Welcome back to Planet Internet, where we explore the inner workings of the web. Last week, we took a look at Bloggers – the aloof but loveable creatures that provide humans with hours of entertainment via typos and the shameless detailing of their sex lives. But this week, we visit a darker side of the internet – the side inhibited by the villainous and infamous Troll. Who are these Trolls? How do they survive? And more importantly, why?
If a Blogger is the scum that coats the walls of a fish tank, a Troll is the Pleco fish that devours the algae, ravenously and without remorse. The two cohabitate in the blogosphere, yet their motives and means of survival are far from uniform. While Bloggers seek to draw an audience that will bare witness to their extraordinary expository skills, Trolls instead seek to engage – and enrage – the Commenters; bombarding them with faulty arguments and baseless declarations until the defeated Commenter utters ‘Nazi’ or ‘Hitler.’
Trolls are conceived during what we’ll condescendingly call the Imperfect Storm – a blend of boredom, absentee parents, lack of friends, absence of obligations/responsibilities, the discovery of the ‘Anonymous’ or ‘Guest’ handle, and not making the soccer team over ten years ago. While some might suggest it’s time for the forming Troll to Let It Go, this Painful Soccer Memory (and the equally painful dismissal of its impact) has been repressed for over a decade and when it comes to the surface, a Troll is born. It is important to consider the Painful Soccer Memory when trying to distinguish Trolls from other bored people bereft of friends, caring parents, or possibilities.
Are you familiar with the classic tale of The Billy Goats Gruff? Then you can envision the habitat of a Troll – a dark, cavernous landscape that gives off an air of foreboding. There’s one minor difference – internet Trolls do not dwell under bridges. No, they dwell under lofted beds, which can usually be located down the hall and to the right of Mother’s Room. The Troll hovers in its cave, basking in the warm glow of an unbranded laptop (possibly built from scratch by the Troll itself, during a brief period in its life that seemed full of promise). It does not break for anything but bologna sandwiches and diet cola.
There are many species of Troll – Right Wing Nut Troll, Liberal Douche Troll, Totally Missing The Point Troll, Contradictory Troll, Faux-Intellectual Troll, One-Word Expletive Troll, Minority-Hating Troll, TL;DR Troll, Christwire Troll, Off-Topic Troll, Personal Attack Troll, Humorless Troll, and Academic Troll, to name a few. However, the most prolific of all the Trolls is the Stealth Troll – a Troll so impeccably fluid in its Trolling that, to the naked eye or the Commenting Noob, it is frequently mistaken for a human being. And it is for that reason that the Stealth Troll thrives.
You see, while Bloggers are able to survive off of positive reinforcement and an impressive bit.ly click through rate, Trolls get their sustenance from Commenters who attempt to prove the Troll wrong, reason with the Troll, chastise the Troll, or interact with the Troll in any other capacity. A Commenter responding to a Troll is like a Lost Boy clapping for Tinkerbell – if the Commenter forgoes acknowledgement, the Troll and its provocative, ill-informed statements will be forever quarantined in a single-comment thread (the Troll’s worst nightmare). But should a White Knight feed the Troll? Not only will the Troll grow in strength; its Troll brethren will appear in droves – latching on to the inflammatory comment teat so that they, too, may feed.
In a research study conducted by the CUVIP (Center for Understanding Various Internet Personas), 100% of respondents reported that they do not know a single person who trolls on the internet. Not one. No one knows anyone who trolls on the internet, and no one polled trolls on the internet, either. Every single respondent makes rational, constructive comments using both their first and last name, every single time they leave a comment on the internet.
We here on Planet Internet like to Go There – so when the CUVIP could not produce a Troll for interview, we took things into our own hands. Tina, our intern [Say hi, Tina! Say hi and say it fast because this’ll never happen again!] filed a HARO request asking Trolls to come clean and, lo and behold, we found Billy… Butts? Billy Butts… heh… Billy Butts? Come on. [I know that’s the pseudonym he requested Mike, but it’s just… it’s juvenile! Can we all agree it’s juvenile that I have to pretend that this guy’s name is Billy Butts? Whatever. We’ll talk about this later.] Billy Butts, a self-proclaimed Troll, has agreed to speak with us under the condition that we obscure his identity. Hi Billy, thanks for joining us on Planet Internet. How did you get your start Trolling?
“Well, I started…heh… I started Trolling… I’m sorry, when I asked you guys to protect my identity I just meant to like, put me in a dark room or something. Are you kidding me with this voice distortion mechanism? Heh…like I sound like Darth Vader. This is so ridiculous. I mean… this is really over the top. ‘Luke – I am your father…’ Heh… good shit.”
That about wraps it up, doesn’t it? So the next time you wish slow, brutal death on a Troll, just remember that the only difference between a Troll and a My Little Pony is that someone cared about the My Little Pony enough to brush its hair. Join us next week, when we’ll learn all about the soon-to-be-extinct Fameball and what you can do to save them (or not save them. Please do not save them.) This has been Planet Internet, C U SOON.