The NYTimes is offering up this “preview” from their Sunday magazine today. While I think everyone who’s been online knows about trolls, I’m not sure what it is that the NYTimes wants us to take away from this article. Proof that there are jerks in the world? That one needs to learn to get over the existence of jerks? Or, more insidiously, that someone needs to “fix” the Internet so jerks can’t do jerkish things (an argument that our society has already swallowed wholesale when it comes to other things)?
On the other hand, like my reaction when I get an innovative phishing email, it’s always useful to keep up with the latest notions in troll amusement:
In the late 1980s, Internet users adopted the word “troll” to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities. Early trolling was relatively innocuous, taking place inside of small, single-topic Usenet groups. The trolls employed what the M.I.T. professor Judith Donath calls a “pseudo-naïve” tactic, asking stupid questions and seeing who would rise to the bait. The game was to find out who would see through this stereotypical newbie behavior, and who would fall for it. As one guide to trolldom puts it, “If you don’t fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.”
Today the Internet is much more than esoteric discussion forums. It is a mass medium for defining who we are to ourselves and to others. Teenagers groom their MySpace profiles as intensely as their hair; escapists clock 50-hour weeks in virtual worlds, accumulating gold for their online avatars. Anyone seeking work or love can expect to be Googled. As our emotional investment in the Internet has grown, the stakes for trolling — for provoking strangers online — have risen. Trolling has evolved from ironic solo skit to vicious group hunt.
“Quick, lock up your (insert a class of valuables here)!!”
Mostly, I have to confess that I just return to this Wondermark cartoon (#338), which I think really sums it all up — In which Marcus gets the Inside Scoop