I was thinking today, as I manuevered through the streets of Orgrimmar, that we often don’t give enough thanks to the trolls that pervade the internet. Thanks for the very valuable service they perform.
No, bear with me for a second, I’m entirely serious.
Every child has to grow up. As they grow, they must learn how to react to social situations.
In the years before the internet, cell phones and social networking sites, those bleak, desolate years devoid of any type of cultural awakening, back when dinoaurs roamed the earth and none of us had electricity or flush toilets in our homes, and nobody had discovered sex yet, we learned how to deal with people by working it through face to face.
When we said something other people didn’t like, something like “Jimmy’s an ugly dickwad”, we usually found out what they thought about it in a direct fashion, because one of their friends were probably standing nearby, and Jimmy the Dickwad would quickly be told what had been said… and since everyone was local in your little social group, Jimmy the Dickwad would then come to your physical location and show you his feelings by beating his chest and beginning the traditional “somebody hold me back or I’ll crush his skull” cycle of witty repartee.
There might even be shoving.
If you went to my High School, shivs, zip guns and chains were usually the tools of first resort in engaging in this sort of boisterous banter, but that’s not a difference of type but simply scale. It’s still all hairy chest beating.
You quickly learned through direct experience what the consequences of your behavior would be, and you learned to choose your responses and expressions based on whether the issue at hand was worth the consequences.
Not worth it as in “will this hurt, I don’t want to do it if I’m gonna get hurt”, that’s cowardice.
Worth it as in “Someone’s about to get real hurt if I say or do this, so is what I feel needs to be said or done important enough to make that an acceptable outcome?”
Nowadays, there is still the opportunity for direct physical contact and social interaction… unless the person has been home schooled.
But even so, far more of a person’s life while growing up is likely to be spent online. Social networking, MMO gaming, Twitter and AIM and IRQ (does anyone even use IRQ anymore?), cell phones and texting and all that crap.
The people in your immediate social circle might not even live in the same country that you do, let alone neighborhood.
Welcome to the new reality – John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.
Welcome to the birth of Trolling.
And we finally get to my point; Trolls now fill the gap left by a lack of direct physical confrontation.
Wikipedia has a nice definition of a Troll;
Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
In the virtual, social networking medium, there are Trolls, the bullies of the internet.
Much like any bully, nobody respects the troll. Everyone but them knows that they are socially backward, and likely to have fairly pathetic lives. It takes a remarkably inferior sense of self to derive a feeling of worth from scoring ‘points’ by successfully goading someone else into blowing up at your sillyness. We’re not talking about the most mature people on the planet, here.
But they provide a very, very valuable function.
We as a connected society have evolved to the point that we no longer blame the trolls for being the way they are. We simply shake our heads in sadness, knowing that they are the way they are, and nothing anyone can do will help them grow past it. No web-based intervention or 12 step program imposed from the online world will help them grow up.
No, we may laugh at the trolls, goad the trolls, or ignore them, but we don’t expect them to change.
Ah, but what happens when we witness someone taken in by the troll? What happens when someone rises to the ridicule, gives in to their rage, or responds to the taunts?
We laugh at them for acting inappropriately to an idiot. We sometimes mock them for letting a troll “get to them”. We make fun of them for not being more mature about how they talk to people or react to morons.
We blame the victim for acting immaturely when they rise to trollbait.
We give them negative feedback for how they have acted in a social environment. When someone responds publicly to a troll by getting emotional, argumentative, offensive or aggressive, we make fun of them and show them that acting in that way loses our respect.
And if they want respect from the online community they are a part of, they find out that they’ll need to learn how to keep themselves from rising to troll bait.
The troll, simply by being a troll with their bullying ways, gives our younger generation a new challenge within a social environment that they actually CARE about, where they’ll have to learn how to manage their feelings in a more socially acceptable way.
In time, the dance will inevitably become more formal, and there may even be ettiquette classes developed and provided in business schools on the proper way to respond to trolls, classes for that future executive that will have to make public pronouncements to an active internet community.
It’s probably something that many companies already train their internal employees on, classes on “How to not look like a tool by rising to obvious troll bait when talking on behalf of our company”. I’m sure they call them semething else, but the intent will be clear.
I think it’s all bloody marvelous.
The next time you’re in a major city with trolls in your chat channel, please take the time to thank them, in all sincerity, for the work that they do. In their own way, wholly without their active desire and probably against their will, they are helping make the internet a better place for all of us to be.