The trolls have won

By Francisco Dao , written on September 24, 2013

From The News Desk

Contrary to popular belief, the dominant culture on the Web isn’t lolcats or even porn, it’s trolls and bullying. They’ve won the Internet, and many of us have cheered them on while they waged their war against civility.

Consider why trolls do what they do. Their primary goal is to manipulate people in order to get a reaction. They either don’t know how, or know it’s more difficult, to get positive attention so they seek negative attention. If someone gets hurt in the process this is irrelevant to them, even when the damage moves into the real world. On an individual basis, average hate-baiters can be ignored and blocked but looking at the big picture, trolls have succeeded in manipulating the entire culture of the Internet. They’ve turned it into a place where anger rules supreme, and they’ve dragged everyone down with them.

In the real world, trolls such as Violentacrez and weev would be pariahs. But on the Internet, where hate and trolling dominate, they have legions of followers and fans. In weev’s case, his trolling went far beyond online name calling and put people’s lives in danger, and yet not only was it still considered acceptable behavior under the auspices of free speech, it was cheered on by many.

While we might be able to dismiss Violentacrez and weev as extreme cases, we cannot dismiss how acceptable trolling has become. People don’t think twice about launching vicious personal attacks and if the target doesn’t like it, he or she is blamed for being overly sensitive. It’s never the troll who’s in the wrong, they argue they’re just exercising their right to speak, but blaming the victim is perfectly reasonable.

When did attacking someone become an acceptable standard of behavior? Personally, I’ve had trolls write entire blog posts calling me all kinds of terrible things, because they thought one of my posts was about them even though it wasn’t and at no point did I name them. Of course, there was never an apology or retraction, because in their mind they hadn’t violated the piss poor standards of the troll-infested internet. Trolling is the new normal.

Not only has trolling become the dominant online culture, but as I mentioned last week, we are far more likely to spread sensational lies and linkbait attacks than we are to share proven facts and reasonable ideas. Because of this, trolls naturally have an easier path to popularity and their hate baiting draws a disproportionate amount of attention that further elevates their actions and behavior.

The end result of this is we’ve become so attune to the negative that we assume the worst about everyone and treat each other based on the lowest common denominator. Decency is now viewed as the exception and not the rule.

Consider the ongoing debate about women in technology. While most people recognize that tech is a male-dominated industry and frown on discrimination of any kind, if we listen to the arguments of the most vitriolic voices, all men are assumed to be privileged and misogynistic jerks, while all women are assumed to be complainers who expect preferential treatment just for being female. The angry troll mentality pushes everyone to the negative extremes.

This is how the trolls have succeeded in manipulating all of us. While we can block individuals, short of leaving the Internet completely, we can’t block the culture of the online community. By pushing Internet culture to its worst uncivil elements and leading us to assume the worst about each other, the trolls have done far more than raise the personal ire of a few individual targets. They’ve dragged us all down to the lowest common denominator and made the online world an inhospitable place while we cheered them on for doing so. In convincing us to applaud or own debasement, the trolls have won.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]