Troll Bridge

If you’re like me, you take comments sections very, very seriously. You read everyone’s comments in full.  You “like” the ones that are the most helpful, that bring needed perspective to the conversation, or that are being unfairly downvoted on account of partisan biases.  You draft considered, fact-checked and grammatically accurate responses where you feel they will do the most good, and you return to read replies, eager for signs that all your hard work is resulting in positive change.  Somewhere, on the other side of the internet, is a real, live, person, who has just been touched and delivered from the chains of insidious racism and homophobia, because you took the time to explain to them the error of their ways.

And then someone called AwesomerA on an article about child porn-slavery remarks: “Wow, I am in awe of how strong you are. You got raped a bunch of times and found the courage to be anonymously interviewed by a comedy website. ”

And suddenly your options for what is logical to say shrink to only words that have been used prior to brawls in your most comically awkward middle school days, badfuckingpieceofdickdiediediefuckyoushitcrapfaceshutdieupdiediedie

I do believe in trolls, I do, I do.

Why, internet goblins, have you come to plague us with your terrible things you say?  Why, when everyone knows that racism and child molestation and yelling at puppies for no reason are not ok to be in favor of, do you still come out from the dark hidden depths of every internet corner, and act like it’s your job to make us hate you?

Seriously, why?

Can it really be, as other visitor’s to this articles’ comments have suggested, so much an issue of damaged people hidden within our societal tapestry – people who, by faulty wiring or environmental aggravation have become desperate for any form of attention, any acknowledgement of existence, whether negative or positive?  Some of the time, maybe even a significant fraction of the time, I’ll say that’s true.  Even so, just looking at quantity, trolling exists in patterns too broad and universally consistent to be dismissed as random abnormality.

What is reliable and (I’d warrant) testable, is the fact that in literally every internet debate ever, a troll will come.  In more public forums, with thousands of respondents, several will come, spacing themselves with almost synchronous regularity along the thread.  Just based on quantity and spacing, the phenomenon of trolling seems to have more to do with the overall development of social dialogue around a new event than it does with any disturbed mind in isolation.  Then there’s content.

If we consider troll posts within a context of social function, some basic motivators are easy enough to figure.  You have the factional trolls who, in honor of some political or ideological identification will try to invade enemy ideologue territory, loosing invectives and garbled threats with all the vigor of a combatant under the misapprehension that words are literally bullets, or more cleverly will make rigidly satiristic comments like, “As a severe liberal, I understand that it is a woman’s choice to use her body how she sees fit, and since a child is part of a woman’s body, inter alia pro se: Roe v. Wade, it was her constitutional right to rent her daughter out and sell her.” [same source as above]

I’m sorry, did you think there would be a point where we could stop modifying factional talking points to supply the entirety of one’s opinion on every subject ever?   That’s because you’re wrong and stupid, the internet is giant war!

Then there are dogmatic independence trolls, who, for the sake of exploring an issue’s every conceivable angle, may get bored with supporting the obvious and adopt a morally tenuous position.  We might, for example, find this post under our I-was-a-child-sex-slave article: “Why does everyone assume this story is true. Just because someone posted this very sad story does not mean it is accurate especially when it has no way of being verified. I am not saying it is not true. i am just surprised that so many of the comments have accepted this story at face value.”

Question everything!  Because if not, what the hell are you going to do in this particular comments section?  It’s not like no one else has thought to say, “This is really bad.”

This much is true, practically definitive, of any set of trolls – they are more genuinely concerned with the overall atmosphere within a forum than with the content of any one thought in particular.  Nasty as they are, trolls can be counted on to take on the risk for us of publicly exploring new ideas or testing ideas we might have had and been too cautious to express.  They are willing to exhaustively plug every thought into the systems of ideology that do exist, finding utility in weird places. The troll is, in essence, what organically develops in a sphere of pure ideology to fill whatever vacuum the forum creates.

What vacuum, then, could possibly be satisfied by an unaccountable toolbag like AwesomerA, who, in addition to the flurry of furious diatribes and downvotes accrued with every comment, also achieved one persistent upvote that was obviously her or his mark of shameless self-approval, and who, in addition to the above quote also hawked this gem in reply to a sensibly angry rant against the parents of the article’s child victim:

“Wouldn’t you like to at least see a photo of this girl before you get too judgmental?”

Obvious troll was obvious – beyond any shadow of a doubt, a comment like this could only be committed with the intention of intensely pissing off every reader on a thread that was already full of readers filled with intense and vomit-inducingly futile levels of rage.

It struck me suddenly in the middle of composing a moderately well-considered and justly venomous reply: I knew what AwesomerA was doing.  I deleted what I’d started and posted this reply instead:

“So you recognize a vacuum where we all finish reading and are nauseous with useless rage, then set yourself up to be our emotional scapegoat. If I say thanks for that, would you be legitimately annoyed? Group hug to AwesomerA 🙂 Thanks you gross bastard, I actually laughed and felt a lot better when I read your terrible comments with this perspective in mind.”

I went back later to see whether “A” had collapsed my theory in an angry denial revealing a genuine hard-on for others’ pain, or a brutally sardonic backlash designed to distract me from my pet theory.  I found, more surprisingly, that there was no response at all.  And my comment had been voted up once.