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#180733 - 08/23/05 02:09 PM Trolls: taking the high road
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
I dislike the term 'troll' intensely. What is a 'troll'?

Originally, trolls lived under bridges. Like the dragons painted into old maps at the edge of the world, they threatened travelers. Seekers had to face dragons, trolls, and wrestle with their demons in their pursuit of knowledge.

Like Kirk (old Star Trek) who cheated on the Kobayashi Maru test to get through the academy...he never had to face death. I can sympathize with the admin being the bridge that everyone is trampling over. On the other hand, painting over dragons, and deleting trolls feels like I am cheating myself in some way.

If a person is 'disruptive'...he is a 'disruptor'...that breaks forum rules and they should be removed. Asking questions that no one wants to answer...just makes one boring.


Edited by harlan (08/23/05 02:23 PM)

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#180734 - 08/23/05 02:27 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: harlan]
oldman Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/28/04
Posts: 5884
I used to have much more fun with trolls before I became a Mod. I believe that troll came from the word "Trolling" as in fishing.

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#180735 - 08/23/05 02:29 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: oldman]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
Which came from...? I just wish there was a less pejorative, and more descriptive word that was in common use.

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#180736 - 08/23/05 02:46 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: harlan]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
Harlan,
Troll 101:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll

If you were at a bar, 'trolls' would be the guys you'd avoid....but in a bar, they are called a-holes.

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#180737 - 08/23/05 02:49 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: Kintama]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
No...those are the words you would use.

Thanks for the link...read the political view section.

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#180738 - 08/23/05 03:39 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: harlan]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
right...I agree with the section you point out. as with any 'label', the term troll is mis-used, or rather, ill-used sometimes. on the other hand, every woman that has ever called a guy an ass (whether using those words or similar in spirit) is always 100% accuarate.

edit- to add to that, people are not perfect, even the people who are accusing people of being a [any term]. I've made mistakes based on incorrect hasty pre-judgements... I've also seen people/myself change after realizing their/my mistake. Those mistakes do not negate the fact that trollish behavior exists...

relating levels of troll: the levels are by difficulty in detecting them. 1=easiest to detect.

level 1:
Jerky boys:
have you ever received a crank phone call that at first sounds legit, but ends up being a juvinile prank? usually with a rasberry, air-horn or other nonsense.

level 2:
solicitation: junkmail. pushing an agenda.

level 3:
Instigators: "X style is better than Y style and I can prove it."

level 4:
nay-sayers:
Ever have a conversation with someone who constantly plays devils advocate and/or always doubting even the the most solid of facts?

level 5:
ego-trippers:
Since they already know everything, they only ask questions to confirm their belief that nobody else knows except them. or they only ask a question in order to dictate the 'correct' answer to others, in that regard the questions are facitious. The thread is usually guided into areas where no one can possibly have 'correct' answers... except for the ego-tripper of course. every once in a while they throw the dog a bone with "Exactly!", "Thats what I'm talking about!" or "I agree with you 100%!" ...plus that throws off their scent to troll-hunters.

The sad part is, someone can be a troll level 5 and not even know it....what do you do with these people? not sure. my suspicion is that they self-destruct by revealing their true nature after they get bored and end up getting banned.

I could be thinking about it wrong...in which case I refer to oldmans cartoon for the answers.

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#180739 - 08/23/05 06:56 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: Kintama]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
So, you advocate banning: jerky boys, solicitors, instigators, naysayers and ego-trippers? And how is any of this 'disruptive'...except to fragile egos?

I say that using the word 'troll' is too easy...it is a witchhunt...something used to isolate folks. If you don't like someone - too bad (not necessarily pointed at any individual...just asking folks to think about this).

Quote:



level 1:
Jerky boys:
have you ever received a crank phone call that at first sounds legit, but ends up being a juvinile prank? usually with a rasberry, air-horn or other nonsense.

level 2:
solicitation: junkmail. pushing an agenda.

level 3:
Instigators: "X style is better than Y style and I can prove it."

level 4:
nay-sayers:
Ever have a conversation with someone who constantly plays devils advocate and/or always doubting even the the most solid of facts?

level 5:
ego-trippers:
Since they already know everything, they only ask questions to confirm their belief that nobody else knows except them. or they only ask a question in order to dictate the 'correct' answer to others, in that regard the questions are facitious. The thread is usually guided into areas where no one can possibly have 'correct' answers... except for the ego-tripper of course. every once in a while they throw the dog a bone with "Exactly!", "Thats what I'm talking about!" or "I agree with you 100%!" ...plus that throws off their scent to troll-hunters.

The sad part is, someone can be a troll level 5 and not even know it....what do you do with these people? not sure. my suspicion is that they self-destruct by revealing their true nature after they get bored and end up getting banned.

I could be thinking about it wrong...in which case I refer to oldmans cartoon for the answers.



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#180740 - 08/23/05 07:47 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: harlan]
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!
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Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA
Quote by Harlan -

Quote:

So, you advocate banning: jerky boys, solicitors, instigators, naysayers and ego-trippers? And how is any of this 'disruptive'...except to fragile egos?

I say that using the word 'troll' is too easy...it is a witchhunt...something used to isolate folks. If you don't like someone - too bad (not necessarily pointed at any individual...just asking folks to think about this).




