There is a dark side to this two-point-oh part of “The Web.” Sure it’s great to contact old high school friends on Facebook and to “pin” a super cute craft project on Pinterest. Unfortunately for you though, you will have to get through me before you get to enjoy your cat pictures and YouTube comments. I am an internet troll. You should not be so surprised though. In real life I am a troll, and the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 allows me to share it with a wider audience.
So what is a troll? Urbandictionary.com user Syckls defines a troll in part as, “A dumbass who makes idiotic posts in message boards newsgroups for the sole purpose of pissing people off, often lacking in intelligence.” However, user Jesus Hitler sees things a little differently. Jesus Hitler says a troll is. “One of many unsung internet heroes who are almost entirely misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, many trolls are actually quite intelligent.” This user goes on to explain that a troll can bring the more idiotic forum members into the light to be mocked or at least noticed by the other members. So who is right? Are trolls intelligent or not? That does not really matter to the one being trolled.
Despite the intelligence of the person, the act of trolling is one of self amusement. In this week’s (January 27, 2013) “This is the Modem World” column at engadget.com Joshua Fruhlinger tries to explain “why we troll” through the eyes of his teenage self. He was young and admittedly ignorant when he would post on Xbox user forums that the Play Station video game console was superior in every conceivable way.This is something similar to what I would do at the same age, however I trolled Play Station groups with the virtues of the Xbox. I am sure we enraged each other quite equally. Today my trolling is much more high-brow, grammar corrections on people’s Facebook posts and explanations on how that image of a perfectly preserved dinosaur claw is really the foot of a giant emu.
While obnoxious, I believe trolling highlights Web 2.0’s greatest strength. There is an equal opportunity for everyone to collaborate. Aside from the legal issue of asking children under the age of 13 to admit their age when trying to join a site, there is no filter to who can and cannot get on to public websites like Wikipedia, YouTube, or Facebook. Every idiot, every genius, every red head, and every mute’s voice is equally loud in the comments section. Several websites have troll filter systems. Something Awful and Reddit hides comments and content deemed unworthy by the community at large. Facebook promotes well liked content rather than bury the bad. Still, we all have the same opportunity to post and join in the conversation. SOMEONE will read your snarky comment, there’s no way for websites to filter out every obnoxious post while still remaining available to the public and keeping a part of the Web 2.0 gang.
I’ve asked a few questions here. What is a troll? Are trolls smart or dumb? The answers really do not matter. What matters is how we troll. We troll through an unprecedented amount of human collaboration. Every person everywhere can join the global conversation, all you need is a connection.