Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Trolls and Trolling: The Colourful World of Internet Opinions

On the internet, it's easy to have an opinion, but so difficult to be taken seriously. Since the creation of message boards and comment sections, anonymous strangers have been hurling insults and finding themselves in unsolveable arguments. For some reason, it isn't enough to just read or watch something, people want to discuss it. And for the most part, people are able to engage in rational discussions and analysis. But then we have the Trolls, a pop culture term for the trouble-makers on these boards and comment sections. Sometimes, the term Troll is well earned and well deserved by those who are labelled as such. Other times, it's an over-used cop out, a cheap way to discredit someone's argument.

Sites like YouTube and IMDb are infamous for their Trolls, but what's the best way to deal with these people? With the anonymous nature of message boards and the like, there's little to no accountability for acting like a true jackass. So maybe that's where it starts, having people sign in under their real names. Or, there's the classic solution, 'Don't Feed the Trolls', simply ignore the disrupter. But how to we distinguish between someone who is passionately and maybe controversially expressing their opinion, and someone who means nothing but harm by their comments?

There are a number of ways to spot a Troll. The easiest way is the use of ALL CAPS, exclamation marks!!!!!!!, lack of logic and reason, and most of all, brutal insults to other browers of the board. And in most cases, they post their attack and never appear again. And while usually, the most harm done is causing annoyance in other posters, when it comes to trolling on real life news stories, attempting to upset those who are there to learn and discuss, where do we draw the line? It's one of the toughest things in the world (in terms of first world problems, at least), to be attacked/insulted and just leave it alone. But as soon as you respond, the fight is on, and the Troll wins.

I believe that 90% of the time, the term Troll is mis-used or unwarranted. I've never been accused of being a Troll, because I'm usually able to construct my argument in a reasonable way. Also, I don't post nearly enough on comment sections or message boards to gain any attention. I like to visit IMDb message boards because many of my friends don't watch the same tv series and films as I do, so I find myself looking for like-minded fans and interesting discussion about plot points and writing/acting choices. I usually post when it appears like no one else is going to make the point that I want to make. So, I'm usually an observer when it comes to news sites and YouTube comments, and I usually find myself smacking my head at the stupidity, both of the Trolls and those who innocently feed them.

My definition of a Troll isn't someone who has a differing opinion, or even someone who feels the need to curse at or insult others. It all comes down to the delivery. If someone has an unpopular opinion and angrily expresses it, as long as the spelling/grammar is correct, I'll forgive them. My definition of a True Troll is someone who has no interest whatsoever in the subject matter, someone who didn't watch the video or read the article, and who only aims to upset others without remorse. If someone pops up on a message board to say 'THIS SHO SUXXXXXX!!!!!', that right there is a troll. If someone pops up to say "This show sucks, and here's why...', then others may label them as a Troll, but I wouldn't.

What interests me the most is that Trolls aren't just robots designed for hate, they are actual people, with minds and emotions and unique personalities. And these people consciously choose to attack and enrage others. What's the motivation there? There are the obvious explanations, like Trolls are attention-starved, unpopular, ignored in real life. But is creating a screen-name and acting like an asshole really a solution? I'll never understand exactly what motivates Trolls to act the way they do, but I do know that wherever there's a good person, like, say, Batman, there has to be a jerk, like, for instance, The Joker. So on the internet, anytime there's a reasonable person with something to say, there has to be the foil, the jerk who destroys any chance of intelligent discourse.

Recently, I heard a rumour that YouTube is giving people the option to sign-in with iGoogle, under their real names. A couple months ago, when I saw Henry Rollins, he had this exact idea as well. If people were forced to sign-in to YouTube, news sites, IMDb with their real name and home addresses, would we have Trolls? Probably, since some people have no self-awareness and act the way they do no matter what people think. But this sort of accountability would be positive, I think. Sure, I use a screen name too, I only wish I had been born Chessterr Hollowberry, but this isn't because I'm a coward who plans to upset people and get away with it, it's more just to create a persona away from my real-life one. But I never intend any harm. For those who do intend harm, is using their real information to sign-in going to stop them? In most cases, I'd say yes.

In the end, jerks will always be jerks, and the weak will always be defensive when their stance is attacked. I only ask that next time you're about to accuse someone of trolling, ask yourself, are they a Troll, or do I just disagree with them? And if any self-realized Trolls are reading this, there's more to life than pissing others off.

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