Interesting POV, Harlan. You might be Bullshido material after all. That is their line of reasoning for allowing "free speech" (to the point of trolling).

I actually agree with you that blanket deletion of someone's posts who are not always trolling is a bit too much for me, too. If they are violating forum rules, then the post should disappear. Otherwise, we should be mature enough to deal with it.

Kin's jerky boys will still have to walk the plank as long as I am around, though.

Thoughts? Comments?
_________________________
"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

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#180741 - 08/23/05 07:55 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: MattJ]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
"Thoughts? Comments?"

Sure...if ego-trippers were banned...this would be a mighty quiet forum.

I can deal with divas, and I enjoy watching discourse...but attacks should always be on the material/content...not personal. I dislike poor manners...as it reflects on the writer.


Edited by harlan (08/23/05 07:57 PM)

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#180742 - 08/23/05 09:11 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: harlan]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
who said anything about banning ego-trippers for being ego-trippers? I'm saying I've seen the high-strung-never-wanna-be-wrong-never-laugh-at-themselves people have a meltdown and say things that lead to their own distruction...at which time they may or may not be banned according to the temperment of the mods, alignment of stars and tide levels. There are some that I've seen start off with troll-like behavior, and grow into the forum and actually contribute a different point of view...accepted view or not, it's still a unique view and might get someone to think differently.
I'm actually with you Harlan...give troll-like behavior a chance to mature...but then I agree with matt in, theres only so many times you can hear somone call someone else a 'poopy-pants'.

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#180743 - 08/24/05 12:59 AM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: harlan]
JoelM Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/26/04
Posts: 6355
Loc: Georgia, USA
Quote:

I just wish there was a less pejorative, and more descriptive word that was in common use.




A less perjorative word for something/person who has no purpose or use except to disrupt and cause problems?

Maybe as a moderator I feel a higher need to be more discretionary when dealing with members(wrongly or rightly). I agree that sometimes new members are prematurely labeled as trolls, but that's what happens. We are all human, we make mistakes, even the trolls. But most people get a large enough chance when confronted by members and moderators to be non-trolling before they are removed from the site.

That or I just completely missed the point.

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#180744 - 08/24/05 08:16 AM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: Kintama]
shoshinkan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 05/10/05
Posts: 2662
Loc: UK
for me I find trolls who visit sites not relevant to what they do or have interests in, and purposfully try to belittle other peoples beliefs (based on solid expieirence) totally bannable.

Example i do not go onto MMA forums/sections and belittle MMA as a sport/art. I have some respect for what others do and have confidence that what i do meets my needs.

intelegent debate is a different story though and I always welcome that.

Its the trolls motivation for posting thats the issue.
_________________________
Jim Neeter

www.shoshinkanuk.blogspot.com

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#180745 - 08/24/05 08:41 AM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: harlan]
glad2bhere Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 08/11/00
Posts: 663
Loc: Lindenhurst, Illinois USA
Dear Harlan:

In Western Culture, and most specifically in American culture there are two sins that transcend nearly any other taboo.

1.) Accountability: On the part of the perp, a person who commits some injury must never allow himself to be held accountable for what he has done. To allow this to happen almost relegates that person to a population of intellectually deficients.

2.) Illusion Busting: On the part of the observer, it is almost guarenteed that while being the young boy in the crowd shouting that the emperor has no clothes smacks of honesty and candor, we never hear of the fate of the boy in that bedtime story. I submit that he was ostracized from his community for failing to show appropriate respect for his sovereign by a population who likewise knew the emperor was naked but wanted to believe in an incredibly fine suit of clothes.

The term "trolls" originally probably had a function in Internet society for identifying individuals who stirred-up chaos simply for its own sake. The term now seems to be used by perps who want to avoid being held accountable, and by a community working to protect its illusions about itself or its behaviors. My sense is that without adjustment the term has outlived its usefulness. FWIW.

Best Wishes,

Bruce


Edited by glad2bhere (08/24/05 08:42 AM)

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#180746 - 08/24/05 11:36 AM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: glad2bhere]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
let's forget about labels...I'd like to hear what everyone's opinion is as to what constitutes ban-able offenses/behavior (on this forum).
It could be a one-time unforgivable act (perhaps after a warning) or a series of habitual behavior (perhaps after several warnings).

on a separate issue...
Bruce, You bring up valid points. I've left what I read and wrote about you to lay to rest with the thread on bullshido. It was wrong of me to invoke personal issues no matter how offended (real or perceived) I felt at the time and saw an opportunity to jump on a bandwagon. The temperment of both of our posts since then has changed a bit for the better wouldn't you agree? If anything good came out of it, I'd say that I've learned that any forum is the wrong place for personal attacks, and while I don't appologize for my feeling offended, I appologize and take responsibility for my subsequent behavior. Still, what else can people do after the damage is done (if any)? I'm not looking for a response...just thought I'd mention where I'm at.

also, practicing to filter out people's tone is helping me read what someone writes as oppossed to how they say it. Actually, thats not entirely true...I still read posts the same way, it's how I respond that has changed a bit.
FWIW.

-Ed

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#180747 - 08/24/05 02:49 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: Kintama]
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!
Prolific

Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA
Kin -

You and I are walking down that same path of trying to filter info from tone. It is not always easy when confronted by opinions that are contrary or personalities that clash.

