“The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off via the internet, using dialogue.”
When people are given the opportunity to obscure their identity and essentially not have consequences for the actions they take, they are able to disrupt social norms by taking on aberrant personalities from their usual selves. They become motivated to provoke a response from the victim by creatively manipulating conversations to deceive and truly make them believe that what they are saying is completely factual, no matter how outrageous. Internet trolls have become a subculture of their own and have developed distinctive yet devious personalities as well as common languages that can only be initiated by a troll and only a troll can win. Many people who identify themselves as trolls have dwelled in internet forums, such as 4chan and comport, in a way to amass the maximum amount of “lulz” for personal amusement or the amusement of their associated group. There are spectrums of trolls with different personalities, some that incite innovative, intelligent, and intriguing techniques of trolling, while others that troll for the simple expression of delight.
So let’s start with a little brief history of trolls. In the early days of the Internet, a troll would be anyone who purposely was disruptive or annoying online. Behind a screen, there was anonymity to the users, where there were no consequences for their actions. In the 2000’s, as the Internet became a household thing, online forums and discussions began to develop. 4chan’s infamous /b board became the birthplace for many trolls. An anonymous image/discussion board in which there are essentially “no rules”, but still under moderation for illegal content, which may lead to bans.
From here, trolls started emerge from under the 4chan /b-ridge (see what I did there?), and started moving onto other sites, such as 9gag and Tumblr. Trolls spread like wildfire. Nowadays, trolls lurk everywhere, from Facebook, Twitter, and especially YouTube comments.
There are many creations of trolls, such as lolcat which are pictures of cats with text that is idiosyncratic and grammatically incorrect, or Pedobear, a cartoon bear that mocks users that show interest in children. Trolls often use this to irritate people for the “lulz.”
What the trolling community values more than anything is the lulz. Lulz are essentially something pointless that brings comedic value to the individual. As stated before this often comes from sarcastic humor, pokes fun at a person, or can also come in the form of satire.The label of lulz stem from the acronym LOL otherwise know as laugh out loud. Without lulz there is no method behind the madness that is trolling.
For many of these trolls, they find satisfaction through the fact they cannot stand up for themselves in real life. In a sense, observers can see the Internet as the great equalizer because trolling does not require physicality, but instead value wits. This opens the opportunity for everyone to stand up for themselves via the Internet and earn satisfaction through pissing people off to continue to gain lulz. But what makes the “lulz” worth it? Does it leave them with a feeling of self-gratification? Or are they really just assholes who enjoy seeing others agony?
According to an 18 year-old student and troll (who asked to remain anonymous), “trolling gets me some attention. I’ve never been the cool kid at school. They always knew me as the guy who tried to hurt himself; I know they pity me. But trolling gets me some light. Some people find it annoying, but a lot of people find it funny.” Fitting with the community is one desire for the “lulz.” He said, “If you’re not bugged by it, you’re in on it.”
“Do you make friends with other trolls? Do you collaborate with one another to plan to raise hell?”
“I know some people do, but not me.”
“So how do you feel like you belong? Aren’t you just being hated on?”
“I like getting reactions from people. I know some people laugh. And also it’s really cool when other trolls join in on the fun and we poke at things together. Even if I don’t really know them, at least I know someone is on my side.”
“So you troll because people will think you’re funny?”
“Yeah, it’s really become a part of my life. I’m a TA for Pre-Cal, and here are some of the papers I graded. I know people will laugh at my comments, so it’s worth the trouble.”
Obviously, it is for pure entertainment as well. A De Anza student who also asked to remain anonymous, said “it’s fun to piss people off. It’s kinda like when I was young, I always did that ‘I’m not touching you’ thing to my sister. It was always funny until she would tell my mom or hit me.” Trolling is exactly that, pleasure in another’s annoyed or angry reaction, except for that there is no mom to monitor you or sister to punch you in the face.
“I believe annoying people is an art form. It’s a lot harder than it seems. You gotta know what pushes someone’s buttons, or else won’t be fun.”
“So how do you choose your victims?”
“It’s usually the people who bite. People will reply to your comments or you can comment back at them. If they reply, they probably are irritated. That’s how it all starts. You just keeping going to see how far they’ll go until they break.”
“What do you mean by break?”
“I like to try to work with people and see how they reason with my absurd behavior. When they start going saying things like, “Fuck you, asshole,” or “Get a fucking life!” That’s when you know you’ve got them.”
“And from there do you just keep trolling?”
“Yeah, you just keep going to see how far you can push them. They can just close the window at anytime, it’s not like they have to fight back, but they choose to. That’s what’s so fun about trolling.”
What we can tell from these interviews is that in the realm of the online community, the self-condoning trolls are able to mask their true selves and take on any personality they wish to choose. They do not have physical limitations or have to face the physical obstacles such as confrontation present in the real world.
When asked about what trolling feels like when you are successful in an online interview conducted by billions-and-billions, a troll who goes by Paulie Socash said, “Feels good, man. Probably a lot like breaking a news story that exposes some idiot politician or public figure who groped his masseuse. You are drawing attention to some other person’s failings. For me the goal isn’t the individual, though, it is the overall public reaction. It’s about controlling the outcome and the presentation of an event.”
