Why troll?


I don’t play a lot of video games and I don’t know much about ‘online’ culture, but I take an interest in human beings and their foibles… so can someone who is ‘on the inside’ explain to me how one benefits by trolling someone else? I genuinely want to know, and I want to know from the point of view of the troll. I don’t need an analysis from someone who is not a troll and is critical of trolling — I want to hear, as much in the troll’s own words as possible, why they do it. I’m specifically interested in instances of organized online trolling — where multiple people agree to pursue a common ‘enemy’ and seek to have some sort of effect on that person, i.e.: to drive them from an online community, make them withdraw from online activities, make threats against that person and incite others to make threats against them, etc.
I’m interested to ask these questions after reading a number of articles about the life and times of Anita Sarkeesian (like this one: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/internet/2012/06/dear-internet-why-you-cant-have-anything-nice). Short version: Sarkeesian is a video gamer who writes about video games, online culture and feminism and ‘trolling’ her seems to have become something like a life’s work among a certain set of video gamers. In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to say that I think what some people are doing to Sarkeesian is wrong, so trolls probably shouldn’t expect a sympathetic ear… but I would like to hear, in the troll’s own words, what they hope to accomplish and/or what they get out of the activity. And it doesn’t have to be from someone who trolled Sarkeesian specifically— I’m just interested in hearing from the trolls in general. Call it an amateur sociological study if you like. And you can remain anonymous if you must, although having a means of asking follow up questions might be nice.

11 Comments on “Why troll?”

  1. P.T. says:

    “instances of organized online trolling — where multiple people agree to pursue a common ‘enemy’ and seek to […] drive them from an online community, make them withdraw from online activities, make threats against that person and incite others to make threats against them, etc.”

    You’re misusing the word “troll”. This is harassment, not trolling. A troll by definition is someone who attempts to elicit an argument, emotional reaction, or otherwise cause disruption or make people appear foolish through deliberate provocation. The word doesn’t stem from “troll” as in a monster that lives under a bridge, but from “to troll” as in to fish by trailing a baited line or lure behind a boat – hence, metaphorically, to trick people into engaging with you by making baited statements.

    • Stephan says:

      I think trolling and harassing are so similar as to make a distinction meaningless. However, whatever we call it, I’m still interested in what makes people do it. What’s their payoff? If I had to guess, I’d say that ‘trolls’ (and ‘online harassers’) enjoy the game of provoking and pursuing a target and getting others to “+1” their witticisms, but I’d like to hear them (the people who invest time in trolling/harassing) tell me what they get out of it because saying that they do it because they enjoy the ‘game’ is just my assumption. Do they get more pleasure out of more extreme harassment? How does one decide which behavior crosses an ethical line? Does it all just not matter because it is on the internet and therefore “not real” to the people doing the harassing/trolling?
      I guess expecting people to answer these questions honestly is probably a fool’s errand — I’m just asking because I am interested.

      • P.T. says:

        The distinction is meaningful, and judging by your response you still don’t understand it. To harass someone is to attack or annoy someone repeatedly against their will. To troll someone is to encourage them to engage with you under false pretexts. It might involve abusive language or whatever else will help make the sham work, but the point at which the victim loses interest is the point at which the troll is finished – therefore it cannot be considered harassment. That said…

        A younger, dumber me used to troll now and then, primarily religious and debate forums. I would post arguments that I didn’t actually believe, or which I did believe but articulated so as to nettle people rather than to prove any kind of point. The primary payoff at the time was a sense of smug superiority, and the same sort of schadenfreude one gets from a practical joke. A troll post, once you’ve got someone’s number or if you’ve found an easy mark, is very quick and easy to write, and the longer and more infuriated the response I got the more amused I would be. I’d never target people who seemed to agree with my real views. Instead I’d grossly exaggerate my own position to provoke a response, or pretend to agree with my opponents and then trot out more and more ridiculous arguments in order to make them look stupid. It was also a way for me to examine other people’s viewpoints without bothering to engage them in a good-faith argument, which I mostly considered a waste of my time, arrogant shit that I was. Eventually, I just lost interest and grew up.

        Based on my own experiences and others I’ve known, I’d estimate most trolls are 15-25 years old (younger, too, but they tend to be too dumb to be successful), on the nerdy end of the spectrum, believe themselves to be intelligent, and motivated by sense of mean-spirited fun. I was bullied heavily in school, if that’s relevant. Contrast people like those harassing Ms. Sarkeesian, who I would expect are bog-standard sexists, motivated by fear of their own inadequacy, projection and all the rest of that lovely bundle of psychoses.

  2. Scot Hoover says:

    Stefan, I’d say given your own rush to post racist hate-speech and baseless accusations in the past, the answer to your question lies with you. Obviously, you thought it was a-ok and didn’t even feel the need to apologize privately or publicly when you turned out to be full of shit. So, you tell me, why do trolls troll?

    • Stephan says:

      Actually, Scot, I did try to apologize to you in public on knights and knaves forum but you refused to accept the apology. I’d offer you another but don’t think you would accept so never mind.
      (Edit) On second thought, I will apologize to you again. I don’t have a Knights & Knaves membership anymore, so I can’t see if my apology to you is still there, but I will do it here. I apologize for having insulted you and being mean spirited and accusing you of things you had no hand in. If it helps explain my position, I was given bad information by a third party going by the name “Portly” who was all over the blogs 3+ years ago… He has since vanished… But I don’t blame him; I take full responsibility for behaving like an asshole.

      • Falconer says:

        That’s very big of you, Stephan. I think many of us at Knights & Knaves like your Mines of Khunmar, and it’s too bad a third party caused a rift between us. FWIW, there’s no way we would have ever deleted your apology. That’s not our style. Also, you may have deleted your ‘gleepwurp’ account, but you still have ‘moloch’ over there, FYI.

    • Stefan says:

      Thank you, Mr. Falconer, but I don’t think I’m tempermentally suited for the forums and online stuff — I don’t have a thick enough skin, I guess. And, as tempting as it is to blame a third party, the weakness of character is my own.
      I continue to work on my own projects as I find the time and when I feel like it. Right now I have a very busy daytime work schedule and some artwork commissions from different people keeping me busy. Over the labor day holiday I spent a few hours on some of the projects that I have been telling myself would be finished years ago (one of which was The Mines of Khunmar). Part of me loves it and part of me thinks that the amount of work required to finish it isn’t worth it since there are already so many good big dungeons out there. Perhaps I’ll eventually finish those ‘mothball projects’ but I don’t know when I will get the time.

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