trolls are leaving forests and bridges for the internet

Es­ti­mated reading time is 9 min­utes.

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

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.

Cor­po­rate media equated trolling with mere on­line harassment—this may be rude but’s it’s not trolling.

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 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 world wide web looking for others of their ilk? 7


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 troll 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 ref­er­ences 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!

Then I won­dered, just who trolls on­line for hours a day for no pay—aside from a so­ciopath? Click To Tweet

Trolls Stone 1500 1

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 or 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!



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.”


Leaving Forests: photo of Felicity Huffman looking gorgeous.

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





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