Trolling

Kynisk Sokol

Ancient Mariner
Almost a joke among most people now, discussion via computers was once limited to a relatively select group of those who could make it into universities or tech firms, or acquire the technical knowledge to call up bulletin board systems, and thus gain access to the simple software required to maintain conversation. Any number of parallels can be drawn, from the founding of civilization to the degeneration of musical genres, for what happened: in 1996, AOL opened the gates to mainstream America, and soon computer mediated communication was as neurotic and spiteful as PTA meetings in "real life."

From that point on, the futility of any kind of meaningful discourse increased in direct relation to the breadth of the audience. You cannot talk about a philosophy of life if the vast majority of users think that "All I know is what I like, and therefore, you can't tell me that's wrong" is a viable counterargument. Nor can you overcome the little social groups that cluster like flies on every topic area, reverting discussion from the abstract subject at hand to such mundane details as personalities and allegiances. In short, expressing oneself and trying to network with others is no longer achieved via discussion in its many forms, including Web forums, USENET, and IRC.

This dumbing down of discussion, such that it can no longer have a topic and must instead focus on the lowest common denominator interests of its audience, removes the split between speaker and audience, and the result is chaotic screaming where those who are most persistent are assumed to represent the de facto beliefs of the group as a whole, and thus quickly establishing calcified hierarchies devoted to anything but the topic at hand. In turn, this drives anyone sensible insane, as their best thoughts are ignored in favor of personal attacks and trivial snappy comebacks. Communication is replaced with a broken form of socialization that allows those who fail in life to seem important via electronic avatars, or symbolic representations of self as an external construct in the consensual consciousness of the group.

When it became apparent that this was the case, the golden age of Internet trolling began. Recognizing the futility of communication, these outsiders began to instead attack the non-communication, but, realizing that logical argument would be immediately dismissed, took discourse to a new level by instead of describing what they believed, demonstrating it through the negative reactions of others. Trolls had previously existed in an offhand manner, usually when a member of a community got fed up with another and decided to assume a fake name and draw that person into some argument so trivial that everyone else got just as fed up with that member. However, once the foolishness was no longer the minority of traffic but its mainstay, trolls realized not just an emotional reaction, but a logicality behind their method.

Somewhat predictably, reactions to trolls are mostly negative. Much as dissident writers and thinkers through history have been ostracized and forced to live in poverty, trolls get no public recognition from anyone with a stake in the status quo. If one has a vested interest in what is, trolls are the enemy, as their inclination is to tear down what is and thus, by the factor of exclusivity to any dominate system, replace it. Consequently, mainstream definitions of "Internet troll" fit the following pattern:

An Internet "troll" is a person who delights in sowing discord on the Internet. To them, other Internet users are not quite human but are a kind of digital abstraction. As a result, they feel no sorrow whatsoever for the pain they inflict. Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise). You cannot negotiate with them; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion; you cannot reason with them. They cannot be made to feel remorse. For some reason, trolls do not feel they are bound by the rules of courtesy or social responsibility.

An internet troll is a person who sends duplicitous messages hoping to get angry responses, or a message sent by such a person. Proposed motivations for trolling - Anonymous attention-seeking: The troll seeks to dominate the thread by inciting anger, and effectively hijacking the topic at hand; Cry for help: Many so-called trolls, in their postings, indicate disturbing situations regarding family, relationships, substances, and school--although it is impossible to know whether this is just simply part of the troll. Some believe that trolling is an aggressive, confrontational way by which trolls seek a sort of tough love guidance in an anonymous forum. -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll

There are two main types of trolls: 1. people who are psychologically disturbed, and seek to feel good by making other list members feel bad. This is a sort of "psycho troll", whose deception involves deceiving themselves as well as others. 2. people who pretend to be someone that they are not - they create personae that you think are real, but they know is fictitious. -
http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/troll.htm

What fails with such definitions is that they do not address the motivations for trolling, only its effects on a discourse that is assumed to be worthwhile, and thus is incapable of seeing its own emptiness, much as dissident falls on deaf ears when there are no blatantly obvious (twenty-story tall monsters, invading Visigoths, race riots, climate change) signs of society's failure. A better definition of trolling takes into account both the intent of trolls, and the effect of their actions one generation of discourse after the trolls make their appearance. To do this requires we for a moment set aside any moral judgment of what trolls do, and stop trying to consequently ascribe to some personality failing their actions, but assess them instead as serious participants in the discussion who have turned to unorthodox methods to express what could not be done via conventional means.

