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Scott Heuman CMST - 245 Professor Rebecca McCarthy “TROLLS”

Heuman 2 The internet is a big big place. A place so big it is not hard to get lost in its depths. Somewhat like the universe, it’s size so vast that no one person could possibly ever reach “the end.” It is a place where you can do simple and peaceful things such as: learn from others, laugh out loud at funny internet memes, and stay connected to your friends and family. It is also a place for more serious activities such as political action, and in some cases, it can be a place to fight a virtual war of words. Inside this vast expanse of hobbyist message boards, social network sites, news articles, and caturday memes also lurks a terrible beast. A predator who feeds of your anger and negative energy. One whose job it is to make sure you know that: THE INTERNET IS SERIOUS BUSINESS, create confusion and disorder, or one who just flat out wants to watch the world burn. There are many names for this beast, but it is best known colloquially as the internet troll. While most internet discourse may be inconsequential, the world of politics is one outside the internet and its effects on the direction of our country and the lives and liberty of its citizens is very real. So, while the many different types of trolling are relatively harmless, with regards to politics, the internet troll is a real and formidable part of the modern political landscape. So what is a troll, anyway? Dictionary.com has two relevant definitions for the term troll: a) “to draw (a baited line, etc) through the water, often from a boat;” and b) “to post deliberately inflammatory articles on an internet discussion board” (Dictionary.com). As you can infer from the two definitions, the term “trolling” started out as a reference for someone throwing out bait and trying to hook a reader, and in turn, control the emotions of the poster. As the more modern and...less credible source, the Urban Dictionary dictionary shows the term having been personified —becoming an all-encompassing description of an online entity. Rather than being an act one carries out, it is who the poster becomes: “1a. Noun: One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a

Heuman 3 newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument” thus making the poster into the troll under the bridge of fairy tale lore (urbandictionary - troll).

An anonymously written article for the online publication “the week” most succinctly defines the phenomenon: What are trolls? They’re the anonymous provocateurs who flood the internet with inflammatory insults, threats, and profanity. The term originates from the fishing technique of dragging a baited hook behind a moving boat; someone who uses offensive language to provoke a response is said to be “trolling” (theweek)

Now that we understand what a troll is, it is now best to look at why these trolls behave like they do. The most prominent reason for a person to engage in trolling is simply “for the lulz.” This phenomenon is easy to find pretty much anywhere around the internet. From rickrolling to writing inane babbling posts on youtube video comment sections, the troll finds great pleasure in writing things that they know will upset other posters. In the article: “The trolls of the internet: A guide” it is speculated that the reason people engage in this type of discourse is that: “Trolling gives its anonymous practitioners the catharsis of venting forbidden feelings and ideas without suffering any consequences. On the internet, you can cuss out a stranger with even more vigor and impunity than you can a bad driver from the safety of your own car” (theweek)

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I happen to personally agree with this notion, and have witnessed it personally. My first experience with this boorish and immature behavior was ironically by watching my mother troll people on our very first computer with an internet connection. It was in the late 1990s and the internet community was still in its infancy. The mere fact that people across the nation and beyond its borders were able to connect at all was a miracle, and yet here was my mother posting:“ELVIS IS KING” in threads that had absolutely nothing to do with music—let alone the king of rock n’ roll. Watching her turn from the nice, polite woman that I had known all my life, and into a monster left an impression that still stays with me today nearly 15 years later. It was my first experience with a real honest-to-goodness internet troll, and in some ways still the best. Rather than only seeing the work of the troll—usually only dots and pixels on a computer screen, I got to see it in the flesh. A mythical creature in action. Something like seeing a sasquatch sitting around in its den eating...whatever sasquatch may eat, I had watched my own mother and saw the way she would get a deep laugh at the angered reactions of other posters. I saw the exhilaration of being bad where noone can stop you. I also felt some exhilaration as she showed me her dirty-work. Ultimately, there is something about being able to be “bad” and have absolutely no worries about being caught. The

Heuman 5 worst anyone could do to a troll was to ban them their web domains, and any troll with an ounce of sophistication will find a way to work around that, such as creating multiple accounts and posting from proxy IPs (proxy posting guide) So you might be asking yourself, “what is so wrong with a troll? who are they hurting?” What goes a bit beyond the “LULZ” and becomes a more practical concern is the practice of trolling with regards to political discourse. It is one thing to talk smack on the internet about your favorite movie or video game, and it is another to bring it back into the tangible world of the political discussion.

