You’ve seen it in the comment sections of just about every article or post on the internet. You’ve seen people stirring the pot simply for pot-stirring’s sake, and trying to get a rise from anyone and everyone no matter which end of the (political, etc.) spectrum they fall on. People seem to think they’re sparking some sort of revolution by trolling; people who adhere to the idea that trolls are the “…only people that tell the the truth these days,” or believe that successful trolling is an art form.
It’s a troll world
You’ve got Time Magazine complaining how trolls are ruining the internet.
There’s even a book out on the subject, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, which covers the increasingly mainstream relationship between trolling, the internet and the people who use it.
It’s often just another tactic to try and exhibit power on the internet. And everyone is doing it now, and very poorly, usually. And, more importantly, as a result the average person is now less willing or able to be trolled.
But, here’s the thing: It’s lame, outdated – like the kid who still thinks it’s cool to pull on girls’ pigtails on the playground. You and every other twelve-year-old can try and rile people up online. Lulz. But anyone with half a brain, anyone who knows two things about where the world is headed no longer falls for childish trickery.
But that’s not the whole story, and it certainly doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stop there.
So, what now?
So where do the 4chan, 8chan, Breitbart trolls go when their caves have been raided? Where can they find darkness after being brought out into the light?
To be fair, trolls are often nonpartisan. Like “Thor83” played by Patton Oswalt (amen) trolling party invites in this Portlandia sketch.
But of course, when it’s not messing with people’s lives, it’s not really worth writing about or reporting on. So, especially on the sites just mentioned, the loudest and most obvious trolls, like Milo, have taken to the alt-right’s terroristic internet presence.
So what now?
Never to be outdone, trolling is getting bigger, better, and, arguably, more entertaining. The “leaked” story about Donald Trump’s golden shower party in Russia, for example, is a perfect example: It had all the right ingredients; i.e. Trump’s link to Putin and the former USSR has been one of the current administration’s biggest talking points, as is his history of relationships with ladies of the night. Why not go one further?
Not only is Donald Trump in bed with Putin, but that bed is filled with urinating prostitutes. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true, and it doesn’t matter what further information comes to light: It’s now in our cultural memory, and someone trolled the whole world.
What we have to realize is that the power of the internet has to quickly and effectively spread (dis)information isn’t going to go away. Ever. Even as many articles and books have been written on the subject, brought it out into the light, and tried to solve it, trolls aren’t simply going to say,
“Whoops, well you got us. Sorry about all that.”
And spend the time watching videos of baby goats instead.
Like graffiti on the walls of mom and pop businesses, it’s not about winning or losing, doing right or wrong. Trolls simply don’t care – It’s all for the laughs, the fuckery, the rise from readers, and if those can be attained there is no subject off-limits, no joke made too soon or too late.
And if Trump wanted to try and control the internet before (limit the internet, limit free speech…), he will certainly want to do that now.
It’s not about addressing the issue, or giving (or taking away) a POV/voice. It’s, again, simply stirring the pot for pot stirring’s sake. Trolls will always find a way, and they’re just going to keep getting better and better at doing so.
So, now everyone knows about trolls, and everyone knows what to do when they encounter one, online or anywhere else: It’s become easy to spot someone stirring up trouble just to stir up trouble, and even some of the best of them are getting called out and caught up.
Read more: Don’t feed the trolls
But, and this is a necessary question, what about the freedoms involved?
Does taking away the freedom, the right to say whatever you want online lead to taking away the right to say anything? Is this the slippery slope that leads to censorship?
The unintended (or on some level intended) consequences of limiting speech in one arena, eventually leading to the limiting of speech in every arena?
That argument can be made.
So perhaps a more anarchic POV is necessary. Anarchy gets a bad rap, but it isn’t necessarily a fair one: Anarchy doesn’t necessarily mean chaos, but rather willing order; it’s order by the people for the people, simply without a ruler imposing rules.
No need for anyone to stir the pot when we are all cooks.
Through all the sh!t that gets put out – the fake news and falsehoods, the clickbait and character assassinations – is it worth it for the one shred of truth that does get through? Is it worth it because, on some level, we need this kind of rogue, completely anarchic (bipartisan) spread of information?
So keep trolling, you mainstream cans of vanilla coke. Because when something becomes normal, it eventually becomes useful. It can eventually become something good. It can become, perhaps, even necessary to the survival of our freedom.