In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous or off-topics messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disturbing normal on topic discussion. Wikipedia
In a dank bedsit, with heavy curtains permanently drawn over filthy windows, lurks the beast. The threadbare carpet, scattered with crusty tissues and discarded pizza boxes, is the colour of slime. The few items of furniture have almost, it seems, willed themselves to be unremarkable. Scribbled notes, penned onto post-its with an urgent scrawl decorate the walls, each one containing an inappropriate put down or sadistic remark. Light seeps in through a gap in the door as a naked bulb smoulders dimly from a cracked and blistered ceiling. A sweet, sickly odour hangs lethargically in the air, sweat, cowardliness, abhorrence and extreme self loathing. The Troll sits at his shrine, shoulders hunched over a keyboard riddled with troll DNA, shrouded in anonymity he sneaks into cyber world. This is his hunting ground and he is seeking to feed off the innocent, the passionate, the keen, the naive and the enthusiastic; the total antithesis of himself. Fishing for ‘newbies’ he waits patiently for a bite, he casts out a subtle – if he’s any good at his trade it must be subtle – comment here, a false statement there, a mildly mocking tone somewhere else and reels them in. Once fed, he can re – enter our world, the physical world and move amongst his victims unrecognised. Here he’s just another face in the crowd, no more to blame for the depravity of the world than the next person.
Ok maybe I’m being a little unfair on the poor little Trolls, maybe they get a bad rap from a few really bad eggs; the sort of really bad eggs that go onto tribute sites for the recently deceased and leave insulting messages for the grieving family to read. Maybe Trolls are challenging, intelligent people trying to contest popular opinions for the good of us all? There has to be two sides to every argument surely, a devil’s advocate perhaps?
‘Advocatus diaboli’ for those of you who don’t speak Latin and/or are not a dedicated Catholic translates as Devil’s advocate. The Devil’s advocate was – it’s now a redundant position – the title given to a Canon Lawyer whose job it was to come up with a counter argument against the canonization of a candidate. He was employed by the church to be sceptical, to find flaws in the argument for, to pick holes in the evidence, to investigate the legitimacy of alleged miracles. His duties did not mean he necessarily had to agree with his findings, merely to point out a counter argument. Then I suppose once his argument was presented to the pope, they cut his head off! No they didn’t, the church wanted to be seen to be fair and open minded, once all the evidence was in they said ‘ well done Neville, nice job, you don’t actually believe any of this garbage do you?’ to which Neville, swallowing hard, would un-doubtably reply ‘of course not oh pious one’.
Pope john Paul got rid of the notion all together and in doing so fast tracked more saints through the pearly gates than you can shake a crosier at! This left an opening for rouge advocates of the Devil, who took on the job of challenging popular conception, of skepticism, of putting forward an intelligent, well researched, perfectly executed argument for the deliberation and perusal of all. Most famously Christopher Hitchens who argued against the beatification of mother Teresa. His argument was well researched, defied popular belief and without doubt offended a lot of people. George Orwell played a similar role in his essay on Gandhi, a little less scathing perhaps but nevertheless challenging the popular view. Neither men seem to have permanently damaged their subject’s reputation – posthumous – but can find solace in the freedom to try and do so.
Challenging the status quo can often, after time, bring about great change in the way people think about what’s normal and what’s not. Obviously this, with hindsight, can only be considered a good thing, like the idea of women as equals, same sex couples and the emancipation of slaves. So the position of Devil’s advocate, in challenging catholic, state or media propaganda is a necessary evil, it may well offend some of a rigid, blinkered persuasion but is healthy and just in its intentions and encourages debate. Often the devil’s advocate is merely trying to test a theory, look for pitfalls, sound it out, make sure it’s a theory that can hold up to scrutiny, he’s supplying a service.
I like the idea of being a ‘troll’s advocate’, of searching comments on chat rooms and news sites to assess the general mood, then come up with a convincing counter argument. To blow misconceptions and habitual stock responses out of the water, argue as Hitchens did, that mother Teresa was a bitch, it would be great, possibly even noble. So I tried it, to see what it felt like, I argued in favour of something, relatively trivial but newsworthy nevertheless, that most seemed to be dead against. What happened next was unexpected, I thought some would take mild offence at my ignorance and tell me so/why/both, but no, nothing of the sort, they began to like my comment and what’s more it seems to have been the final say on the matter, for now at least. How easy it was to persuade others of my position, this ‘Trolls advocate’ thing may be harder than I thought. I wanted an argument, to sound out the theory, to thrash the whole thing out with my fellow comment leavers!
After scrolling through several chat site ‘threads’ on the subject of Trolls, real users opinions are not that divided, a Bad Troll is not welcome, they leave a bad smell. A Good Troll is tolerated, entertained, even encouraged by other users, which just makes him another user really, he’s not a Troll at all, he’s a scallywag.
Trolls it seems don’t have an opinion, they just want a reaction and the ultimate goal is when a victim logs off. Not a bad thing all said and done, get out there in the big ole world and breath in some fresh air, meet real people, go to real cafes, art galleries, auctions and ultimately make love to a real girl. One day if the big bad troll gets his way, we will all be free of Facebook and the only people left on the net will be Trolls trolling Trolls.
If the deep dark wood of fairytale and lore is now the deep dark internet of the modern age, you are gonna have to be prepared to bump into monsters. The troll is looking to get a reaction, to plant a seed and watch it grow, to cause offence and at the same time entertain other trolls and troglodytes. He is not I’m afraid a devil’s advocate, just a nasty little creep who was, hopefully, bullied at school. Sore at the world and finding it hard to integrate socially, he retreats into the virtual world of the internet and slowly a metamorphosis takes place. The victimised becomes the bully, attacking indiscriminately, no real agenda, no profile to match, you just have to be human and he really hates humans. He doesn’t even have to give his real name; he can hide behind a ‘nom de plume’, a pseudonym like ‘captain cool’ or Major Dick’, this way he can be as obnoxious as he likes and no one’s going to flush his head in the loo or give him a ‘posting’. And yet some of these Trolls are on the radar; police are taking a dim view of internet bullying especially when it leads to teen suicides or the collective persecution of minors. The world is changing faster than we can evolve to deal with it, but one thing never seems to go away, sneaky little fuckwits never seem to go away.
The Devil’s Advocate, on the other hand, puts his head on the line, asks questions of us all, says ‘have you considered’ or ‘look at it this way’ he’s going to offend, of course, but it’s not his intention to do so, he wants us to think, to rethink, to not always go along with the crowd.
A Posting: A young boy is held by the arms and legs face up, one assailant for each appendage. He is then elevated to about 80cm off the ground before his testicles are rammed into a lamppost, sometimes repeatable until the load bearers arms grow weary or the boy passes out. Please don’t ask me how I know this.