It must be said up front that there is no particular political affiliation that is more likely to troll and spread disinformation than the other. True believers in progressive politics will often lament the “rasist-teabagger” conservative and libertarian type trolls that come to their dedicated message boards and argue or otherwise cause havoc in “their” small little domain. liberal “Mobys” and “libtards” will often do the same to known conservative web domains. The internet has offered a way for people of all political persuasions a way to strike out against their imagined enemies without actual violence or lawbreaking.

Heuman 6 Some types of trolling can be found in internet memes created and distributed around popular social network sites such as facebook and twitter. For example, during this most current presidential campaigns, much ado has been made about the two major contenders (President Obama and Former Governor Romney’s treatment of dogs. The left opened up the salvo after learning that Governor Romney had once tied a dog crate to the top of his station wagon while on a road trip (snopes). This left many left of center Americans outraged and spawned many angry [and funny] memes such as these pictures:

Not to be out done, the right fired back with their own anonymous dog memes, since was common knowledge that President Obama had admitted to actually eating dog while in indonesia as

Heuman 7 a child (Obama - p.37). Within days, there were counter-memes on the web. Some of these memes used the iconic “agitprop” style of Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan—others were a bit more meanspirited and invoking the known dog-killer Michael Vick:

Heuman 8 More example of political trolling is noted in the screencapture from the known progressive site democraticunderground.com. It clearly shows an upset liberal poster attempting to organize a raid against the much more conservative website known asar15.com (arfcom)—a firearms related site that is geared toward conservative political action.

This activity would classify this person as a “Moby”. This pejorative term is based off of the posting of the famous liberal musician. Moby’s tactic was to suggest that other liberal internet users post on boards known to be the hangouts of right-leaning people; and to post disinformation about conservative/republican candidates. This post by Moby is so well known that it is now an establisshed internet entity and entry into urbandictionary.com: Moby Not to be outdone, the right-wing blogosphere has been busy at work tormenting the left as well. George Monbiot, writting for the alternet.org opines about the conservative trolls, and even gos so far to speculate as to whether or not they are genuine people or agents provocature for a larger corporate interest group(s). Monbot recalls his first experience with the trolls with the quote: “I first came across online astroturfing in 2002, when the investigators Andy Rowell and Jonathan Matthews looked into a series of comments made by two people calling themselves Mary Murphy

Heuman 9 and Andura Smetacek.” He then goes on to cite an actual quote from a conservative website that indicates that some of the behavior may indeed be “astroturf”: “Here’s what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in ‘Liberal Books’. I go through and I say ‘one star, one star, one star’. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars.” In Monbiot’s given quotes, we see that someone actually spends his day looking using a rating feature to try and suppress opposing political views (alternet.org). Probably the strongest and easiest to cite form of internet trolling in political discourse would be the small but fierce mob of angry libertarians known as paulbots. These people are devout followers of the unconventional republican: Congressman Dr. Ron Paul. The views of Dr. Paul encompass territory of both the left: anti-war, drug-legalization, gay rights, etc.; and the right: Second Amendment, federalism, property rights, etc. (Steinmetz). Because of this mis-match in political philosophies, Paul and his supporters are somewhat of an online insurgent force. If there is a poll to be voted on—straw poll or otherwise—you can count on it being spammed by an army of paulbots. In fact, Ron Paul supporters are known to many outside of his circle as sort of a political cult, and the world wide web is awash in opinion columns lamenting the ravenous Paul supporters who make it their life mission to torment “neocons,” and “nanny-staters.” One such column sums up the paulbot pretty well. Patricia Campion, writing an editorial piece for yahoo news breaks down the dichotomy of the Cult of Paul into three levels: “Harmless, Disturbing, and Psychotic.” In the most extreme level, Campion describes that after having posted something less than flattering about Paul, some paulbots actually attempted to find out her personal information to “teach her a lesson.” (Campion)