Trolling, as a tactic, is a method of drawing one's opponents into paradox by either making them confront the hollowness of their attitudes, or by revealing their own personal flaws and lack of mental discipline to avoid provoking comments, thus lashing out and shattering their carefully-constructed self-image. To be effective, an internet avatar must appear to be in control and to represent something other than the mundane bickering, but when punctured by a troll, the internet avatar is unmasked as a repository of human frailty and frustration, and thus its authenticity as an authority on the topic of the group is depleted. In short, trolling is wielding the futility of computer mediated communication against those who maintain it but, through careful social manipulation, avoid appearing to be continuators of that morass, but are able to fool many people into believing their public position that they are opposed to it.

Since this dual layer between appearance and reality exists, and in fact is the source of much of the social power from which internet talking heads derive their perceived authority, blurring that distinction invalidates the very premise of authenticity as exists in computer mediated discourse. That the status quo of such discussions is based on upholding this illusion means that trolls disrupt the layer of appearance, in which internet avatars pretend to be on topic when they are at a level below the ostensible maintaing a social and not logical order, and restore a topicality to the discussion by aggregating the social impulse away from the actual content of the discussion. In postmodern theory, it is posited that all discourse has both a "text," or the nominal meaning of the tokens being exchanged, and a "subtext," or an unstated shared psychological meaning to the discourse conveyed mainly by context, including social factors.

Viewed in this light, computer mediated communication can be seen as a victim of its own lack of differentiation between avatars and conversation; soon the needs of the avatars dominate the topic, and thus even if what is being discussed is "on topic," its context is one of the manipulation of personalities and self-image. Trolls by forcing this to identify itself group the subtextual factors apart from the text, and by virtue of what they do not target, create an identifiable stratification of conversation into social and textual factors. For this reason, we can see computer mediated discussion as an appearance which contradicts reality: those who appear to be on topic are using the topic to transact something entirely unrelated, and those who appear to be off-topic are often reassociating the topic with its meaning.

The probable cause of this duality is that, in a Platonic sense, there is no distinction between object and its manifestation in the computer world. Where in public discourse the individual is clearly separate from the text, in computer mediated discourse the individual is expressed entirely within the text, giving rise to the subtext of the individual. The forced linearization of dual "real world" factors, such as personality and social need, with abstract textual factors, such as the topic at hand or the underlying philosophies expressed, therefore induces a form of advanced concept entropy which leads to discourse being replaced with personality factors. Trolls approach this as a solvent, and divide the two again, revealing most of the discussion as the socialization that it is, and separating real content as unworthy of assault.

