Obvious troll is obvious

Dec 02 2010 Published by under [Et Al], [Information&Communication]

I don't think Julie Zhuo knows exactly what trolling is. She wrote an op-ed for the New York Times supposedly about trolling, but it ended up being more about anonymity, "unethical" behavior and how Facebook is a bastion of hope in this world of mean, mean trolls. She defines trolling in the article as "the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory or provocative messages in public forums." If that were true, then three-quarters of the content posted on the internet could qualify as trolling.

She comes close with the word "provocative" but it's insufficient. Trolling is better defined this way:

That's the important part. Intention. It's not just Joe Tea Party shooting off his mouth about Obamacare or bank bailouts with enough expletives and epithets to smother you, it can be as simple as this, which is one of my favorites:

Troll: why do they call it an xbox 360?
Chatter1: inc troll
Chatter2: cuz they want to
Chatter3: idk, why?
Troll: because when you see it you want to turn 360 degrees and walk away
Chatter3: but if you turn 360 degrees, you're still facing the xbox

Chatter3 has fallen into the trap, despite the obviousness of it. Chatter3 has been trolled, and will continue to be as long as they take the time to respond and correct and eventually argue. It's much more satisfying for the troll if Chatter3 becomes angry in the process; the win comes in misspelled, incoherent all-caps responses.

I like good trolling. There's an art to it. It reminds people that get it that the internet - and everything else - isn't as serious of business as it seems sometimes. Obviously this is taken to the extreme by abusive people, harassing the parents of suicide victims (which has happened on several occasions, not just the one Zhou brings up) or making light of very disturbing, horrible circumstances, but those are outliers. With anonymity comes less inhibition for most perhaps, but most people would not stoop to that level of moral depravity. It's similar to my favorite criticism of atheism: without God, you're free to set your moral compass to Licentious Murderer and have at it. That comment always makes me wonder what's really holding the finger-pointer back, if anything.

Removing anonymity, as Zhou suggests, will not fix it. There are plenty of trolls on Facebook who do a damn good job of making the uninitiated angry and pulling them in to loops of intentional fallacies. Just because their real name or an approximation is next to their comment doesn't stop the giant White House threads from blowing up. People will get Real Mad and Comment no matter if their name is attached to it, or they'll just not put their real name in their profile at all. That's always a possibility.

I don't think there's a problem here. If families are being harassed, there are ways for the police to handle it. If you fell for the Xbox 360 joke or took the time to correct someone's spelling of Richard Dawkins' name (Dwakins) and then posted epic defenses of atheism, you may have just wasted time defending atheism to an atheist who happens to like making you mad.

The only thing that will stop trolls from trolling is when people stop feeding them, when people stop falling for the baits, stop taking everything so damn seriously. There's no application or software solution that will fix gullibility. Now, the sticky thing for me to figure out is if Zhou was actually trolling, and this post in response, clarifying her supposed error, is me falling for it, stepping right into the trap. I do so willingly.

6 responses so far

  • Andrew Thaler says:

    Zhou did it for the lulz.

    I really like the "math trolls" that post fake proofs that are just clever enough to seem right at a glance and then the trolled follow with long and in depth explanations of how math works - http://www.axiomaticdoubt.com/?p=504

  • jeremy says:

    Ha! I think she did too...

    Andrew that post is freakin' win, man.

    I'm digging your new blog on here btw. Going to find the time to read through more of your stuff this weekend.

  • Zuska says:

    See, that's the problem with trolling. Obvious troll is obvious only to those for whom it is already obvious. Everyone else gets trolled.

  • More importantly, why does the NY Times routinely provide its editorial page and journalistic cover for transparent corporate shill jobs like this fucken garbage?

  • You got trolled, mang.

  • Sephie says:

    Though being an atheist is not a prerequisite for being a licentious murder. In fact in the united states the Atheist population is under represented in jails. This should be fixed by mandating that every atheist spend a portion of their time in jail cells so that atheists make up the same percentage of the prison population as they do in the general public. Either that or a lottery for crimes that atheists are especially underrepresented in the prison population for (like murder and rape) should be devised to make up the difference. If an atheist is drafted in the lottery then they will be required to commit the relevant crime and serve the time for it.