trolls are leaving forests and bridges for the internet

TROLLS ARE EVERYWHERE! It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, trolls dwelled in Scandinavian folk tales, creatures hostile to all things human. But now trolls are everywhere! They’re leaving forests and bridges and the rocks and trees of the Old World to dwell in the cybercities that encircle the globe. And now we call these new city-dwellers ‘internet trolls.’ 1

Corporate media has been equating trolling with all online harassment. This may be rude, but’s it’s not trolling.

The Internet Troll is a very real creature who sows discord on internet forums such as Facebook and Reddit, along with chat rooms, the comments sections of otherwise sane news sites, and even on other people’s blogs.

The Internet Troll does this not to enlighten or to learn, but to agitate and provoke anger in readers and disrupt the normal flow of discussion.

For the troll, this is entertainment. To the rest of us, this is perverse, perhaps sociopathic.

Recently, the corporate media has been equating trolling with all online harassment, including simple derogatory comments made at specific individuals focusing on gender, race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. 2

This may be rude, obnoxious, even despicable behavior—and the type that would get a lot of the speakers a black eye or two if they had the balls to say it in a bar—but’s it’s not trolling. 3


Leaving Forests: drawing of troll by Gamla Bror.

A modern interpretation of a troll by artist Gamla Bror.

Here, there, and everywhere

There are far more trolls that I initially assumed—check out these downright scary statistics about your neighbors and mine: 4

A. 28% admit to participating in “malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn’t know.”

B. 23% have “maliciously argued over an opinion with a stranger. 5

These statistics do not mean the same thing: the first indicates intentional trolling, in that it implies the person sought to act out the malicious online activity. That is, these 28% can be thought of as being true trolls.

But the second group of respondents argued in a troll-like manner to anger others in the course of a non-trolling session on the internet. That is, these 23% appear not to have necessarily set out to troll anyone but got caught up in the heat of the battle and behaved trollily (sic). I would not consider them true trolls. 6


Leaving Forests: photo of Felicity Huffman in the movie TRANSAMERICA.

Felicity Huffman looking like a woman who made the incredible journey from homely guy to homely gal in the 2005 movie TransAmerica. She plays a transgender woman who discovers she has skeletons in her former male closet that even she didn’t know about. Huffman is one of my faverave actresses and she didn’t get near the amount of attention she deserved for this performance. (See the bottom of this page.)

Ten regularly harassed groups

Needless to say, those folk who receive the overwhelming majority of harassment are mostly those we consider minorities. Alphabetically, they are:

• African Americans
• Asian Americans
• Bisexual Americans
• Gay Americans
• Female Americans
• Hispanic Americans
• Jewish Americans
• Lesbian Americans
• Muslim Americans
• Transgender Americans

Wait! That’s only nine groups. I set an eleventh group aside as they not be a minority: Liberal Americans. In fact, they may be the majority, but that hasn’t prevented them from being the most trolled group of Americans.

Conspicuous by their absence among those being harassed is that group of American who own the most computers and log in the most online time: white males.


Leaving Forests: photo of Clint Eastwood in the movie DIRTY HARRY.

For many white, heterosexual, conservative, Christian males, Clint “Hang ‘Em High, Dirty Harry” Eastwood is the quintessential white, heterosexual, conservative, Christian male. Yet as an auteur, he has made some of the most sensitive and—dare I say it?—liberal movies in recent memory, such as The Bridges of Madison County, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Torino.

Guess who the harassers are?

Recent research indicates that the overwhelming majority of those doing the harassing are the usual suspects: white, heterosexual, conservative, Christian males.

So, given the harassers and who they harass, is it too big a leap to envision a bunch of middle-aged men in white gowns with hoods cruising the dark alleyways of the worldwide web looking for others of their ilk? 7

No. Not really.

Then I wondered if these guys congregated somewhere on the Internet and planned their aggravation in advance.

Then I wondered just who does this sort of thing for nothing—aside from a sociopath? I mean, it can take hours to adequately one person or conversation! Thinking of someone wanting to do this for jollies is kinda creepy!

Then I wondered if somebody was, you know . . . paying these creeps.


Leaving Forests: photo of unidentified woman mistaken by rightwingnut bloggers and trolls as Doris Truong, who they then assaulted verbally on the Internet.

“There was not a single piece of evidence linking Doris Truong to the video of the woman. The only way bloggers could have connected the two is this they looked for the most prominent female journalist of Asian descent they could find, and they pretended—without making any effort to find the truth—that she was guilty of wrongdoing. The building wave of baseless accusation resulted in sustained harassment against Truong, including racial slurs on Twitter.”

Have computer, will harass

That got me to thinking, “Am I getting paranoid here?” But a quick search of the internet allayed my fears about my possibly unnecessary fear: I typed “paid right wing trolls” into Google and those four words called up more than 200,000 listings! 8

The first listing was “The Right-Wing Trolls Have a Strategy. What’s Ours?” by Andy Schmookler for the Daily Kos. Andy asked a question not unlike mine: “Why do right-wingers come to a liberal site?” He then answered that question:

It’s not an attempt to persuade, much less to learn. These men—almost all of them are men—only pretend to be involved in a discussion. They’re really on a guerrilla mission behind enemy lines to disrupt communications.

It’s not about ideas.

It’s about fighting to win.

There’s testimony about concerted efforts to attack and disrupt. One can find discussions among right-wing trolls, sharing strategies for frustrating liberal commenters and techniques to circumvent the efforts of liberal blogs to ban them for their deliberate disruption and annoyance.