I have also had something of a sea-change in my opinion on ban-able offenses. The forum rules are pretty clear on what are offending traits in posts. Pointlessly inflammatory, political, religious or personal attacks are verboten.

The gray areas are the informational posts that walk the line of the other clear offenses. I am more inclined to allow those (edited as neccessary), to keep the debate honest for everyone. Contrary opinions should not be deleted, as long as they are not to the level of trolling (ie; hammering MMA opinions in a kata forum).

Banning people is a last "nuclear" option, IMHO, left for the habitual violators, who disregard warnings.

But then again, ask me when I have a headache.
_________________________
"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

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#180748 - 08/24/05 03:52 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: MattJ]
oldman Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/28/04
Posts: 5884
My approach is to hit hard and fast if I think a person is behaving trollishly.
I'll delete a number of posts. I feel it serves to immediately let a person know what I won't put up with on the threads I moderate. If they want to try again fine. They have the opportunity to modify their behavior. If I had the power to ban individuals I would do it early and often, without remorse.

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#180749 - 08/24/05 04:15 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: oldman]
butterfly Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 08/25/04
Posts: 3012
Loc: Torrance, CA
Oldman....the Trollenator!!!!!!

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#180750 - 08/24/05 04:34 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: oldman]
Kintama Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 04/17/05
Posts: 2724
Loc: Massachusetts
Quote:

If I had the power to ban individuals I would do it early and often, without remorse.



perhaps this is precisely why you were not given that pow...{post interrupted} *USER KINTAMA BANNED*

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#180751 - 08/24/05 04:38 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: Kintama]
oldman Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/28/04
Posts: 5884
How you like me now B@&otch!!!

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#180752 - 08/24/05 04:41 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: oldman]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
Takes two to troll?

Stop derailing my thread.


Edited by harlan (08/24/05 04:41 PM)

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#180753 - 09/01/05 04:11 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: harlan]
RangerG Offline
Former Moderator

Registered: 04/18/05
Posts: 1026
Loc: Chester County, Pennsylvania
When I find content to be racist, of no value or relation to the subject being discussed, of a hostile nature not in keeping with a minimum code of ethics that all MA'ists should have, violation of site rules and regulation or bashing another MA form..I will delete it or modify it. I will also warn the poster twice..third time...Buh Bye..
_________________________
"If you're gonna be stupid, you better be tough."

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#180754 - 01/10/06 01:21 PM Re: Trolls: taking the high road [Re: RangerG]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
bump

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#180755 - 08/27/07 07:20 AM Nice Site [Re: Kintama]
JackieCds Offline
Stranger

Registered: 08/24/07
Posts: 1
Sphincter weasel.


Edited by oldman (08/27/07 02:11 PM)

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#180756 - 08/27/07 08:57 AM ATTN MODS SPAM ALERT [Re: JackieCds]
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!
Prolific

Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA
above
_________________________
"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

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#180757 - 07/11/08 07:34 AM ignore button [Re: MattJ]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
On the other hand, just a reminder, for those persistant iches, the 'Ignore' function really works.

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#180758 - 07/11/08 09:31 PM Re: ignore button [Re: harlan]
Zach_Zinn Offline
Veteran

Registered: 12/09/07
Posts: 1031
Loc: Olympia, WA
The "good" trolls find their way around the ignore function by disrupting threads until someone else quotes them lol, thus negating the ignore function.

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#180759 - 08/01/08 11:10 AM Trolls, and 'malwebolence' [Re: Zach_Zinn]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
A NY Times article on the subject:

August 3, 2008

Malwebolence
By MATTATHIAS SCHWARTZ

One afternoon in the spring of 2006, for reasons unknown to those who knew him, Mitchell Henderson, a seventh grader from Rochester, Minn., took a .22-caliber rifle down from a shelf in his parents’ bedroom closet and shot himself in the head. The next morning, Mitchell’s school assembled in the gym to begin mourning. His classmates created a virtual memorial on MySpace and garlanded it with remembrances. One wrote that Mitchell was “an hero to take that shot, to leave us all behind. God do we wish we could take it back. . . . ” Someone e-mailed a clipping of Mitchell’s newspaper obituary to MyDeathSpace.com, a Web site that links to the MySpace pages of the dead. From MyDeathSpace, Mitchell’s page came to the attention of an Internet message board known as /b/ and the “trolls,” as they have come to be called, who dwell there.

/b/ is the designated “random” board of 4chan.org, a group of message boards that draws more than 200 million page views a month. A post consists of an image and a few lines of text. Almost everyone posts as “anonymous.” In effect, this makes /b/ a panopticon in reverse — nobody can see anybody, and everybody can claim to speak from the center. The anonymous denizens of 4chan’s other boards — devoted to travel, fitness and several genres of pornography — refer to the /b/-dwellers as “/b/tards.”

Measured in terms of depravity, insularity and traffic-driven turnover, the culture of /b/ has little precedent. /b/ reads like the inside of a high-school bathroom stall, or an obscene telephone party line, or a blog with no posts and all comments filled with slang that you are too old to understand.

