Trolls must troll

Trolls don’t survive too long under our moderators’ watch, but you’ll have seen them most other places.

Jesse enjoys posting inflammatory or off-topic comments in online forums with the express purpose of provoking an emotional response or disrupting the discussion for his own amusement.

He often finds himself taking 10 minutes out from work to construct a post for some news website or another. There is only one goal: to provoke a reaction ? the stronger, the better.

A good troll, in Jesse’s opinion, is never detected as a wind-up. He sees it as a skill, and as harmless fun.

His favourite trolls include impersonations of benefit bludgers, fundamentalist Christians and cat-haters. He recounts one successful comment he posted on an article about legalising marijuana.

“I went against, but used obviously fake material for why it should be banned, eg ‘my brother used to inject it as a teen and failed at high school as a result and suffers from constant asthma attacks now’.”

Reaction was huge, Jesse is pleased to recount.

“Even if I just get one person giving me a good lengthy argument against me, it’s good. It is funny when you get 20 responses and 20 thumbs down.

“The whole point is not getting caught out, the moment someone says ‘This guy’s not real’, it’s game over.”

Any controversial subject with a majority voice is an attractive target. “If there’s a Trump thing, I will support Trump.”

An internet native since he was 12, Jesse takes the hobby so seriously that he seeks out “amateur trolls” to expose them.

He says he will never target one person or aim to cause distress. He goes so far as to say those that do are mentally ill.

“I do see the things people do, they ruin people’s lives … People that end up making people kill themselves, that’s way too far, and they must have psychological problems to want to do that to people.”

Well, whatever allows Jesse to live with himself as a “good” troll then. ? There are enough places on the Internet where you can seriously debate the issues. ?To be a person that simply takes contrary positions to elicit emotional outbursts seems to be rewarding a need for power. ?Power over other people. ?Even when you don’t know them, and even if it is only just for a few minutes.

New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists president Deb Moore said a recent study found between 5 and 6 per cent of internet users said they engaged in, and enjoyed, trolling.

The Canadian research involved 1200 participants, and found trolls had particular character traits. “They were high on narcissism, that self-interest, craving admiration and attention, and high on psychopathic scores.”

High levels of sadism, or the enjoyment of causing others distress, were also common.

“That Machiavellian charming aspect seems to be part of that as well,” Moore said. “You wonder what’s going on in peoples lives that this is their activity.”

Unprecedented anonymity was a draw for most, and the freedom from social conventions. “It enables people’s worst side to be unleashed, if that’s what they choose to do.”

Moore described trolling as debasement of freedom of speech and, while most internet users adhered to the principle of “don’t feed the trolls”, there were many younger users who could not.

“Young vulnerable people can’t resist reading this stuff, and if you read lots of cruel comments about yourself it does have an impact.”

On Jesse, Moore said his goal was still to provoke and upset, despite his own “rules”.

“He’s not doing that really incredibly cruel, vicious stuff, he’s doing it for a bit of fun ? ‘people take themselves too seriously, let’s just jazz things up a little bit here’.

“But that’s not what’s happening for many other people, where the trolling is personalised, cruel and relentless.”

Jesse is a sad person. ? Who has such a life themselves that they must create joy from ruining those of others for no other purpose than it passes the time?

The Harmful Digital Communications Act, established in July 2015, set out rules for the first time on what constitutes online bullying.

It set a threshold defined as causing serious emotional distress and contains 10 guiding principals, including disclosure of sensitive personal information, intimidate, encouraging anyone towards suicide, or degenerate a person’s race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

By October last year, 89 criminal charges had been laid, and seven people had been jailed under the act.

I think the Act is poorly worded and has the scope to be seriously abused by complainants – turning the complaints process itself into a avenue for bullying.

For the time being however, those who are making the judgements as to what to prosecute and what to let be are doing ok.


– Stuff