Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Compendium of Troll Stylings

Lately, I've had to check an Internet forum for updates on a topic important to my work. The forum allows anonymous postings, and it reminds me why I generally stay off such "communities"--I have a low tolerance for flame wars and trolls.

One thing that always surprises me about these uncivil exchanges is how they all sound alike. I know the guys who called each other names on Usenet newsgroups back in the 1980's have really different backgrounds than the inept typists I've been reading lately, but they sound just the same. It's like they're writing in the same literary genre. Let's call it "adolescent bile."

It made me wonder if someone had documented the literary stylings of trolls. I did find much written about the social phenomenon of trolling, but no literary analysis. Perhaps this is a gap I should fill--"Word Choice in Appalachian Flame Wars in the early 21st Century." Perhaps not. Here are some links, some of them amusing, some of them appalling, on Bad Internet Behavior.

  • Beware the Troll--A Practical Guide--a catalog of troll types and techniques, with suggestions on how to handle them.
  • Flame Warriors caricatures--These date from the Usenet News days. I was pleased to find them still preserved and still funny.
  • Internet Trolls from Wikipedia, and they should know from trolls.
  • Godwin's law states: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."
  • Don't flame me, bro' cites some psychology to explain flame wars: Social psychologists have known for decades that, if we reduce our sense of our own identity--a process called deindividuation--we are less likely to stick to social norms.
  • Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics Social Informatics (SI) refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization, including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change, the uses of information technologies in social contexts, and the ways that the social organization of information technologies is influenced by social forces and social practices. OK, this sort of research was what I was looking for, but they don't have many articles accumulated yet.
  • The Trolls Among Us --a long New York Times feature on some infamous Internet trolls.
  • Trolling for Ethics: Matthias Schwartz's Awesome Piece on Internet Poltergeists--a NYTimes reaction to the NYTimes article above.
  • Help! I'm an Internet troll! I go on right-wing sites and say provocative things. Why do I do it? You think they'll come after me? This Salon article suggests a reason all the trolls sound alike--trolling is the online equivalent of shouting naughty words while hiding in the shadows. You probably act like a professional all day long. The way they keep us cooped up in offices all day, it's no wonder that occasionally we just like to shout an insult.


Larry said...

I'll check out those links, Rebecca!

I've just been involved in one flame war, and it got really ugly. The administrators of the forum had to shut the thread down. It was a WordPress support forum. I had the temerity to suggest that I might like to write a book about WordPress, and was I ever slagged! I tried to defend myself but finally retreated to lick my wounds.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I usually stop reading when it looks like flames are approaching--it can be so draining to get involved, even peripherally, in those things.

A few months ago I signed up on a knitting social network, and, after using it for a while, I noticed a feature that didn't work as intended. I submitted a cautious, polite bug report in the bug report forum. I got roundly flamed for my trouble, and even got a death threat. The reason I mention this is that for a few days while I was being flamed by two hundred knitters, my blog traffic tripled.

It looks like, if you want to drive traffic to your web site, starting a bunch of flame wars would be one way to do it.

Jonathan Badger said...

Trolls and flamers really aren't the same thing (although many flamers are accused of being trolls). Trolls are by nature insincere -- they are the equivalent of somebody walking into a bar itching for a fight and picking one with anyone they happen to find.

While trolls do flame, I suspect the majority of flame wars are the fault of people who really believe what they profess but are simply not mature enough to argue without name calling.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Jonathan, You use the terms the way I learned them, but recently people have started to use "troll" to mean any sort of bad behavior on the Internet short of phishing or "hacking." (another word that's lost its specific meaning.)