize the "power" that is available to them can be quite destructive, not just some mischevious fun. But you know what? It won't. Because it's just too much fun being a troll.
What makes it so fun? My son says trolls are so into it because it lets them invent completely new personas for themselves. Of course you can do that without being a troll, and no doubt that is a very interesting experiment to conduct. But I suppose the troll aspects come into play when you try to push some buttons just to see how someone else would react to the avatar you've created. It's not you, right? So you can say anything you want. You can pick a cyber-fight. You can make someone fall in love with you, not even knowing that the screen name is not a real person at all (naive, I know, but you would be surprised...). And all of this without any repurcussions in the "real world".
So what does that say about you, my troll friend? It says that on some level you can't handle the real world and/or your place in it. The level of cruelty in your Internet jousts is in direct proportion to how frightened you are to hurl them at a real person, to their face. No integrity whatsoever. Does that matter to you? Does your anonymity change the fact that you're a coward, oh nameless troll? No, it does not. It magnifies it.
That is how I feel. I feel justified in expressing and holding these opinions because I once engaged in trollish behavior myself. For several years, to be honest. I look back on those days and I am ashamed of myself. I regret the time and effort I wasted in targeting people and waging war with them. I know why I did it, and I know how I thought it was so much fun. Those things reflect aspects of my personality that I should have left where they belong, instead of bringing them closer to the fore, giving them chance to grow. Perhaps had I not nurtured them by trolling they would be buried even deeper, robbed of the chance to do any more damage. I didn't care about the people whose minds I messed with. I said, "this person is a screen name, nothing more". That's all they were to me. I could say whatever I wanted because a screen name doesn't have emotions.
If you are a troll and happen to be reading this, please understand that I'm not judging or condemning you. Only your hobby. My only advice to you is that you consider the feelings of the people you are toying with. Go to a bar, walk up to a stranger, unleash your best troll line and stand up to the possibility that he will knock the shit out of you. You'll get what you deserve.