Something about Mitchell Henderson struck the denizens of /b/ as funny. They were especially amused by a reference on his MySpace page to a lost iPod. Mitchell Henderson, /b/ decided, had killed himself over a lost iPod. The “an hero” meme was born. Within hours, the anonymous multitudes were wrapping the tragedy of Mitchell’s death in absurdity.

Someone hacked Henderson’s MySpace page and gave him the face of a zombie. Someone placed an iPod on Henderson’s grave, took a picture and posted it to /b/. Henderson’s face was appended to dancing iPods, spinning iPods, hardcore porn scenes. A dramatic re-enactment of Henderson’s demise appeared on YouTube, complete with shattered iPod. The phone began ringing at Mitchell’s parents’ home. “It sounded like kids,” remembers Mitchell’s father, Mark Henderson, a 44-year-old I.T. executive. “They’d say, ‘Hi, this is Mitchell, I’m at the cemetery.’ ‘Hi, I’ve got Mitchell’s iPod.’ ‘Hi, I’m Mitchell’s ghost, the front door is locked. Can you come down and let me in?’ ” He sighed. “It really got to my wife.” The calls continued for a year and a half.

In the late 1980s, Internet users adopted the word “troll” to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities. Early trolling was relatively innocuous, taking place inside of small, single-topic Usenet groups. The trolls employed what the M.I.T. professor Judith Donath calls a “pseudo-naïve” tactic, asking stupid questions and seeing who would rise to the bait. The game was to find out who would see through this stereotypical newbie behavior, and who would fall for it. As one guide to trolldom puts it, “If you don’t fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.”

Today the Internet is much more than esoteric discussion forums. It is a mass medium for defining who we are to ourselves and to others. Teenagers groom their MySpace profiles as intensely as their hair; escapists clock 50-hour weeks in virtual worlds, accumulating gold for their online avatars. Anyone seeking work or love can expect to be Googled. As our emotional investment in the Internet has grown, the stakes for trolling — for provoking strangers online — have risen. Trolling has evolved from ironic solo skit to vicious group hunt.

“Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll who, like many people I contacted, refused to disclose his legal identity.

Another troll explained the lulz as a quasi-thermodynamic exchange between the sensitive and the cruel: “You look for someone who is full of it, a real blowhard. Then you exploit their insecurities to get an insane amount of drama, laughs and lulz. Rules would be simple: 1. Do whatever it takes to get lulz. 2. Make sure the lulz is widely distributed. This will allow for more lulz to be made. 3. The game is never over until all the lulz have been had.”

/b/ is not all bad. 4chan has tried (with limited success) to police itself, using moderators to purge child porn and eliminate calls to disrupt other sites. Among /b/’s more interesting spawn is Anonymous, a group of masked pranksters who organized protests at Church of Scientology branches around the world.

But the logic of lulz extends far beyond /b/ to the anonymous message boards that seem to be springing up everywhere. Two female Yale Law School students have filed a suit against pseudonymous users who posted violent fantasies about them on AutoAdmit, a college-admissions message board. In China, anonymous nationalists are posting death threats against pro-Tibet activists, along with their names and home addresses. Technology, apparently, does more than harness the wisdom of the crowd. It can intensify its hatred as well.

Jason Fortuny might be the closest thing this movement of anonymous provocateurs has to a spokesman. Thirty-two years old, he works “typical Clark Kent I.T.” freelance jobs — Web design, programming — but his passion is trolling, “pushing peoples’ buttons.” Fortuny frames his acts of trolling as “experiments,” sociological inquiries into human behavior. In the fall of 2006, he posted a hoax ad on Craigslist, posing as a woman seeking a “str8 brutal dom muscular male.” More than 100 men responded. Fortuny posted their names, pictures, e-mail and phone numbers to his blog, dubbing the exposé “the Craigslist Experiment.” This made Fortuny the most prominent Internet villain in America until November 2007, when his fame was eclipsed by the Megan Meier MySpace suicide. Meier, a 13-year-old Missouri girl, hanged herself with a belt after receiving cruel messages from a boy she’d been flirting with on MySpace. The boy was not a real boy, investigators say, but the fictional creation of Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan’s former friends. Drew later said she hoped to find out whether Megan was gossiping about her daughter. The story — respectable suburban wife uses Internet to torment teenage girl — was a media sensation.

Fortuny’s Craigslist Experiment deprived its subjects of more than just privacy. Two of them, he says, lost their jobs, and at least one, for a time, lost his girlfriend. Another has filed an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Fortuny in an Illinois court. After receiving death threats, Fortuny meticulously scrubbed his real address and phone number from the Internet. “Anyone who knows who and where you are is a security hole,” he told me. “I own a gun. I have an escape route. If someone comes, I’m ready.”

While reporting this article, I did everything I could to verify the trolls’ stories and identities, but I could never be certain. After all, I was examining a subculture that is built on deception and delights in playing with the media. If I had doubts about whether Fortuny was who he said he was, he had the same doubts about me. I first contacted Fortuny by e-mail, and he called me a few days later. “I checked you out,” he said warily. “You seem legitimate.” We met in person on a bright spring day at his apartment, on a forested slope in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle. He wore a T-shirt and sweat pants, looking like an amiable freelancer on a Friday afternoon. He is thin, with birdlike features and the etiolated complexion of one who works in front of a screen. He’d been chatting with an online associate about driving me blindfolded from the airport, he said. “We decided it would be too much work.”

