For most of us, it’s easy to spot a troll from thousands of Internet miles away. There he lurks underneath his Confederate flag avatar, his username some hilarious iteration of ball sack, a soldier in the war against rape victims. We don’t know where he technically lives, but our knack for stereotype says, “Meh, probably Florida.” Deep in the dark caverns of his fully carpeted troll basement, he sits hunched over his desktop PC, defaming all the sexy feminists who won’t sleep with him. He is a single man who enjoys Michael Bay and animated flags, loves lesbian porn but hates lesbians. Although we’ve never met him, we know exactly who he is.
Stereotypes are awful and evil and sometimes, a little bit accurate. A recent survey by YouGov showed that most of our speculations about trolls are, in fact, grounded in real data. Men make up the statistical majority of self-identified trolls, and 72.5% of all trolling victims are women. A study conducted by the University of Manitoba just last year, found that trolls are far more likely to have narcissistic, psychopathic, and Machiavellian traits. While trolls come from all political persuasions, progressive trolls who appear on conservative sites are less common, and less likely to incite fights. Trolls might live in different states and distant countries, but they vacation in the same comments sections: Reddit, Jezebel, YouTube.
Still, not all trolls are built alike. Though most of us associate trolling with harassment, trolling is — at its core — a rhetorical strategy. Simon Rego, Director of Psychological Training at Montefiore Medical Center, studies troll culture. For Rego, most trolling is aggressive, devoid of any positive social purpose. "It seems to be much more of an internet manifestation of sadism," Rego said, while conceding that our definition of trolling 'has evolved:"
"Not all trolls have a mission or target. There are those who just want to wreaking havoc on things ... And then there are those whose bullying comes with a real purpose and target. There's a function in that ... but they're all lumped together" Rego told Mashable.
Tomas Chamosko-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at Columbia University, largely agrees with Rego — "When you use the word troll it immediately smells of antisocial behavior, or people who want to create chaos," and believes the definition has become increasingly flexible.
"There can be a prosocial incentive," Chamosko told Mashable. "Some trolling can be affiliative. There are people who want to share their beliefs with others, develop a sense of belonging. "
Not all troll speech is hate speech. Exceptions abound. Some trolls troll from the heart and fight against the bad guys, winning complicated, heartwarming victories along the way.
2015 was a particularly good year for such “do-gooder” trolls. Think, for example, of Mike Melgaard, the troll who pretended he was a Target employee and trolled customers who had a problem with the company’s gender-neutral toy policy. He's the same man who terrorized the homophobes who hated Campbell’s “gay soup” ad (Because soup was clearly made to be slurped by Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve). Just recently, >Death and Taxes successfully encouraged their readers to sign up for a Donald Trump rally, then simply not go.
And, in perhaps the most award-winning troll of the year, the woman who put the word “feminist” in her Tinder — and swiped right on every misogynist she saw?
What a good year to be alive.
Still, one wonders what motivates this kind of troll — one with seemingly progressive politics, advocating for racial and sexual justice. It’s not like trolling is a particularly powerful persuasion tool. A 2010 study by the University of Michigan showed that most people’s political opinions are rigid, only changing under the most optimal of conditions. As Peter Ditto, professor of Psychology at University of California Irvine, explains, positive affirmation is the best persuasion tool we have. And the practice is rare.
“Affirmation will allow people to express their values in some way … people will be more responsive to different information in some way,” Ditto told Mashable. Trolling, a technique that relies principally on shame, humiliation, and dick jokes, isn’t exactly like to affirm people’s core values.
But that doesn’t mean the feminist Tinders and Campbell trolls of the world don’t hold positive social value. While they’re unlikely to convince their die-hard opponents, “do-gooder” trolls can do something equally as important — they can energize their base. Readers and users can unite behind a “good troll” and feel a sense of connection and solidarity. Trolling becomes, in its own, strange, punk way, a real bonding experience.
"There is no way to observe true intention. Someone may be accused of being a provocateur, but it might be that someone is truly expressing their honest views because they want to contribute to the debate. They're sharing their vision," Chamosko-Premuzic told Mashable.
Think of the tremendous audience response to the Target troll from earlier this summer. Melgaard’s posts received over 100,000 cumulative likes. His prank was celebrated at over a dozen different sites. “The greatest troll job ever,” wrote Deadstate. Even Today.com, not exactly a hotbed of radical activism, celebrated his achievement: “Impersonating someone else is never the right thing to do … Wrong or right, the results can be hilarious — and powerful.” At a moment when both gender and sexual nonconformity is being celebrated, not just tolerated — Melgaard’s trolling struck a chord, empowered a base, and excited a movement.
Still, not all trolls are created equal. It feels slightly foolish, if not outrageously offensive, to put the Gamergate predators in the same category as the heroes who once tried to send Justin Bieber to North Korea. The bullies shouldn't be put int the same category as their victims. It’s painful to watch someone with power troll a person in the margins. But it’s empowering to watch someone from an oppressed class troll against it. The motivations are distinct and the values opposing, yet our culture only has one, one-size-fits-all-label.
And while we tend to think of trolls as creatures of the web, trolls are not a modern invention. They've existed for centuries, even though they only appeared in our (official) lexiconin 1992. Remember when Time called Hitler “man of the year? Or when Jonathan Swift, seeking to satirize 17th century class politics, encouraged people to sell their children to the rich as a food source? Trolls, who love the darkness, thrive in the anonymity of the Internet. But they’ve always been lurking under bridges, digital and imagined.
Maybe it’s time to stop calling the people who inflict serious harm trolls, and label them for who they truly are: Predators. Doxxers. Criminals. Trolling may be a spectrum, but real violence should come with a real vocabulary. It diminishes victims' pain when Chuck Johnson — notorious for doxxing rape victims — is put in the same box as the people who fight for LGBTQ soup. A troll who challenges social norms and existing power structures, like Melgaard, might be using the same techniques. But his purpose is subversive and his mission, uplifting. He deserves a better label, or at least a better stereotype.
It's time to update our taxonomy, and reclaim the troll. Trolls can build bonds, fight bad guys, send a message. Not all trolls are evil. Not all look alike, and not all live in basements. Some like to live above ground, where there's light, where they can look out, then see the pain for themselves.
Source : http://mashable.com/2015/12/06/reclaiming-trolling/