Some of the trolling forces of the right are neither free-lance nor volunteer: reports tell of “help wanted postings” for paid commenters—soliciting a kind of mercenary army to advance the political force that’s taken over the right.”

Keep in mind that trolls are almost always hidden behind the anonymity of an online handle. No one knows who they are! This ability to do harm to others with no repercussions must feel like having superpowers to these deplorable trolls!


Leaving Forests: cover of August 29, 2016, issue of TIME magazine about hate on the Internet.

The August 29, 2016, issue of Time featured a cover story by Joel Stein on the hate that permeates parts of the internet. Illustration by Steve Brodner.

They’re meant to unnerve us

Among the 200,000 sites listed, I even found reference to “Holocaust trolls” and “Jew-trollers” in “I Am Not A Lampshade” by Marisa Kabas for Fusion. The author refers to the neo-Nazi types who turned up at Donald Trump rallies around the country:

“Being a Jew-troller comes with a playbook of sorts, one written far before social media even existed. It’s rooted in Nazi Germany propaganda: poking fun at hook noses, showing bags of money, depicting people with their heads shoved in ovens. You’ve likely seen some or all of these before.

They’re meant to unnerve us. They’re meant to make us feel less than. They’re meant to remind us that not so long ago, a powerful man and his band of fools attempted to erase our existence and our place in the world, and very nearly succeeded.”


Leaving Forests: painting of the troll under the bridge and the three billy goats gruff by Nicola Robinson.

Illustration by Nicola L. Robinson of one of the world’s best known trolls—the one under the bridge in the tale of the “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

Leaving forests and bridges

Then there is the “self-aware troll,” discussed in “Calling It What It Is: the Unspoken Validation of Online Abuse” by K.C. Alexander for Medium. The author addresses the lack of oversight and regulation of verbal abuse on one of the Internet’s largest social platforms:

“For early adopters of Twitter, the company’s unwillingness to address trolls is practically written into the unspoken contract users sign by virtue of logging in. We have long made our desire for abuse-protection—even just an anti-harassment policy that addresses flagrant abusers—and have waited almost a decade for Twitter to trickle out stopgap after stopgap.

As people were fleeing the venomous YouTube comments and avoiding the toxic comment sections of news sites, the trolls began to creep out from under the bridge, and found a whole new avenue of breeding ground in social media platforms.

Especially those platforms with loose concepts of anti-harassment.

As Twitter avoided the topic of anti-harassment, these trolls learned to hone their verbal abuse skills on a medium that provides 140 characters of sheer shit and the unlimited reach of its interconnected networks. Suddenly, trolls were connected like never before!” 9

On doing combat with trolls

Nothing works. The moment you recognize that you are being trolled, end the conversation. If you’re on someone else’s platform, leave and call it day.

When I believe I am being trolled on my Facebook page, I simply delete all the comments from the suspected troll.

The biggest problem I have is trying to differentiate between a well-meaning but politically naive commenter and a troll: a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about but persists in arguing “his point” sounds exactly like a troll trying to get your goat!


FEATURED IMAGE: The photo of the troll-like rocks is from the Do Trolls Really Exist blogspot. I haven’t a clue how much of the rocks in the photo is natural formation, how much is human carving of those rocks, or how much is mechanical manipulation of the image. No matter which or what, it’s a great, evocative image!



FOOTNOTES:

1   “The troll is a mythical creature that has become a popular staple in the realms of legend, folklore, and fantasy. One of the most anthropomorphic fantasy creatures, trolls have been depicted in vastly different ways. From their Scandinavian fairy tale roots, trolls have achieved international recognition, and in modern fantasy literature and role-playing games, trolls are featured to the extent of being stock characters.

Generally considered somewhat dangerous, whether through their larger than human size and strength or through more magical means, trolls are recognizably similar to human beings. Whatever their origin, trolls represent that which is somewhat peculiar and different, yet hauntingly similar to ourselves.” (New World Encyclopedia)

2   The misuse of the term troll is getting so watered down that it may lose any real meaning. In “Jared Cook’s Wikipedia page is the best troll job of Cowboys fans yet,” a clever, complimentary addition to Wikipedia is equated with trolling!

3   The word troll can be used as a noun or a verb. Merriam-Webster agrees with my definition above: to troll means “to antagonize others online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.” As a noun, a troll is one who antagonizes others online etc.

4   Statistic from an online survey of 1,125 adults by YouGov (“Over a quarter of Americans have made malicious online comments“).

5   Merriam-Webster defines malicious as “having or showing a desire to cause harm to someone.”

6   This second one can loosely be applied to anyone who has ever ended an argument online by posting a comment intended to piss off our opponents—even hurt their feelings or pride—and then log off so they can’t retaliate.

7   Believe it or not, there’s a group of particularly nasty trolls—whom I assume are white males—with a perverted sense of irony who bill themselves as the Gay Niggers Association of America!

8   The sub-heading “Have computer, will harass” is a cultural allusion that will probably escape any reader under the age of 50.

9   On December 31, 2016, National Book Award author and Internet gadfly Sherman Alexie posted this tweet, becoming another celebrity to leave the nest: “Hey, folks, I’m leaving Twitter because its negatives increasingly outweigh its positives. Thank you for the follows.”



The manifestation of the bully on the Internet in the form of a troll is a topic of concern to me. The anonymity of the troll is especially scary: you get to be a bully and no one knows who you are and there are no repercussions! To read more, type “bullies” into the SEARCH box on the home page of this site.


 

Leaving Forests: photo of Felicity Huffman looking gorgeous.

Felicity Huffman looking just like her normal lovely self . . .


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Comments, suggestions, additions, and arguments welcome!