A flat-screen HDTV dominated Fortuny’s living room, across from a futon prepped with neatly folded blankets. This was where I would sleep for the next few nights. As Fortuny picked up his cat and settled into an Eames-style chair, I asked whether trolling hurt people. “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, God, please forgive me!’ so someone can feel better,” Fortuny said, his calm voice momentarily rising. The cat lay purring in his lap. “Am I the bad guy? Am I the big horrible person who shattered someone’s life with some information? No! This is life. Welcome to life. Everyone goes through it. I’ve been through horrible stuff, too.”

“Like what?” I asked. Sexual abuse, Fortuny said. When Jason was 5, he said, he was molested by his grandfather and three other relatives. Jason’s mother later told me, too, that he was molested by his grandfather. The last she heard from Jason was a letter telling her to kill herself. “Jason is a young man in a great deal of emotional pain,” she said, crying as she spoke. “Don’t be too harsh. He’s still my son.”

In the days after the Megan Meier story became public, Lori Drew and her family found themselves in the trolls’ crosshairs. Their personal information — e-mail addresses, satellite images of their home, phone numbers — spread across the Internet. One of the numbers led to a voice-mail greeting with the gleeful words “I did it for the lulz.” Anonymous malefactors made death threats and hurled a brick through the kitchen window. Then came the Megan Had It Coming blog. Supposedly written by one of Megan’s classmates, the blog called Megan a “drama queen,” so unstable that Drew could not be blamed for her death. “Killing yourself over a MySpace boy? Come on!!! I mean yeah your fat so you have to take what you can get but still nobody should kill themselves over it.” In the third post the author revealed herself as Lori Drew.

This post received more than 3,600 comments. Fox and CNN debated its authenticity. But the Drew identity was another mask. In fact, Megan Had It Coming was another Jason Fortuny experiment. He, not Lori Drew, Fortuny told me, was the blog’s author. After watching him log onto the site and add a post, I believed him. The blog was intended, he says, to question the public’s hunger for remorse and to challenge the enforceability of cyberharassment laws like the one passed by Megan’s town after her death. Fortuny concluded that they were unenforceable. The county sheriff’s department announced it was investigating the identity of the fake Lori Drew, but it never found Fortuny, who is not especially worried about coming out now. “What’s he going to sue me for?” he asked. “Leading on confused people? Why don’t people fact-check who this stuff is coming from? Why do they assume it’s true?”

Fortuny calls himself “a normal person who does insane things on the Internet,” and the scene at dinner later on the first day we spent together was exceedingly normal, with Fortuny, his roommate Charles and his longtime friend Zach trading stories at a sushi restaurant nearby over sake and happy-hour gyoza. Fortuny flirted with our waitress, showing her a cellphone picture of his cat. “He commands you to kill!” he cackled. “Do you know how many I’ve killed at his command?” Everyone laughed.

Fortuny spent most of the weekend in his bedroom juggling several windows on his monitor. One displayed a chat room run by Encyclopedia Dramatica, an online compendium of troll humor and troll lore. It was buzzing with news of an attack against the Epilepsy Foundation’s Web site. Trolls had flooded the site’s forums with flashing images and links to animated color fields, leading at least one photosensitive user to claim that she had a seizure.

WEEV: the whole posting flashing images to epileptics thing? over the line.

HEPKITTEN: can someone plz tell me how doing something the admins intentionally left enabled is hacking?

WEEV: it’s hacking peoples unpatched brains. we have to draw a moral line somewhere.

Fortuny disagreed. In his mind, subjecting epileptic users to flashing lights was justified. “Hacks like this tell you to watch out by hitting you with a baseball bat,” he told me. “Demonstrating these kinds of exploits is usually the only way to get them fixed.”

“So the message is ‘buy a helmet,’ and the medium is a bat to the head?” I asked.

“No, it’s like a pitcher telling a batter to put on his helmet by beaning him from the mound. If you have this disease and you’re on the Internet, you need to take precautions.” A few days later, he wrote and posted a guide to safe Web surfing for epileptics.

On Sunday, Fortuny showed me an office building that once housed Google programmers, and a low-slung modernist structure where programmers wrote Halo 3, the best-selling video game. We ate muffins at Terra Bite, a coffee shop founded by a Google employee where customers pay whatever price they feel like. Kirkland seemed to pulse with the easy money and optimism of the Internet, unaware of the machinations of the troll on the hill.

We walked on, to Starbucks. At the next table, middle-schoolers with punk-rock haircuts feasted noisily on energy drinks and whipped cream. Fortuny sipped a white-chocolate mocha. He proceeded to demonstrate his personal cure for trolling, the Theory of the Green Hair.

“You have green hair,” he told me. “Did you know that?”

“No,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I look in the mirror. I see my hair is black.”

“That’s uh, interesting. I guess you understand that you have green hair about as well as you understand that you’re a terrible reporter.”

“What do you mean? What did I do?”

“That’s a very interesting reaction,” Fortuny said. “Why didn’t you get so defensive when I said you had green hair?” If I were certain that I wasn’t a terrible reporter, he explained, I would have laughed the suggestion off just as easily. The willingness of trolling “victims” to be hurt by words, he argued, makes them complicit, and trolling will end as soon as we all get over it.

