Once upon a time, trolls lived under bridges. That time has passed.
With the invention of the Internet — all thanks to Al Gore, of course — came a new venue for jerks to, well, be jerks. You know the overly drunk guy in a bar with the loud mouth doing things just to rile people up? Well now he’s sober, living in his mom’s basement, and picking fights anonymously from his computer. That, folks, is today’s troll.
For those not familiar with the term, Wikipedia defines an Internet troll as “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” Put simply, it’s the guys (or girls) you see saying the stupidest stuff online just to get a rise out of us.
These folks are not class acts. They are the lowest common denominator, and they aim to bring the rest of us down to their level.
I try not to let them affect me, but trolls are everywhere nowadays. Once delegated to bridgework and employed simply as toll collectors, trolls now use their free time, and they have a lot of it, to make themselves feel better by tearing others down. They are commenters on various Websites, from legitimate news sites to Facebook and more — do not read comments on YouTube videos if you want to enjoy the rest of your day. They cripple the public perception of our society on Twitter, giving Americans a reputation of national stupidity.
Never was this more apparent than in last week’s fiasco over 4chan trolls’ Tweeting of a controversial hashtag.
Trolls pretending to be feminists created a Twitter hashtag “#EndFathersDay.” This sparked a huge reaction nationally by men attacking feminism in return, offended their right to Father’s Day was being questioned. Tweets went out by men such as “The #EndFathersDay trend is everything wrong with feminism. Just let the crazies call themselves feminists. We need a less trained word..” Even women jumped on board, Tweeting things like, “#SingleMothersDay #endfathersday because who really needs a father? Boys don’t need a rape instructor.”
The hoax caught the attention of Fox News, before it was recognized as a hoax. On Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” antifeminist author and “Princeton Mom” Susan Patton stated, “They’re not just interested in ending Father’s Day, they’re interested in ending men. …That’s really what they want.”
The trolls won bigtime on this one, and two women Tweeting who realized this couldn’t have said it better. Katherine Timpf stated, “Whether or not #EndFathersDay started as a hoax is irrelevant. Some people participating ARE totally serious and that’s terrifying.” Twitter user Repubs stated, “Even though #EndFathersDay started as a joke, it says a whoooooole lot about modern feminism that people believed feminists started it. #awk”
Trolling, essentially, is another form of online bullying. While cyber bullying has become a major issue nationwide with teens in school, trolling is still considered an online joke we should all just get over. But it’s becoming increasingly harder to do as our society continues to hate and prejudice publicly.
On the surface, trolls are easy to avoid. Remember that annoying kid being loud for attention? The best way to get rid of him was to ignore him, right? The same works for trolls. If no one responds to them, they eventually go away. But the solution isn’t as simple as it seems.
It’s one thing to ignore a child. It’s another to ignore a grown man or woman you know knows better. Whether you’re defending someone else’s honor by responding to a troll or your own, at some point everyone feels the need to tell him or her to just shut up. It’s our human nature. And once we do, we’ve fed the trolls and made them stronger. And the more that respond to their trolling, the stronger they get.
So how do we end trolling? Sadly, we don’t. While you can kick that drunk out of the bar and tell him he can’t come back, the Internet is a vast wasteland too hard to patrol, and if you knock out one troll, he or she will be replaced by two more. It’s a movement that’s too hard to stop, but if we play our cards right, we can stifle it. The next time you see someone saying something obviously intended to rile you up, ignore it and move on. If everyone else does the same, the troll hiding in a basement instead of under a bridge might just go back to his video games instead.
Patrick Ibarra is the managing editor of the Mountain Democrat. His column appears bi-weekly.