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Monday, September 12, 2011

Portrait Of An Internet Troll Or Is It Twroll ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 8:19 PM

Lately I have come across the word "troll" being used extensively on the Web and especially on Twitter and to be honest, every time I come across it there is a bit of resentment in me. Internet trolls are almost as ancient creatures as their folk-lore counterparts are supposed to be but the perhaps the former needs to be redefined. But then trolling was once considered an art  (even if a dark art) which required some sort of skill but the latest breed of trolls on Twitter are more like sociopaths with 0 IQ.



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 (Source: http://getsatisfaction.com)
The first use of the word trolling, as a form of anti-social behaviour on the Internet, can be traced back to Usenet groups which were the only public forums for mature discussions ( Linux developers collaborated over Usenet ) but then trolling meant creating mischief by posting content that could derail the ongoing discussion. Often, the trolls had a clear agenda and posted provocative messages anonymously to groups being fully aware that the content was widely off the context. Interestingly, since there was complete anonymity on Usenet, victims of troll attacks could have easily ignored them, but these posts were at  times intellectual challenges that tended to make the victim feel compelled to respond,leading to flame wars, with the .troll often taking on a group of posters rather than a particular user.

As it implies, at times a Usenet troll engaged with the victims on the same intellectual level as the victim and other participants. Sometimes I do think that Usenet trolls on Twitter could pass off as "Twitter celebrities" with the knowledge, dedication they exhibited. As a matter of fact, the analogy can be further extended to include any entity on the web or physical world, who tries to hijack constructive public discourse by introducing frivolous, unsubstantiated claims , spreading rumours and conspiracy theories. In recent we have seen such trolling behaviour in members of our political class, such as Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, Amar Singh, Manish Tiwari (he talks like a troll anyway :P) and others I need not name.

I digress,this post comes up in response to  some of my Twitter friends ( @bdutt @joydas @desdemona14  @punditcomments  @beeayenoowhy  and @mryta ) with whom I have tried to discuss about trolling on Twitter. I prefer the word "twrolling" because the vandals on Twitter are by virtue of deed the opposite of Usenet trolls. The latter interrupt discussions, try to hijack or do some mischief that requires technical knowledge on the subject, Twitter twrolls just create false accounts and foul-mouth people they dislike and even make vulgar,sexist remarks and then delete the account or get suspended only to create yet another one and come back to  commit more vandalism. Although,such elements were not found much on Usenet, I do remember of the use of the word "urchins" to describe the behaviour (I joined Usenet in around 1998,it was declining) but I can't find any records supporting it.


The resentment I mentioned in the opening block stems mainly from the fact that even if Usenet trolls were mischievous and even malicious, they still used coherent even if unreasonable arguments while committing their misdeeds and as a result they have contributed to the web but the Twitter twrolls are just malicious  anti-social elements who do not contribute in any way. Perhaps, its time to work out a collaborative mechanism to stop these perverts. 

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