I have a colleague at work that I like very much. He is very agreeable sort of guy who has a great sense of humor, a variety of interesting hobbies and lofty ambitions. He was the one who showed me the ropes and clued me into how things work in my office when I first started there. He has kind of cheeky, “stick it to ‘The Man’” kind of attitude, which I generally find amusing, except for the time that he confided in me that one of his favorite things to do is “troll” the Internet, harassing people for no apparent reason. He loves to provoke people online, just to see if he can get a rise out them. He’ll post inflammatory comments on forums and blogs, harass sellers on Craigslist and denounce people and things on YouTube just for kicks. He is the equivalent of an Internet vandal. He takes great delight in getting into fights with random people, and the longer he can prolong it, the better it is for him.
I find this behavior appalling. As soon as I read the title, Expressing My Inner Gnome: Appearance and Behavior in Virtual Worlds, my blood began to boil. It instantly brought to mind all the times that a “troll” has ruined something that I was enjoying online. I guess I should begin by explaining the idea of the “troll”. It has a double meaning; the first being that, like my colleague, people troll the web in the same sense that fishermen troll the seas, looking for prey. Once they have someone in their “net”, they reel them in by engaging in a dialogue that gets under their skin and provokes a war of words, often with a viciousness that only anonymity can bring. The second meaning comes from the mythical creature, the troll. Much like an ogre, the troll is known to be a hideous, disgusting creature that hides under rocks and bridges, waiting to spring out and terrorize their prey.
The best example of how trolling ruins the Internet for me personally is on a surfing forum that I belong to. Surfing is a male-dominated sport that involves a lot of bravado and testosterone, so it’s no surprise that when surfers get together online things can get ugly, and fast. What’s disappointing is that surfing is also a brotherhood, a tribe if you will, and many of us are insightful and intelligent people who are genuinely interested in sharing stories and knowledge. It stinks when a question, comment or idea that someone posts is ripped to shreds by some fool who is doing it just for his own amusement or edification. It makes it so that some people are afraid to share their ideas anymore, lest they be verbally molested in a public setting.
Other examples are when people attack each other on social media such as Facebook and YouTube. A person can spend an entire day putting together a creative expression, be it a song, a story, a dance or a poem, only to have it degraded by another in a matter of moments. Yet another is when people play war games on XBox and PlayStation and scream obscenities and insults at one another through their headsets, knowing fully that there will be no repercussions.
Anonymity is the cloak of the troll. These individuals would never even consider using the type of hatred and bullying they have if they thought for a second that they would ever get caught or confronted. It allows the coward to act bravely, if only in a virtual sense. To all trolls of the world I say this: go back under your rocks and your bridges and stay there – until you learn that what you are doing is wrong – and that with the advances that are being made in cyber connectivity these days there is a very real possibility that you may actually come face to face with your prey someday, and that they may cause you very real harm!