The reaction is what is important in trolling. Paulie Socash offers a slightly more cynical perspective in what he conceives as trolling, providing justification in how trolling is different from bullying. “Because it is online, you are consenting to everything you can and might see.” Paulie Socash says, “It’s fair game. All the internet is fair game.” It’s fair because you aren’t being held against your will, and can walk away from the situation at anytime. You do not have to reply or try to deal with other people’s comments. “It may be just for the lulz, but nearly every self-identified troll I have ever interacted with has certain tendencies (and limits) that are part of their “real” persona.”
The subculture is quite vast. There are sub-subcultures within trolls. The lingo and goals for each troll is very different. They all look for different things and only eat certain prey. They have different tools in which they attack, such as memes and copy pasta or just use different tactics to piss people off. Here are just some of the types of trolls you’ll encounter.
1. The Grammar Nazi- Grammar Nazis correct any grammatical error on posts and do not regard what the post is actually about. They commonly attack the misuse of there, their, and they’re.
2. The Screamer- THE SCREAMER HAS THE CAPS LOCK BUTTON ON AT ALL TIMES. PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE ANGRY BECAUSE OF THIS, EVEN IF THEY ARE JUST DOING TO BUG YOU.
3. The Crier- Criers take matters up the butt and make big fusses about anything and everything. They act as if your post has offended them, even for the little reasons.
4. The Peacemaker- The peacemaker is the troll who will but into any debate and say something like, “C’mon guys, there’s only once race; the human race!” or “What would Jesus do?”
5. Mr. Know-It-All- He is never wrong. Ever. He seems to know more than you about everything, even when he doesn’t. He’ll keep trying to prove his is right, even if he isn’t. He is a very persistent little bastard.
6. The Retroactive Stalker- This guy goes through your old history and posts and tries to embarrass you in an effort to discredit your claims. He will often post links to old things you have said or show old MySpace selfies that you aren’t too proud of.
(Why So Serious Christian Bale?)
7. The Hater- The hater just hates on everything. They say the most inappropriate, vile things, especially on touchy topics like race, sex, and religion.
8. The Spoiler- This asshole spoils movies or shows or books or any form of media on posts.
Me: I’m so excited to watch The Walking Dead tonight!
Spoiler: Too bad Rick kills Shawn before he fully becomes a zombie!
9. The Flooder: The flooder just posts irrelevant comments such as LOL, HAHAHAHA, OMG OMG OMG, multiple times to create internet traffic…
These are just some of the types of trolls out there. They all have different personalities and ways of besiegement. Although what they post might all differ, all trolls have the commonality of desiring the lulz. Most trolls do not care about whom they have offended as they believe the Internet is the battlefield. Trolls have a lack of integrity, which makes them deceive any bystander. The desire for lulz is strictly for their entertainment, which makes trolls seem like lifeless a-holes.
The trolling community is stereotypically depicted and connotatively labeled as internet nerds. Such as unattractive acne covered males or fedora tipping jokers. In reality, we as a race of human beings are the trolls. There is no escaping the fact that anyone with a sense of sarcasm can potentially be a troll. The more relatable to past or current global events can in many cases make the joke funnier. This means the realm of trolling is expanded to me, you, your mom, or even your siblings. The beauty of the troll lifestyle is that is not defined by an image, they are anonymous, and its that sense of anonymity that should define the trolling community.
There’s a common fashion in trolls is they like to remain anonymous, whether it was the interviews or even online where they lurk. Is it to save them from getting punched in the face? Possibly, but also because it’s not something they’re always proud of. Trolling is like picking your nose, peeing in the shower, or watching porn. We all do it, but we don’t ever admit to it because of the opinions and dirty looks we would get. Anonymity allows for the unpopular, radical things to be put out there (whether the user believes them or not). It creates debate and chatter, without having to be the talk of the town. And for the online trolls who just love pissing people off, with anonymously baiting victims online, there are no real consequences. The worst thing that could happen is a ban, but they could make another account and they’ll be back to continue havoc.
The key to trolling is in how well trolls are able to manipulate language. Textual styles in which these trolls choose to pursue depends on who, where, and how their trolling. But in essence, the trolls heavily rely on the misconception of the recipient to invoke an emotional response. For example, the popular trolling scheme of deleting System32 in which inexperienced users are tricked into deleting the Windows system directory that is essential for the computer operating system to function. The troll would mimic an employee of microsoft or someone who is notably tech-savvy and provide plenty of pseudo-reports about the “dangers” of the system32 files which seem immensely convincing to the newb eye. The criteria of successful trolling is fulfilled once the flabbergasted victims respond with bewilderment or anger.
This may potentially even lead on to group trolling in which several trolls participant in the deception of the victim. Other trolls may contribute by also sarcastically providing false information in which they also “deleted” their system32 files and achieved faster speeds, further increasing the convincing factor of the scheme. Highly troublesome to the victim yes, but outrageously hilarious for the trolls.
At the end of the day, the reason why people troll, is simply for the lulz. This subculture establishes what they consider as good taste among their community of trolls through the use of deceptive advice, disruption of normality, and generally uncivil behavior, and with the power of anonymity, one is able to continue with unjust behaviors without consequence. People who are not able to identify deception or sarcasm and people who “feed the trolls” potentially further suffer the wrath of an internet troll. Some may consider, what trolls do as exceedingly offensive, exceptionally deceptive, or extraordinarily amusing. One rule of thumb is not take the internet too seriously, and to not be overly earnest in a public forum where trolls may lurk. Only those who choose to be trolled, can be trolled. Everyone has the ability to be a troll, and everyone can add a little humor in their life. Understanding the art of trolling can make you a much more (insert creative adjective here) citizen of the internet.