On Monday we drove to the mall. I asked Fortuny how he could troll me if he so chose. He took out his cellphone. On the screen was a picture of my debit card with the numbers clearly legible. I had left it in plain view beside my laptop. “I took this while you were out,” he said. He pressed a button. The picture disappeared. “See? I just deleted it.”

The Craigslist Experiment, Fortuny reiterated, brought him troll fame by accident. He was pleased with how the Megan Had It Coming blog succeeded by design. As he described the intricacies of his plan — adding sympathetic touches to the fake classmate, making fake Lori Drew a fierce defender of her own daughter, calibrating every detail to the emotional register of his audience — he sounded not so much a sociologist as a playwright workshopping a set of characters.

“You seem to know exactly how much you can get away with, and you troll right up to that line,” I said. “Is there anything that can be done on the Internet that shouldn’t be done?”

Fortuny was silent. In four days of conversation, this was the first time he did not have an answer ready.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I have to think about it.”

Sherrod DeGrippo, a 28-year-old Atlanta native who goes by the name Girlvinyl, runs Encyclopedia Dramatica, the online troll archive. In 2006, DeGrippo received an e-mail message from a well-known band of trolls, demanding that she edit the entry about them on the Encyclopedia Dramatica site. She refused. Within hours, the aggrieved trolls hit the phones, bombarding her apartment with taxis, pizzas, escorts and threats of rape and violent death. DeGrippo, alone and terrified, sought counsel from a powerful friend. She called Weev.

Weev, the troll who thought hacking the epilepsy site was immoral, is legendary among trolls. He is said to have jammed the cellphones of daughters of C.E.O.’s and demanded ransom from their fathers; he is also said to have trashed his enemies’ credit ratings. Better documented are his repeated assaults on LiveJournal, an online diary site where he himself maintains a personal blog. Working with a group of fellow hackers and trolls, he once obtained access to thousands of user accounts.

I first met Weev in an online chat room that I visited while staying at Fortuny’s house. “I hack, I ruin, I make piles of money,” he boasted. “I make people afraid for their lives.” On the phone that night, Weev displayed a misanthropy far harsher than Fortuny’s. “Trolling is basically Internet eugenics,” he said, his voice pitching up like a jet engine on the runway. “I want everyone off the Internet. Bloggers are filth. They need to be destroyed. Blogging gives the illusion of participation to a bunch of retards. . . . We need to put these people in the oven!”

I listened for a few more minutes as Weev held forth on the Federal Reserve and about Jews. Unlike Fortuny, he made no attempt to reconcile his trolling with conventional social norms. Two days later, I flew to Los Angeles and met Weev at a train station in Fullerton, a sleepy bungalow town folded into the vast Orange County grid. He is in his early 20s with full lips, darting eyes and a nest of hair falling back from his temples. He has a way of leaning in as he makes a point, inviting you to share what might or might not be a joke.

As we walked through Fullerton’s downtown, Weev told me about his day — he’d lost $10,000 on the commodities market, he claimed — and summarized his philosophy of “global ruin.” “We are headed for a Malthusian crisis,” he said, with professorial confidence. “Plankton levels are dropping. Bees are dying. There are tortilla riots in Mexico, the highest wheat prices in 30-odd years.” He paused. “The question we have to answer is: How do we kill four of the world’s six billion people in the most just way possible?” He seemed excited to have said this aloud.

Ideas like these bring trouble. Almost a year ago, while in the midst of an LSD-and-methamphetamine bender, a longer-haired, wilder-eyed Weev gave a talk called “Internet Crime” at a San Diego hacker convention. He expounded on diverse topics like hacking the Firefox browser, online trade in illegal weaponry and assassination markets — untraceable online betting pools that pay whoever predicts the exact date of a political leader’s demise. The talk led to two uncomfortable interviews with federal agents and the decision to shed his legal identity altogether. Weev now espouses “the ruin lifestyle” — moving from condo to condo, living out of three bags, no name, no possessions, all assets held offshore. As a member of a group of hackers called “the organization,” which, he says, bring in upward of $10 million annually, he says he can wreak ruin from anywhere.

We arrived at a strip mall. Out of the darkness, the coffinlike snout of a new Rolls Royce Phantom materialized. A flying lady winked on the hood. “Your bag, sir?” said the driver, a blond kid in a suit and tie.

“This is my car,” Weev said. “Get in.”

And it was, for that night and the next, at least. The car’s plush chamber accentuated the boyishness of Weev, who wore sneakers and jeans and hung from a leather strap like a subway rider. In the front seat sat Claudia, a pretty college-age girl.

I asked about the status of Weev’s campaign against humanity. Things seemed rather stable, I said, even with all this talk of trolling and hacking.

“We’re waiting,” Weev said. “We need someone to show us the way. The messiah.”

“How do you know it’s not you?” I asked.

“If it were me, I would know,” he said. “I would receive a sign.”

Zeno of Elea, Socrates and Jesus, Weev said, are his all-time favorite trolls. He also identifies with Coyote and Loki, the trickster gods, and especially with Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. “Loki was a hacker. The other gods feared him, but they needed his tools.”

