Historically, a troll was defined as a mythical, cave-dwelling being depicted in folklore as either a giant or a dwarf, typically having a very ugly appearance. Time and the advent of social media and communication sites have morphed the definition into something else entirely, although the ugliness of it remains. Today, trolling, as it relates to the internet, is the deliberate act, of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument to gain attention.

This new definition and its implementation have received increasing attention, as so many people attempting to command the attention of the public by doing good works, writing interesting stuff or trying to sell valuable products have fallen victim to the practice of trolling. It would do anyone well to better understand what this practice really is, why it exists and how it has come to be so controlling of Internet communications. Internet trolling is not done to criticize or objectively evaluate anything else that has been written. Commentary on Facebook, for example, to add to or disagree with something that’s been written on a thread is not the same thing. Trolling exists to build the brand of the person or organization doing it. This is done at the expense, usually, of sites have grown to some degree of fame or popularity. The troll can come in, writing outrageous critiques and ‘steal’ the attention that normally would go to the owner of the site the troll is concentrating on. Many times, the troll’s commentary is so outrageous, so personally attacking and even completely without validity or merit, that the person being trolled surrenders and quits writing or possibly even the social site itself.

The troll effectively steals not only a great slice of the attention that would normally have gone to the original creator of the article or product but also some of the very heart and soul of the person who put it on the Internet. This kind of activity is affecting almost anyone who rises in popularity on any social site that exists today, and it’s having a very negative effect. The Internet is basically forever, so these horrid comments, factual or not, remain out circling among all computers and servers connect to the Internet.

What can be done? Registration of all users, with identification and origin, is one very real effect that’s being bandied about. Many trolls are not identified for being who they are in the real world. Anonymous trolls many times knock others down for other people, like competitors, and this is not expressed in any of their communications, because currently, it does not have to be. Many, many times people are hurt personally for simply taking a political stand or for putting a product out for others to consider or purchase. Trolling is not valid criticism, it is much more destructive and it is intended to be that way. Trolls usually, for example, investigate anything they can find about the personal life if someone of popularity who is writing or selling on social media sites. Any negative information discovered is then used, valid or true or not, to command that the attention of the site and all of its followers be redirected to what the troll is writing and the troll him or herself.

Trolling can be ignored but it has become enormously effective at destroying otherwise good and interesting dialogue. Many times trolls can be banned from sites but usually only after the troll’s work has been done. People are willing to believe negative data much more than positive. That is part of the human condition for survival, in which every human must evaluate and judge sensory data to ensure survival or as little harm occurring as possible. There is a common expression that is also valid: “humans believe what they overhear, not what they hear.”

Should everyone have to register with real identification to have a spot on the Internet, to offer commentary or have a site? That is a question that will only be answered over time, as the two forces (damning social destruction/freedom of expression) fight it out through the years ahead. For those ruined by troll activity, however, it is already too late.

~James Strauss


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