Trolling, Past and Present

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Farhad Manjoo of Slate writes an interesting column in reaction to having been called a troll simply for writing a piece strongly condemning iTunes software. (I haven't read that piece, but I strongly suspect I'd agree with it.) Manjoo maintains that the Internet slang term has shifted in meaning in recent years from referring to people who  pick fights for the sake of picking fights, to simply meaning someone with whom one disagrees.

Using that second, newer meaning is both a convenient way to avoid considering a different opinion and a fine bit of psychological projection. I am nevertheless unsure that Manjoo sees the latter when he says, "But to call everyone a troll, even those who are advancing their true beliefs, is to let genuine trolls off the hook." But then again, maybe this is his very polite way of saying, "Look in the mirror." After all, what would such a folly accomplish?

Regardless, Manjoo offers the perfect reply to such silliness:

If you don't like something I've written, don't assume I'm punking you. I'm not. I really am that stupid, trust me.
Manjoo's piece reminds me of a passage, by English writer William Hazlitt, that perfectly describes the (real) troll:
This litigious humour is bad enough: but there is one character still worse -- that of a person who goes into company, not to contradict, but to talk at you. This is the greatest nuisance in civilised society. Such a person does not come armed to defend himself at all points, but to unsettle, if he can, and throw a slur on all your favourite opinions. If he has a notion that anyone in the room is fond of poetry, he immediately volunteers a contemptuous tirade against the idle jingle of verse. ...
I usually spot trolls quickly, and if I deal with them at all, I bounce good arguments off their comments to the degree that doing so might be useful for any thoughtful bystanders (or, in the case of the Internet, passers-by). Beyond that, I find them merely a nuisance.

-- CAV

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