Metaphorically, this is similar to the political situation in the world today, which can be seen as an outpouring of the same psychology of duality seen in computer discussion, as brought about by a technological world in which we are each numbers on a triplicate form, phone numbers or email addresses. Those who accept the standard of civility that allows us to discuss a topic without discussing it, and thus let the status quo of relentless profit at the expense of nature and culture and the individual continue, are by the nature of having accepted the subtext as text unable to realize where their criticism of it must start, should it start. Those who embark on thinking outside of the standard of civility are correspondingly categorized as outsiders, since their beliefs are not only critical of the status quo, but entirely deny its validity. Currently, such dissidents, who tend to use dramatic means of introducing confusion that forces society to respond with increasingly rigid and impractical reactions, are categorized as terrorists, but we might as well call them trolls, or borrow language of a former time and refer to them as revolutionaries, or even, Minutemen.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
Trolls may be what you say in cases where internet discussions/communities actually replace conventional forms of social activity. Although I do recall cases on this particular board in which people have outed themselves as typical internet geeks (and being proud of it), I suppose the vast majority of us simply use the net to expand the given potential for communication and information.
Granted, if we register to a discussion forum or the likes, we create an online avatar, and of course, unless we lay our entire personality into it (which, thankfully, the fewest do), it differs from what we are like in "real life". When I portray myself on this board, I lay open some of my character traits and choose to conceal others. I expect the very same from all the other people here. After all, when we come here, we do so because in the first place, we share an interest/passion and want to discuss it. I admit that over time, I have come to visit this board not only because I want to discuss Iron Maiden but also because it has spawned very interesting off-topic discussions. If I want to get to know the people behind these avatars, I have private chats with them, and at some point, try to meet them in person.
The main difference between talking about Iron Maiden on this board and in "real life" is that in "real life", it is usually reduced to superficial smalltalk usually ending with something like "Yeah, each to his own, let's have another beer". This does not satisfy my urge to discuss things in detail, to learn from other people's knowledge and share my own. And since people here are good at talking and discussing, why not have some off-topic stuff too?
In such cases, trolls are just a nuisance. I know boards with 30 000+ members in which people take things way too seriously and in which an occasional troll may actually serve as a refreshment or a good mirror, but in places like this one, they are no good at all.
 

Genghis Khan

Ancient Mariner
Perun said:
Trolls may be what you say in cases where internet discussions/communities actually replace conventional forms of social activity. Although I do recall cases on this particular board in which people have outed themselves as typical internet geeks (and being proud of it), I suppose the vast majority of us simply use the net to expand the given potential for communication and information.
Granted, if we register to a discussion forum or the likes, we create an online avatar, and of course, unless we lay our entire personality into it (which, thankfully, the fewest do), it differs from what we are like in "real life". When I portray myself on this board, I lay open some of my character traits and choose to conceal others. I expect the very same from all the other people here. After all, when we come here, we do so because in the first place, we share an interest/passion and want to discuss it. I admit that over time, I have come to visit this board not only because I want to discuss Iron Maiden but also because it has spawned very interesting off-topic discussions. If I want to get to know the people behind these avatars, I have private chats with them, and at some point, try to meet them in person.
The main difference between talking about Iron Maiden on this board and in "real life" is that in "real life", it is usually reduced to superficial smalltalk usually ending with something like "Yeah, each to his own, let's have another beer". This does not satisfy my urge to discuss things in detail, to learn from other people's knowledge and share my own. And since people here are good at talking and discussing, why not have some off-topic stuff too?
In such cases, trolls are just a nuisance. I know boards with 30 000+ members in which people take things way too seriously and in which an occasional troll may actually serve as a refreshment or a good mirror, but in places like this one, they are no good at all.

I find that the avatar has virtually no relation to yours truly as a person who thinks and values.  I've come out -- I'm not really Genghis Khan.  ::)

The avatar is just an interesting picture that has some small relevancy to the band we all know and love.  I could have been The Trooper if it was not already taken, for example .  The rest of my "identity" is just a logical extension of the otherwise irrelevant and often silly avatar.  Who truly wishes to post personal pictures and specific concrete information about their person? 

My thoughts and opinions, on the other hand, are real and true.  Like Perun's, most of my posts, are about general stuff, and not about Iron Maiden.  I find that I can express myself more when I'm not worried whether or not I will offend the person(s) that will read my posts.  This does not mean I lie about my thoughts and values in real life, it just means that I'm more guarded about my philosophy when speaking face-to-face. 

As far as trolls go, I have not seen any here.  (Obviously many have seen them judging by this thread, even though it is short).  Plenty of posters/members (especially ex-members) have been annoying, but I always thought those people believed in their wacky views of the world or the band.  As far as I understand the concept of trolling, the accused must deliberately say something provocative just to cause a strong reaction without having any evidence or intent to back it up.  The definition can become subjective, easily.
 
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