“I was just thinking of Kali!” Claudia said with a giggle.

Over a candlelit dinner of tuna sashimi, Weev asked if I would attribute his comments to Memphis Two, the handle he used to troll Kathy Sierra, a blogger. Inspired by her touchy response to online commenters, Weev said he “dropped docs” on Sierra, posting a fabricated narrative of her career alongside her real Social Security number and address. This was part of a larger trolling campaign against Sierra, one that culminated in death threats. Weev says he has access to hundreds of thousands of Social Security numbers. About a month later, he sent me mine.

Weev, Claudia and I hung out in Fullerton for two more nights, always meeting and saying goodbye at the train station. I met their friend Kate, who has been repeatedly banned from playing XBox Live for racist slurs, which she also enjoys screaming at white pedestrians. Kate checked my head for lice and kept calling me “Jew.” Relations have since warmed. She now e-mails me puppy pictures and wants the names of fun places for her coming visit to New York. On the last night, Weev offered to take me to his apartment if I wore a blindfold and left my cellphone behind. I was in, but Claudia vetoed the idea. I think it was her apartment.

Does free speech tend to move toward the truth or away from it? When does it evolve into a better collective understanding? When does it collapse into the Babel of trolling, the pointless and eristic game of talking the other guy into crying “uncle”? Is the effort to control what’s said always a form of censorship, or might certain rules be compatible with our notions of free speech?

One promising answer comes from the computer scientist Jon Postel, now known as “god of the Internet” for the influence he exercised over the emerging network. In 1981, he formulated what’s known as Postel’s Law: “Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.” Originally intended to foster “interoperability,” the ability of multiple computer systems to understand one another, Postel’s Law is now recognized as having wider applications. To build a robust global network with no central authority, engineers were encouraged to write code that could “speak” as clearly as possible yet “listen” to the widest possible range of other speakers, including those who do not conform perfectly to the rules of the road. The human equivalent of this robustness is a combination of eloquence and tolerance — the spirit of good conversation. Trolls embody the opposite principle. They are liberal in what they do and conservative in what they construe as acceptable behavior from others. You, the troll says, are not worthy of my understanding; I, therefore, will do everything I can to confound you.

Why inflict anguish on a helpless stranger? It’s tempting to blame technology, which increases the range of our communications while dehumanizing the recipients. Cases like An Hero and Megan Meier presumably wouldn’t happen if the perpetrators had to deliver their messages in person. But while technology reduces the social barriers that keep us from bedeviling strangers, it does not explain the initial trolling impulse. This seems to spring from something ugly — a destructive human urge that many feel but few act upon, the ambient misanthropy that’s a frequent ingredient of art, politics and, most of all, jokes. There’s a lot of hate out there, and a lot to hate as well.

So far, despite all this discord, the Internet’s system of civil machines has proved more resilient than anyone imagined. As early as 1994, the head of the Internet Society warned that spam “will destroy the network.” The news media continually present the online world as a Wild West infested with villainous hackers, spammers and pedophiles. And yet the Internet is doing very well for a frontier town on the brink of anarchy. Its traffic is expected to quadruple by 2012. To say that trolls pose a threat to the Internet at this point is like saying that crows pose a threat to farming.

That the Internet is now capacious enough to host an entire subculture of users who enjoy undermining its founding values is yet another symptom of its phenomenal success. It may not be a bad thing that the least-mature users have built remote ghettos of anonymity where the malice is usually intramural. But how do we deal with cases like An Hero, epilepsy hacks and the possibility of real harm being inflicted on strangers?

Several state legislators have recently proposed cyberbullying measures. At the federal level, Representative Linda Sánchez, a Democrat from California, has introduced the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, which would make it a federal crime to send any communications with intent to cause “substantial emotional distress.” In June, Lori Drew pleaded not guilty to charges that she violated federal fraud laws by creating a false identity “to torment, harass, humiliate and embarrass” another user, and by violating MySpace’s terms of service. But hardly anyone bothers to read terms of service, and millions create false identities. “While Drew’s conduct is immoral, it is a very big stretch to call it illegal,” wrote the online-privacy expert Prof. Daniel J. Solove on the blog Concurring Opinions.

Many trolling practices, like prank-calling the Hendersons and intimidating Kathy Sierra, violate existing laws against harassment and threats. The difficulty is tracking down the perpetrators. In order to prosecute, investigators must subpoena sites and Internet service providers to learn the original author’s IP address, and from there, his legal identity. Local police departments generally don’t have the means to follow this digital trail, and federal investigators have their hands full with spam, terrorism, fraud and child pornography. But even if we had the resources to aggressively prosecute trolls, would we want to? Are we ready for an Internet where law enforcement keeps watch over every vituperative blog and backbiting comments section, ready to spring at the first hint of violence? Probably not. All vigorous debates shade into trolling at the perimeter; it is next to impossible to excise the trolling without snuffing out the debate.

