The psychology of trolls
I agree with Ezra—this article about trolling doesn’t really give a lot of insight into what drives the trolls on political blogs, which is a disappointment. I can’t but think that right wingers who relentlessly troll and obsess over liberal blogs—especially those written by members of hated races, or who are female or gay—are motivated by the same weird obsessive energy that leads people to join the KKK. People who must have so little personality or life of their own that they make hating other people the focus of their energies. I’m not talking about light amounts of trolling, which can be a fun way to spend an hour. I’m talking about the non-stop relentless obsession that captures a certain kind of middle class white guy, that eats up hours of his day trolling and fuming that his perceived inferiors are permitted access to society.
Still, it’s an interesting read, and sheds a lot of light on those assholes who go beyond light trolling and really use it to hurt people, all while pretending that they’re somehow noble heroes because they’re “exposing” that people take themselves too seriously. These are the guys who can’t (or won’t) tell the difference between showing up at a forum where people take themselves too seriously and making fun of them in comments for an hour and actively harassing people, setting up fake blogs mocking dead teenagers, floating fake resumes for hated people like Kathy Sierra, racist and sexist slurs, and getting people fired. Or really, even the difference between puncturing a few illusions and destroying property in Second Life—yes, people take that game a little too seriously, but what are you proving by ruining hours of labor they’ve put into their harmless hobby? As expected, hardcore trolls (of the sort who get people to call the homes of parents whose kids have suicides documented online or who spend hours on rape fantasies or porn doctored to humiliate women they perceive as too uppity) are either sociopaths or people with severe emotional problems.
It’s a real shame that people can’t tell the difference between a good prank and just being an asshole, too, because there are occasions with full-bodied trolling moves from the latter to the former category with good results. The best example is the way that organized online efforts have plagued the Church of Scientology, a vile organization that absolutely needs a wrench thrown into its works by protests and pranks. I have no doubt that a lot of people that are part of the Anonymous protests are just the same assholes who enjoy any opportunity to use the internet to be a pain in someone else’s ass, but a lot of people involved in those protests have a strong idea of who the target is and why they’re doing this. If all pranks could be like that, I’d applaud internet pranking. As it stands, though, most hardcore trolling is mocking people for being, well, human beings who dare to do things trolls find unacceptable, like be female, have hobbies, or grieve dead loved ones.