Heuman 10 Ultimately, the troll is not likely to ever stop it’s ways and will certainly continue to pester and disrupt political discourse in his next election cycle and many more to come. One should combat the effects of trolling by always researching any spurious info you may read about a candidate before letting the troll affect your choice at the ballot box. The internet is now the main avenue of information and discussion with regards to politics, and thus it is it is inevitable that the lowest common denominator of people will use this tactic to stop fair and honest conversation. Frankly, it is important to remember that the person on the other end of the political spectrum or internet connection is probably someone you wouldn’t despise were you to meet in real life. Politics has always been a messy affair, but until now it was more a matter of a select few politicians and news personalities beating on each other within the news cycle. We as citizens have more in common than you would think scrolling through the comments section of any web news story. Sometimes an internet user may disagree strongly with the content posted, but it is always best to remember that we are Americans first--partisan second. Mostly, it is wise to heed the internet maxim:

“DON’T FEED THE TROLLS!”

Heuman 11 Works Cited Anon. Dinner. Digital image. Commonamericanjournal.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. Anon. MAXIMUM TROLLING. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. Anon. My Dog Is on the Roof. Digital image. Memegenerator.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. Anon. Trolls: Democrat and Republican. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2012 Campion, Patricia. "Three Troubling Levels of the Ron Paul Cult." Yahoo! Contributor Network. Yahoo! Inc., 29 Dec. 2011. Web. 07 Aug. 2012. "The Fremont Troll." RoadsideAmerica.com. Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins, n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2012. Heuman, Scott P. DU Screen Cap. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. I Ride Inside. Digital image. Dogsagainstromney.com. Dogs Against Romney.. Awesome Inc., 6 Feb. 2012. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. "The Internet Map." The Internet Map. Google.com, n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2012. Johnson, Samuel. Anecdotes of the Revd. Percival Stockdale. Ed. George B. Hill. Vol. II. N.p.: n.p., 1809. 333. Print. Mesasquatch. "Messin' with Sasquatch - Camp Fire - New Jack Link's Commercial."YouTube. YouTube, 01 June 2010. Web. 07 Aug. 2012. Monbiot, George. "Are Right-Wing Libertarian Internet Trolls Getting Paid to Dumb Down Online Conversations?" AlterNet.org. AlterNet.org, 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 July 2012 Obama, Barack. Dreams From My Father. New York: Three Rivers, 2004. 37. Print. "Pick Two." Digital image. Sadhillnews.com. Sad Hill News, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 8 Aug. 2012.

Heuman 12 "Proxy Server." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Mar. 2012. Web. 07 Aug. 2012. "Proxy Posting Guide." Proxy Posting Guide. www.warezfaq.com, 2007. Web. 02 Aug. 2012. "RickRoll'D." YouTube. YouTube, 15 May 2007. Web. 07 Aug. 2012. "Snopes.com: Mitt Romney Transports Dog." Snopes.com: Mitt Romney Transports Dog. Urban Legend Reference Pages, 21 Jan. 2008. Web. 08 Aug. 2012. Steinmetz, Katy. "Six Reasons Ron Paul Has Appeal Beyond the GOP." TIME.com. Time, 30 Dec. 2011. Web. 02 Aug. 2012. "Troll." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC., n.d. Web. 19 July 2012. "The Trolls of the Internet: A Guide." The Week. THE WEEK PUBLICATIONS, INC., 2012. Web. 19 July 2012. "Urban Dictionary: Astroturf." Urban Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2012. "Urban Dictionary: Libtard." Urban Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2012. "Urban Dictionary: Lulz." Urban Dictionary. N.p., 8 Feb. 2008. Web. 21 July 2012. "Urban Dictionary: Moby." Urban Dictionary. N.p., 8 Feb. 2008. Web. 19 July 2012. "Urban Dictionary: Nanny State." Urban Dictionary. N.p., 8 Feb. 2008. Web. 19 July 2012. "Urban Dictionary: Neocon." Urban Dictionary. N.p., 8 Feb. 2008. Web. 19 July 2012. "Urban Dictionary: Tea-bagger." Urban Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2012. "Urban Dictionary: Troll." Urban Dictionary. N.p., 8 Feb. 2008. Web. 21 July 2012.

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