Today, I want to introduce a topic that bemuses me, somewhat bewilders me, and ultimately, bewilders me: internet trolls.
When I first got on ‘the nets’ more than a decade ago, I had a free AOL credit thing, so I used it. I logged in as Asiangrrl (yes, I stick to a name once I pick one), and in one of the chat rooms, this irate woman (I’m assuming by her name) started ranting at me about how sly Chinks are. I left that room to go to another room, and she followed me, telling me I couldn’t get away from her. Well, yeah, I could–I logged off.
That was my introduction to the wonderful world of internet trolls, but it did not deter me from soldering on.
In the beginning, I only frequented sites to get news. I rarely read comments because, quite frankly, most of them were written poorly and showed a lack of thought. This was before I had discovered any political blogs, let me add, so it’s not even like I had to deal with any fundies. Whenever I did delve into the comments, however, I noticed that there was always one or two people who made incendiary comments which would get everyone else on the site upset. This is so common, there’s a term for it: flaming. It seems that’s what trolls do–flame.
I ignored them for the most part because that’s what you do with trolls. Ignore them, deprive them of their fun, and they most likely will move on. It’s pretty clear-cut when someone is simply trying to ignite passions. That person isn’t worth a mention, so ignoring him/her is your best bet.
However, once I actually started visiting forums and political blogs, I realized that there are several different kinds of trolls, and it’s not always easy to differentiate them from regular commenters. For example, there was one person on one of the queer political blogs I read who kept defending the Catholic church. At first blush, it seemed like the commenter was simply a devout Catholic and a bit misguided. The more s/he posted, however, it was clear that s/he was simultaneously trying to slam queers and defend the Catholic hierarchy at the same time. I have no idea if this poster was queer, but I soon stopped reading anything s/he posted, and I didn’t respond.
Then, there is the person who goes on a blog simply to deride the people who are reading it. Again, this happens commonly on political blogs. While ninety-five percent of the posters will have thoughtful comments, there’s always the idiot who says something like, “You are all commie-fascist pinkies who want to make us a Muslim country!” Or, “All you do on this site is talk about how bad W. was. He’s gone. Why can’t you get over it?”
Now, while it might be tempting to respond to these idiots, it’s pointless. Their ingrained sense of righteousness wrapped around their unending need for attention will only continue to grow if they get a response. Again, it’s better to pretend they aren’t even there, but it’s not easy to do. It’s amazing how one or two of these commenters can really drag a forum down. In that way, I actually approve of sites that say straight out, we will ban you if we think you are a troll. It’s often best to lance these boils in order to get rid of the poison.
The next type of troll is a bit more complicated. I have actually come across this dilemma in my blog. Why? I posted a movie review, and I lauded the equal-opportunity male full-frontal nudity. It was a throw-away paragraph, but a guy had issue with it. He maintained that there was more full-frontal nudity of males than females in mainstream media. He also said that if I were a woman, I probably didn’t care. I am paraphrasing, of course, but you can read it for yourself here. Why did I post his comment? Well after I thought about it, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I posted a reply, some of my friends posted as well, and I thought that was all there was to it.
Unfortunately, no. Another guy wrote in to rant about how life is so unfair to men. He started with the same topic, but he quickly veered into ‘women are teh evil’ and ‘beware of teh vagina’ terrority. Still, I hesitated because he had one semi-tangential valid point. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough to redeem his rant, and it really had nothing to do with the topic at hand. So, I deleted the comment.
Was the latter guy a troll in the pure sense of the word? Maybe, maybe not. However, trollish-ness is in the eye of the beholder, and he was trollish enough that I didn’t want to post his comment. As for the original guy, he just responded again tonight. His post was more civil in tone, and he made some interesting hypotheses. So, it seems, he was not a troll after all. Or rather, he’s a tolerable troll. His intent may have been to stir me up and get attention, or he may really have wanted to authentically debate the issues. I still find it interesting that he chose to fight over 119 words out of a review that contains 1070 words, a paragraph that was, at best, tangential to the review, and that’s why I think there are gray areas to the whole troll business. Even if this guy is not a troll, his first comment was trollish, and he showed a desire to tell me what I can and can’t write on MY blog.
In the end, I probably will err on the side of posting comments that I am not sure are troll-free rather than simply delete them, but I have a hunch this may change in time. Part of the reason I blog is because it’s fun for me. It’s not fun to feed the trolls. No more words for you!
P.S. I was going to write a whole other section about how Rush Limbaugh is the ultimate troll, but I don’t feel like it.