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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Life under the bridge

We Internet savvy types like to throw around the word 'troll'. I've started to wonder what it means.

I like to think I use words with reasonable precision. This isn't always true; sometimes I'll work for emotional effect instead of measured objectivity. I've been known to call someone a polehumper, for example, without having any actual knowledge that said dickweed does, in fact, hump poles. Communication is a science, but sometimes it's an art, too. Even the most articulate of us feel our way.

And many words, especially abstracts of the pejorative inclination, are largely or entirely subjective. 'Bastard' and 'sonofabitch' are relics from an earlier age, when the status of one's birth was considerably more significant from a social perspective, which the contemporary discourse makes liberal usage of without consideration regarding the actual circumstance's of the intended subject's origin. And then, of course, there are those blooming bouquets of invective like the aforementioned 'dickweed', along with 'douchebag', 'wanker', 'pud walloper', 'dingleberry', 'buttmunch', 'muffin stirrer', 'turdherder', and... well, the list is as limitless as an overpopulated planet's collective imagination, one must suppose.

Many of these coinages have no actual meaning other than the user's displeasure with their subject. Others do have a specific meaning -- for example, there are many insulting twists of verbiage that essentially boil down to either (a) this person masturbates, or (b) this person enjoys certain non-mainstream forms of intimate intercourse -- but such attacks, when rationally considered, do not constitute much of an actual insult, since only the emotionally unhealthy or the sexually disabled don't masturbate, and what one does or does not in the privacy of one's home with other consenting adults really isn't reasonable fodder for negative commentary.

Such, also, is the word 'troll', when hurled about with mad abandon by most Internet consumers. I have, for example, seen the word 'troll' used simply to describe someone who, upon coming across a particularly objectionable screed on some stranger's blog, happened to comment in a fashion differentiated from the mainstream of commenters on said blog only by the fact that this particular comment was not notable in its sycophancy to said blogger.

"What a troll!" the spineless lickspittles inhabiting such comment threads will opine... leading one to wonder as to the specific meaning of the word 'troll' as it exists within their rudimentary intellects, as well as, perhaps, how in the name of sweet baby jebus they manage to type at all, with their tongue engaged so firmly within the region of the blogger's taint.

Yet I've historically hired the word "troll" to do some work for me within this particular vineyard as well, and I hope I haven't directed its labors so disadvantageously as to describe someone as such who merely showed up on my blog and voiced an opinion I found unpleasant. In fact, I'm fairly sure I manifest somewhat more discernment than this when I apply the label.

Past all that, though, let's see if we can't refine us some sugar from all this cane, or, if not, then at the very least render down a few quarts of molasses out of it.

What, then, is the proper framework for deploying the phrase 'troll'?

Anonymity is generally a fine indicator of true troll stature. It isn't always an adjunct; some people are just unable to decipher the log in requirements of certain comment threads, while others may end up posting anonymously by accident. Anonymous comments do, on occasion, add something worthwhile to the discussion.

Yet, still, those that mean to do harm, whose only purpose on the Internet is to deride and insult and cause as much injury to others as possible from a safe and sheltered distance, generally use anonymity, or a carefully unattributed psuedonym (sometimes an entire array of such) to maintain their own immunity while they work their petty, childish, insecure spite.

And it is here, in this further explicatory passage, I feel I may have struck close to the heart of the matter. Anonymous or not (and few if any troll openly under their own names, although I suppose there may be some in the employ of powerful patrons who feel protected against any potential personal repercussions of their spew, and are thus emboldened to take a byline), a troll is someone who seeks only do wreak havoc and do harm. Someone like my self declared enemy Gandalf, who from the depths and toils of his own insecurities and mediocrities, possessing no vestigial capacity for self control whatsoever, takes furious umbrage when some unknown says something he disagrees with on the Internet, and thus vows a personal electronic jihad of a sort perhaps more appropriate to lunatics strapping plastique to themselves in hope of explosive translation to a more pleasurable afterlife.

