Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Please Don't Feed the Trolls

Many years ago, when I had first developed an interest in symbolism, a wise man explained to me the mytho-poetic location of a bridge: a place between places. It starts in one place, and takes you to another place, and in the middle, you are simply hanging over a place you cannot practically inhabit: a raging river or a gaping chasm or a busy highway. You are between places, en route, neither one nor the other.

Under the bridge is a precarious place: a negative place. Who dwells under bridges? In our culture, it’s people who have no better place to be: homeless folks may dwell under bridges for shelter, teenagers may take refuge there in pursuit of antisocial behavior. Gangs may stake out their territory under a bridge, as will animals. Under the bridge is outside of society. When Anthony Kiedis sang about being “Under the Bridge” he was singing about the absolute lowest point in his life, a place to which he wishes he had never gone, and hopes never to return. (Look it up.)

In mytho-poetic geography, under the bridge is the place where trolls dwell. Trolls are ugly creatures that live in darkness, emerging from the shadows only to feed on innocent travelers.

On the Internet, trolls are ugly creatures that dwell in darkness, emerging from the shadows only to harass innocent websurfers.

Trolls may seem harmless at first, particularly when they’re picking on the very weak: those lacking a basic understanding of grammar, spelling, history, geography, science, and math. “Well, they deserve it, the ignorant fools,” we may think. "Why don't they run a spellcheck/do a web search/go to Wikipedia?"

On the other hand, while trolling is very amusing for trolls, it does not make the Internet a nicer place to be, and it does not imbue the ignorant fools with a basic understanding of grammar, spelling, history, geography, science, and math. Rather than teaching to the deficits of the user, trolls exploit those deficits.

Trolling makes the Internet a stupider place. 

If ignorance bothers you, doesn’t it make more sense to politely correct it, so that the potential troll-food becomes wiser, more informed, and less irksome to the know-it-all troll? If you disagree with others' beliefs, does japery convert others to your worldview, or force them to reexamine their own? 

But trolls don’t care about making the Internet a nicer or smarter place. Trolls, in my experience, tend to be self-important blowhards who troll to feel better about their own lack of success. They are intelligent people who feel that the world has not handed them all the accolades they deserve, and rather than accepting their limitations, they empower themselves by hurting others.

They don’t all live in their mother’s basements. Some trolls are quite successful by most standards, but they feel robbed, angry not to have achieved the level of triumph and recognition that Ayn Rand promises they deserve. Their trolling moves beyond merely mocking teenagers for poor writing skills. Instead, they attack without provocation, treating every network as a platform for heckling. They hijack threads, take comments out of context, and view each forum as a medium to spread their own madness, all the while assuring themselves that they’re not really serious, they’re just having fun with stupid people. They’re trolls after all, and better and smarter than everyone else, and deserve to amuse themselves by demonstrating their superiority over the rest of the world.

They never question whether their beliefs actually are superior.

To a troll, anyone with a strongly held belief that does not perfectly match their own narrow worldview is an idiot, worthy of mockery, not deserving of respect, or even the courtesy of examining or understand the argument they’ve chosen to troll.

Many trolls do not believe in much, other than their right to excoriate others for a lark.

Any time a troll can insult or belittle someone else, the troll feels bigger. The only thing that gives a troll a greater sense of power than making fun of someone online is if others defend the original post, or attempt to engage the troll in a serious discussion about the validity of the belief or the appropriateness of sharing said belief in a particular forum.

Trolls imagine themselves on top, on sound footing at the end of a bridge, devouring fools. But the true place of the troll remains under the bridge: nowhere. Beneath nowhere. They think they’ve ascended to a point above everyone else. But in reality, they’re always rolling around in the muck and hurling nothing more than their own filth.

In fairy tales, trolls are often outwitted by children or animals.

On the Internet, anyone can outwit a troll. Simply do not engage. Ignoring a troll reduces its power. Don’t feed the trolls and eventually they starve to death.


Anonymous said...

Are you sure you even know what a troll is?

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