In Praise of Trolls

A nod to 92BuickLeSabre who wrote and earlier post on anonymity online.

Everybody hates trolls. They are the boogyman who terrorize children in the dark forest of the internet and who ruin the comments section of daily newspapers. Part of the creation of this blog was the desire to escape the trolls and jackasses who seem to be invading Gawker. However, I would argue that trolling, when done right, can be a force for good in the uglier places on the internet. Let’s face it, there are plenty of people who will say and advocate completely reprehensible things online. Trolling is a way of saying no to terrible ideas on forums and sites where bad people are encouraging awful ideas and it is a way to punish individuals and people who break online etiquette. Here’s a couple of examples.

Say a food magazine steals something from a writer then issues a snotty non-apology. Trolls might invade your FaceBook page and point out that your an asshole. They also might convince you that they are an anti-hacking service, get your password, and take over your page. Harsh. But stealing the work of other people is wrong, and pretending like you are doing them a favor by stealing their work is high-level jackassery. What happened to the editor at Cook’s Choice was brutal, but I doubt she will steal material again, and other editors will probably make note of the public reaction to copyright infringement when doing their work.

Another example. Earlier this year an angry engineer from Austin flew his plane into an IRS building killing an IRS official and wounding 13 office workers. Predictably a fan page popped up for him within hours of the crash. It contained some pretty offensive (and stupid) sentiments.

However, a hero emerged. He called himself Fergus Wang (giggle), and he brought much justice to the page.

Naturally, the other members of the group were pissed about having their online space invaded. But the internet is public space and the members of this group made all of these comments where anyone could see them. This wasn’t a well-meaning online discussion about politics, it was the lionization of a man who murdered a government employee. There is no arguing with people who advocate this kind of violence, all we have is an occasional digital fuck you to hand out to the worst offenders.

Trolling is a blunt tool. Picking on hapless teenagers or grieving families is inexcusable. However, if you are a Nazi with a radio show or you shoot protesting kids in the streets, then fuck you, you have it coming. Trolling may be an unpleasant part of the online landscape, but it isn’t always damaging. Trolls say things the rest of us cannot or will not. Sometimes the troll is the only honest person in the room.

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