Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Common Internet Troll - Some Thoughts

So the hubs and I were talking this morning about internet trolling.  It was spurred by the following http://kotaku.com/5917623/awful-things-happen-when-you-try-to-make-a-video-about-video-game-stereotypes  Go read it.  Feel free to follow the bunny trail of links for a while to grasp the full scope what complete dicks some people can be.

Ok, done now?  Here's the thing: I'm not talking about the validity or lack thereof of the woman's argument (which is a whole other topic, and one that I'm not up to discussing so if you want to talk about it, go here which will lead you on a whole other bunny trail about sexism in video games, which is something Heather and Shamus are way better at talking about than I am so go argue with them if you want to argue about that.)

OK, done again?  Now, back to my point which is basically that the internet is filled with trolls.  If you haven't been under a rock for the past 15 years, this is probably not breaking news for you.  But it's something I want to talk a little bit about.  See, when I was a kid my parents held some questionable and probably not-good views about the world.  But generally you wouldn't have known it to talk to them because they were POLITE.  Basically, they were the kind of people that didn't particularly enjoy making other people miserable so they generally kept their opinions to themselves when they intuited that their opinions would be unpopular.  They taught me basically the same thing.  Your grandma might have called it, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."  Your kindergarten teacher probably called it The Golden Rule and it went something like, "Treat others the way you would like to be treated."  Your middle-school peers didn't call it anything at all because kids are stupid and cruel when in large, institutionalized groups but a big part of raising children was once considered teaching them not to act that way by the time they reached adulthood.  To that end, adults did things like yelling at you and grounding you and refusing to let you hold "secret Prom" so you could exclude that one kid that nobody liked  and might even go so far as to ground you from the internet if they caught you making a fake social networking profile to torment a peer.  I'll be honest, I'm not so big on yelling and grounding, but there are plenty of ways I would make my displeasure known if I caught my kids acting like jerks to other people.  Because, yes, I'm polite and I want my kids to be polite too.

That goes for posting the kind of crap that appears on most YouTube videos with more than a dozen or so hits.  That crap is trolling.  It is deliberately posting offensive (and often below-the-belt-personal-attacks offensive) comments to the internet in an attempt to stir up controversy, debate, and general hate-mongering.  There's a lot of internet sociology and psychology commentary about the phenomenon of trolling.  While trolling is nothing new, it certainly seems to be on the upswing.  A lot of things I read about trolling indicate that the seeming-anonymity of the internet is responsible for the surge in such behavior.  Certainly there's some truth to that argument, but it doesn't cover the whole problem.  I've been an internet user for 20-odd years and I've never gone trolling.  Very few people I know engage in internet trolling, even though many of us use the internet for the majority of the day most days.

What brought all of this up to the point of a blog post instead of just a conversation with the hubs was the fact that while I was out running errands today, I happened across a Trollmobile.  I don't know what else to call it.  I didn't take pictures, mostly because I was busy being glad the kids weren't with me to see it.  Even if I had taken pictures, I wouldn't have posted them here because that car was covered in offensive bumper stickers like you would not believe.  One sticker featured a "double birdie" salute and the legend "F*** Cops."  Several extolled the virtues of Satanism.  One referred to the owner's enjoyment of engaging in a particular sex act with graphic slang vocabulary.  One even used a phrase that appeared a couple of times in the comments of the first link in this post - a reference to a sex act that lesbians are apparently in severe need of experiencing despite the fact that lesbians explicitly don't enjoy the body part necessary for such an act.  I can only assume, in the terms of internet culture, that this vehicle was owned and operated by "a 13-year-old boy."  I hate to use such an expression, though, because I know quite a few 13-year-old boys and none of them would engage in such behavior as trolling or use such vile language.  Besides the fact that such a vehicle must be owned by someone at least 16 years of age.

Frankly, the whole thing sickened me.  Not because the words were offensive.  I'm not the type to be offended by words.  What sickened me was the attitude behind such a display.  This wasn't an anonymous display of bravado.  This was a person who holds society in contempt and feels the need to dominate others with his/her ideas.  This was a person who hates.  And hate is sickening to me.  There are a lot of things in life that I dislike.  I disliked the bumper sticker display of that vehicle.  I dislike trolling in general.  I dislike most politicians on general principle.  I dislike certain people in specific.  But hate is something I can't honestly say I've ever experienced.  Hate requires a degree of energy that I just don't want to give my unhappiness or dislike.  Hate, like love, is not an emotion.  It is a verb, a DOING word.  Hate doesn't happen.  It takes cultivation, a conscious choice to indulge it and make it grow and keep it alive.  Those bumper stickers weren't just an outpouring of feeling, they were a choice to cultivate and nurture the basest and most negative things about life.  And that's what sickens me.  As screwed up as the world is, why choose hate?  If you expended that same energy in nurturing something positive and good and real, you might make a difference to the world around you.  Instead, someone chose hate and with every action, with every mile that Trollmobile drives, they are taking something OUT of the world.

What that person won't be taking out of the world is MY dignity, MY self-respect, MY love, and MY compassion.  I refuse to let that person and their hate win.  When I'm done with this blog post I will not waste another minute of my thought and feeling on their hate.  As Paul put it so well, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

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