A troll is someone who brings nothing to the table but bluster and invective, who raises no valid topics, who adds nothing of interest or even amusement... and, sadly, most trolls are so incapable of formulating even a proper sentence, much less a graceful one, that their insults and imprecations aren't even a pleasure to read, unless, of course, they suborn some more verbally talented lackey to serve as their locutory Boswell.

A troll is someone who hopes to ruin someone else's day, generally, one assumes, because they are powerless to have any other effect in any other meaningful way within actual objective reality. There have always been trolls; before the Internet they made crank phone calls, or wrote vicious letters to their betters, often anonymously, generally displaying only the crudest rudiments of coherency in their painful, spiteful efforts. They have nothing meaningful to say so instead they heap up invective and strike a match, hoping some passing steamboat will take notice and tie up at their ramshackle dock. Their comments have no cogency; they cannot construct an argument or make a point; their shrill sputterings are a blind, furious, and ultimately vacuous middle finger flung petulantly into the face of a universe they believe has done them wrong by not providing them with the comforts they regard as their just due merely for existing.

Now, on the other hand, you come across some post in which some venomous twat is screaming to her suck-ups about how horrible her husband is for having the intransigent and intolerable temerity to sing along, in public, while in her company, with a song she herself doesn't like very much, and you take a few moments to try and give this obsessively self orbital shrew an actual reality check... that would not make you a troll. That would, in fact, make you someone with enough self respect to point out the truly wretched misbehavior of a very nearly worthless human being who is showing her ass to anyone who may happen across her bilious screeching, and on behalf of all humanity, find it somewhat embarrassing.

Still. You know, I generally believe in living and letting live, and when I'm offended by someone else's idiocy, I generally let it go. I imagine I should have in this particular case as well, but... I don't know. I miss the girls. It's been a stressful week at work. A couple of people I've tried to be kind to have spent the last few days doing their best to get their pointy little heads as far up my ass as possible. All of that, and I came across this one post, and, well, I guess I just went off a little.

It doesn't make me a troll; the blogger in question is, to all appearances, someone with the emotional maturity of a spoiled six year old, and the coterie of asskissers in her comment threads are pretty clearly not part of any kind of solution to any problem that exists anywhere in the universe. Still, I'm generally more forebearing than that; this woman doesn't live anywhere near me, and if her husband wants to put up with her pitiful tantrums, I suppose that's his look out. And certainly, mean spirited selfishness is a common enough impulse; it's no shock to me that she's managed to attract and engage a pack of equally immature satellites who take her passages on her emotional inadequacies as validation of their own.

I generally leave such messes to tend themselves. I should have in this particular, as well.

But what the fuck. At least I got a blog post out of it.


At 3:23 PM , Blogger Carmichael said...

Since you like wikipedia so much, i thought you would like to see this:
just for your information.

At 4:59 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Quickly (this isn't worth much of my time or effort):

Carmichael is the pseud of SuperGirlfriend's ex husband's current main squeeze. She's been to our house, I've loaned her movies, I've given a lot of my spare HeroClix figures and supplies to her kids for their enjoyment. In response, she's called me and SG several unpleasant things on both her blog and the blog belonging to SG's ex, and she's ridiculed the decor of the home we invited her into, specifically the HeroClix figures I collect, some of which, as noted, I gave to her kids.

Calling her two faced would be to insult Janus himself. She's so multifaced I'm not sure she knows who she is from one moment to the next.

Back when SG first discovered Carmichael's real identity, after she'd posted several times to both our blogs deceptively, and sent SG several psuedonymous emails, we both took care not to humiliate her in public. She, in turn, promised she'd go away and leave us in peace. I guess her definition of that differs from mine, and includes a lot of backstabbing to people who have done nothing but be civil to her.

Beyond that, I don't like wikipedia all that much; it's an interesting resource, but one that doesn't discriminate or fact check much. The definition of 'Internet troll' she links to is interesting, but subjective; simply because one posts a comment that the majority of people at an established site find annoying, that doesn't make one a troll. But my entry is for the purpose of discussing that, so I won't go further into that here.

At 9:06 AM , Anonymous The always esteemed Scott said...

