Thursday, January 12, 2012
Troll: What Is It, and Why Do Stupid People Not Understand?
Let me be clear up front: I don’t troll, certainly not on my blog or in the comments of anyone else’s blog. Not even in my more bored 4chan moments do I initiate trolling (though I will gleefully join in there, since it’s harmless and amusing). While blogging, I have been facetious, ironic and I’ve played dumb, but trolling is something very specific.
First off, most people use “troll” improperly. This is mostly because they’re idiots who saw it used once and think it’s just an insulting term for someone in any number of cases. If someone is expressing an opposing opinion forcefully, they aren’t a troll. If someone is using hyperbole to illustrate a point, they aren’t being a troll. If they are replying to every single person in a thread of comments and dominating the conversation, they aren’t a troll. Those people may be pricks, but they’re not trolls.
A troll is someone who knowingly presents some obviously stupid/wrong idea with the sole purpose of watching naïve readers not in on the joke react to what was said. A good troll statement is almost invariably so wrong that no one could seriously believe it is true. For example, this might be a good troll post:
If there’s anyone in on the joke, they might brilliantly chime in with something like, “I loved him in Beverly Hills Cop and as the voice of Donkey in Shrek.” Suddenly, you have the epic double-trolling. If I have to explain why this is hilarious to watch, just hang yourself now, because life is going to be miserable for you.
On 4chan, another common one is the “Fingerbox” thread. Basically someone posts a picture of a small wooden box of some kind and begins discussing how awesome their fingerbox is, but they only have an ebony one made in Mexico for $190, and they’re saving up for a nice Ash or Mahogany Japanese one in the $300-400 range, so does anyone have any suggestions?
The more people who play along here the better, because the thread can be filled with pages of gibberish before some moron finally asks, “What the hell is a fingerbox?”
And that person loses, because there’s no such thing as a fingerbox, you dumbfuck.
The point of these sort of games is manifold, I suppose. Again, realize that while I am amused by it, I’m not a huge fan of the concept. The idea is to embarrass new people, to identify who is an outsider, to cause people to feel left out or dumb… basically, nothing constructive. Communities like 4chan thrive on feeling like they are exclusive and insular, and they do this in a number of ways. While I don’t like trolling, it’s better than some of their other methods for keeping the newfags (their words, not mine) out, like posting child porn, bestiality, extreme gore, and [most disgusting of all] hundreds of threads supporting Ron Paul.
There are different goals for trolling, but the hallmarks of a troll don’t change, regardless of the aim. The troll knows what they are doing, and they are being deliberately deceptive. Sometimes the goal is to manipulate a group, as when someone who believes X goes to an anti-X forum and begins expressing “concerns” about the community under the guise of being part of it. These are sometimes called “concern trolls,” or as I have come to know them, “con-trollers.”
But again, this term is often used improperly. Granted it’s hard to know if someone has legitimate concerns, it doesn’t make sense to assume someone is messing with you… at least in my experience. Most people who make serious-sounding claims are just expressing their views. It’s more likely that they’re wrong than that they’re trolling me, and just to be sure I often give a short, one sentence, glib remark in reply. If they get more insistent, they are almost never a troll.
It’s hard to use the term “troll” accurately, because it requires one to know the intent of the poster, who may be anonymous. Some people just throw around “troll” like a catch-all term for anyone they don’t agree with, perhaps even while knowing the meaning of the word. But how healthy is that? Is it a good idea to go through life thinking that everyone who disagrees with you is really on your side, but they’re just trying to mess with you? Isn’t this “denial?”
While you may not be able to identify if someone is a troll, hopefully now you at least know what a troll is.