The Trolls Are Feasting
(The problem with saying "Don't Feed the Trolls," is that every time you say it, you do...)
The latest blogstorm is all over the place, but it feels highly reminiscent, and I had to think about it a bit before it came to me. Way back in the misty early days of the internet, like less than a decade ago, there was quite a bulletin board culture which has dissipated to a large extent (much to my regret), and boards produced a strange creature, the Troll.
(Personally, I learnt about Trolls the hard way, in what I thought was a flame-war over napoleonic cavalry tactics of all things, way back in about 1997. Dragons can't hurt Trolls, of course, they keep hiding under the bridge.)
It isn't just that internet anonymity produces bad behaviour, or that the lack of facial and social cues impede communication, or even that it is effectively impossible to socially shun anyone, although those are all true, it is that there is a fairly small subset of people who are Trolls. Trolls have a bunch of justifications, being the devil's advocate is pretty typical, but that is not what they are at all. Trollishness is not even confined to the internet, I have met a few in real life, though they find it harder to operate without the anonymity.
(And incidentally, it is a gender neutral occupation; well anecdotally, females seem to outnumber males in Real Life, and males outnumber females on-line, but there is no fundamental difference in viciousness, though there do seem to be gender differences in method.)
Back in the day, trolls were called gossips, as the kind of people that liked behind the scene spreading stuff around that would get everyone into a frenzy, without anything being attributable. The dark side of the internet is that it has made it all so much easier. And more powerful.
Trolls are people who willfully and with purpose stir things up, and while they can be extremely viscious, that really isn't the point. And they don't much care about which direction the general stir up is going. I'm not even sure that they want to be noticed, though some do, mostly they want to have an impact somehow, so they will do everything they can to upset people. I suspect that they feel that they hardly exist, and are bored with what existence they have, so they want something to happen, to make people act and react, and how or why really doesn't concern them, just that they had some impact on things I guess. And any sense of consequence is off the map. Back in bulletin board days, we could sort of identify the trolls, and ask people not to feed them (Do Not Feed The Troll, or DNFT); in the blogosphere, it is much harder, as the communities are much larger and less inter-familiar.
So now we have big debates about whether the internet is inherently misogynistic, what is free speech (no won't link to that troll-nest), responsible posting, and so on and so on: great heaping mountains of troll-food, really, and sure enough, the trolls are feasting.
I rather doubt it, but the comments are open for trolls, come and see if you can get a meal here.