Trolls, in Scandinavian folklore, were entities that “live far from human habitation… and are considered dangerous to human beings… Trolls may be ugly and slow-witted…”
Whereas an Internet troll is “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” Very similar.
“This sense of the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse but have been used more widely. Media attention in recent years has equated trolling with online harassment. For example, mass media has used troll to describe ‘a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families.'”
I was thinking about this because some “person” suggested that shootings in Sandy Hook, CT in 2012 did not happen, and he would give anyone $25,000 if they could provide him with “proof.”
Naturally, this caused all sorts of anger. Someone wrote, “He’s the one making an extraordinary claim. It’s up to him to support his hypothesis with evidence.” But I think that’s wrong. Trolls never need proof of their claims. They get their power from readers’ outrage.
A few months ago, SamuraiFrog linked to this interesting article, 10 Former Internet Trolls Explain Why They Quit Being Jerks. One response, in particular, I found instructive:
1) I had two different personalities and demeanours, one online and one offline. I even ended up being obnoxious online to somebody I knew personally and he pointed it out to me. It was a wake up call.
2) I wasn’t making any friends or allies. Even when I was right about something or other people held the same opinions, I was getting fewer and fewer responses or agreements. I didn’t care about the numbers, but I realized I was making myself irrelevant and unwelcome in discussions and forums. And sometimes I was banned…
3) I saw the effects of trolls. The increasing number of news stories… about suicides, harassment, death threats, racism and other revolting behaviour got to be too much. I may not have been guilty of any of those types of assaults, but I recognized that I was part of the problem.
4) I was starting to become the target of trolls and abuse… I saw a news item about a man who left a white supremacist group and changed his tune when he realized the group’s list of “undesirables to be euthanized” included his own mentally disabled son. It wasn’t until the hate affected him personally that he realized he was on the wrong side. Same here.
When foolish people say inane things online, feel free to vent your anger. But know that you may just be feeding the beast.