My own personal definition of a troll was someone who posts to a comment thread (or blog) with no intention or interest in actual *discussion* or debate, but is simply looking for attention, be it positive or (more typically) negative.
I agree that the term gets thrown around way too much now, and is now frequently applied to people who, as you mentioned, post something that some of the residents of a particular blog find objectionable.
So by my own standards, posting something disagreeable doesn't make you a troll, unless you don't stick around to defend your position.

At 9:30 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

Hmmm. Well, I didn't bother to stick around and defend my position at the blog I'm talking about; my position was self evident. The woman in question was castigating her husband in front of her friends on the Internet for behavior that no sane person could have possibly found particularly objectionable. That's undeniable; anyone with emotional balance would have to read her entry and come away shaking their head.

However, her toadies apparently all have similar emotional issues, as prior to my arrival, they were all regaling the blogger, and each other, with anecdotes about how their own husbands/boyfriends also embarrassed them in public.

This is a woman who, by her own admission, screams at her husband in public because he was singing along with the store's PA system as it played Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark", and who then goes home and bellows "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH HIM???" in all caps on the Internet. Clearly, she's found a flock of followers who all have similar issues; I still don't think I'm a troll for injecting a note of reality into their little bubble of self congratulatory S.O. abuse.

After I showed up, of course, the flock convened on me, and I've seen no reason to continue my commentary, which no one has bothered to try and refute. They're attacking, but they have nothing to say except ad hominem insults.

Most interesting, the husband himself posted that this bitch was 'his perfect life partner' or some such. ::shrug:: I guess, if he wants to accept this kind of abuse with a smile, that's on him, and one can only thank god that such people find each other occasionally and spare those of us who have some level of respect for ourself and others from putting up with their bullshit. And, given that this guy has told me in no uncertain terms to mind my own business, well, I guess I will, and probably should have from the start.

Honestly, I don't know why I ever posted there. Usually I can just let such wretched misbehavior, even towards a person that is supposed to be beloved, roll off my back. I guess it just got under my skin at that one particular moment.

At 11:25 AM , Blogger AaA said...

I'd have to agree that the proper definition of troll (or at least the only meaningful, unique, and useful definition), is a comment intended to elicit a flame war, or a poster who posts such messages.

Simply disagreeing with other posters would not be sufficient in and of itself. But, as cheerfully irritating as I know you can sometimes be, it wouldn't surprise me if you did unintentionally troll the aformentioned blog.

At 6:27 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

I don't think you can unintentionally troll anyone. The motivation strikes me as being an essential part of the act.

At 9:10 AM , Blogger Julia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:11 AM , Blogger Julia said...

I think you're mistaken on the etymology of the phrase "internet troll". I believe a troll is someone who trolls, in the fishing sense.

When you troll, you throw your line in the water, and just putt around on your boat, looking to catch anything that is foolish enough to take the bait.

An internet troll plops random comments designed to enrage, then sits back to see who takes the bait. The troll particularly loves it when they can get an entire forum or blog audience to write about the troll and his/her behavior. This behavior is also abundant on political and watchdog sites. It is a distraction technique to keep the discussion away from the facts.

I've always thought that trolls have little in their lives that they can control, so they desire to show that other people have no control. That is why many trolls are teenagers.

At 1:38 PM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

The comments make it clear that troll is still too strongly colloquial to pin down a firm definition for this usage.

If pressed, I'd join Julia in a functional definition (ie a fishing expedition for the sake of creating a disturbance) though I'm sure a great many of the people who use it apply it to anyone they deem to be objectionable without bringing anything redeeming to a thread. Since some will feel this way (ie a comment not having any value or being welcome) about any dissenting optinion that comes along, troll gets used widely and wildly.

Invoking troll can be one way of attempting to dismiss a dissenting opinion by impugning the motivation; claiming the person came and presented it for the purpose of stirring the pot is enough, for some, to make the argument itself irrelevant. In this respect it's used much the same way the GOP has (and with alarmingly great success) invoked the "politically motivated" tag as a way of brushing everything from criticisms of policy to allegations of criminal charges aside.


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