If we can’t prosecute the trolling out of online anonymity, might there be some way to mitigate it with technology? One solution that has proved effective is “disemvoweling” — having message-board administrators remove the vowels from trollish comments, which gives trolls the visibility they crave while muddying their message. A broader answer is persistent pseudonymity, a system of nicknames that stay the same across multiple sites. This could reduce anonymity’s excesses while preserving its benefits for whistle-blowers and overseas dissenters. Ultimately, as Fortuny suggests, trolling will stop only when its audience stops taking trolls seriously. “People know to be deeply skeptical of what they read on the front of a supermarket tabloid,” says Dan Gillmor, who directs the Center for Citizen Media. “It should be even more so with anonymous comments. They shouldn’t start off with a credibility rating of, say, 0. It should be more like negative-30.”

Of course, none of these methods will be fail-safe as long as individuals like Fortuny construe human welfare the way they do. As we discussed the epilepsy hack, I asked Fortuny whether a person is obliged to give food to a starving stranger. No, Fortuny argued; no one is entitled to our sympathy or empathy. We can choose to give or withhold them as we see fit. “I can’t push you into the fire,” he explained, “but I can look at you while you’re burning in the fire and not be required to help.” Weeks later, after talking to his friend Zach, Fortuny began considering the deeper emotional forces that drove him to troll. The theory of the green hair, he said, “allows me to find people who do stupid things and turn them around. Zach asked if I thought I could turn my parents around. I almost broke down. The idea of them learning from their mistakes and becoming people that I could actually be proud of . . . it was overwhelming.” He continued: “It’s not that I do this because I hate them. I do this because I’m trying to save them.”

Weeks before my visit with Fortuny, I had lunch with “moot,” the young man who founded 4chan. After running the site under his pseudonym for five years, he recently revealed his legal name to be Christopher Poole. At lunch, Poole was quick to distance himself from the excesses of /b/. “Ultimately the power lies in the community to dictate its own standards,” he said. “All we do is provide a general framework.” He was optimistic about Robot9000, a new 4chan board with a combination of human and machine moderation. Users who make “unoriginal” or “low content” posts are banned from Robot9000 for periods that lengthen with each offense.

The posts on Robot9000 one morning were indeed far more substantive than /b/. With the cyborg moderation system silencing the trolls, 4chan had begun to display signs of linearity, coherence, a sense of collective enterprise. It was, in other words, robust. The anonymous hordes swapped lists of albums and novels; some had pretty good taste. Somebody tried to start a chess game: “I’ll start, e2 to e4,” which quickly devolved into riffage with moves like “Return to Sender,” “From Here to Infinity,” “Death to America” and a predictably indecent checkmate maneuver.

Shortly after 8 a.m., someone asked this:

“What makes a bad person? Or a good person? How do you know if you’re a bad person?”

Which prompted this:

“A good person is someone who follows the rules. A bad person is someone who doesn’t.”

And this:

“you’re breaking my rules, you bad person”

There were echoes of antiquity:

“good: pleasure; bad: pain”

“There is no morality. Only the right of the superior to rule over the inferior.”

And flirtations with postmodernity:

“good and bad are subjective”

“we’re going to turn into wormchow before the rest of the universe even notices.”

Books were prescribed:

“read Kant, JS Mill, Bentham, Singer, etc. Noobs.”

And then finally this:

“I’d say empathy is probably a factor.”

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#180760 - 08/01/08 11:27 AM Re: ignore button [Re: harlan]
butterfly Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 08/25/04
Posts: 3012
Loc: Torrance, CA
Wowza, Youza! That is probably one of the more interesting, and scary things, I have read in a long time!!!!!!!

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#180761 - 08/01/08 11:41 AM Malwebolence [Re: butterfly]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
Probably the singular most interesting quote, as applied to this site:

“Ultimately the power lies in the community to dictate its own standards...”

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#180762 - 08/01/08 11:43 AM Re: ignore button [Re: butterfly]
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!
Prolific

Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA
Quote:

Wowza, Youza! That is probably one of the more interesting, and scary things, I have read in a long time!!!!!!!




Ditto.
_________________________
"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

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#180763 - 08/01/08 12:19 PM Re: Malwebolence [Re: harlan]
butterfly Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 08/25/04
Posts: 3012
Loc: Torrance, CA
Honor among theives? Hmmm.

Let's go out on a limb and say there are always those that haven't crossed the line to quite being a malefactor, but a group of shoplifters sharing the means and knowledge to shoplift better and stating that it improves store security is still crappy at its best.

A close knit group sharing tidbits on how to "emotionally," or in the case of epileptics, physically harm others just strikes me as a weird subterfuge for people getting off on hurting people and liking it. Then rationalizing away around the whole thing saying that they are doing a service by showing the shortcomings of your cyber defenses. Practical jokes that cause harm are not jokes, especially if those behind the curtains are the only ones chortling.

The problem arises when you have what essentially becomes a no-touch white collar crime when compared to someone breaking into your house. Crap is crap, despite where it comes from and even if it is a little more sterile coming from the cyber world.

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#180764 - 08/01/08 02:32 PM Re: Malwebolence [Re: butterfly]
MattJ Offline
Free Rhinoplasty!
Prolific

Registered: 11/25/04
Posts: 15634
Loc: York PA. USA
Agreed, terrible logic. That would be like us beating up people on the street to prove that they need martial arts training.

Even if they're conceptually correct, that is the wrong way to go about it.
_________________________
"In case you ever wondered what it's like to be knocked out, it's like waking up from a nightmare only to discover it wasn't a dream." -Forrest Griffin

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