Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Defining the Internet Troll

Gracious me, there has been yet another Twitter scuffle, one that needs a bit of dissecting. I'll be naming names in this post so you can go and look for yourself about the hissyfit. I'm more interested in the namecalling, particularly the use of "troll".

Trolling on the net is far from a new thing. Trolls have existed for at least 20 years, way back when there was no WWW and people used Usenet newsgroups to tell their stories. Usenet was an anarchic, riotous form of communication, a bit like facebook only with no restrictions on the length of a post nor the concept of "friends". Instead, Usenet was grouped by topic, from the most esoteric computer science to religion, parenting, hobbies, and science. Back in the Usenet days, those of us on the 'net were either scientists of some sort, grad students, or techno-geeks in high tech. There were no private accounts, you had to be associated with a university or business that had internet access. This was before AOL came into existence and led to the downfall of Usenet by bringing on millions of the internet unwashed.

One of the quaint features of Usenet were the trolls, people that liked to post outrageous things because they were so outlandish as to bring out the kooks and the uninitiated. Trolls were the people that posted any response diametrically opposed to the original post, just to see what would happen. An example were the childfree trolls that would go onto the main parenting group, misc.kids, and start "breeder" wars. Other examples were people that called anyone not Christian an infidel, reamed out cooks posting recipes calling them plagiary, etc. You get the idea. Trolling was a game, people did it just to score a reaction, and certain people earned lifetime notoriety for their trolling.

I'm not a bit embarrassed to admit that a big group of women including myself created a troll post just to see what the reaction would be. We only did it once, and it was one of the funniest things I've ever done. Many of the guilty are my friends on facebook today, lo these 15 years later!

What trolling is not: disagreeing with someone on the internet. Honest disagreement is the life's blood of the 'net. How boring would the 'net be if everyone agreed with each other? If a poster calls out another poster on their blog, on facebook or twitter, and says "your last post was bullshit for the following cogent reasons..." this is NOT trolling. This is disagreeing. And disagreement is fine. In fact, it should be encouraged. How do we learn anything from each other if we all agree? Disagreement stirs up thought, adding different perspectives that are just as valid as the original post.

What bothers us long time Usenet and then web users is when a cult is formed, and you must agree with the cult leader or you are ostracized and called a troll. The twitter example that I mentioned above is exactly this. Anna Veile had the audacity (thank goodness) to question Dooce on her recent trip to Bangladesh. Now, to tell the absolute truth here, I'm a big fan of both posters. I like Anna because she is not afraid to speak out when she sees hypocrisy and she is so NOT a fan of the blogher ad network, like me. I like Dooce because I think she's a decent writer and chronicler of her life, even though I often take quiet umbrage at the constant traveling, and the money, money, money she's so happy to let us all know she's making from blogging. I also vastly dislike the opinion of Dooce and her husband that she founded mommyblogging and without her, we would all be silenced. Um, no. Not so. See Usenet above. Most of us were writing on the net when she was barely out of diapers.

Anna tends to call a spade a spade and she deeply embarrassed BlogHer be laying bare the joke that is their ad network. She was 100% correct in her assessment of how BlogHer lied to their network affiliates, cutting payments in order to cover very large blogs like Confessions of a Pioneer Woman. Like multi-millionaire Ree needed more money.

Every time Anna posts anything that crosses the refined sensibilities of the A-list bloggers, she is called a troll. Which is insane and just proves how ignorant these women are about their internet history. Anna runs a very professional site and is well regarded despite the name calling. She appears a lot more professional than does Heather Armstrong, who thinks farts are so darn funny (which they are if you're 5, but at 35, not so much) and feels the need to cover her dog's penis sheath with a "privacy patch" in every photo. Mature? No way, Jose.

Anna also covers blog news, occasionally breaking stories before the actual blogger has. Like Her Bad Mother, who is leaving her native Canada behind and taking a real job at Babble at the end of the summer. The queen of Woe is Me going to the most obnoxious parenting site on the web? It's a match made in heaven. Good luck to her in NYC. Guess her shilling for BlogHer is finally a thing of the past. Meanwhile, she's been hinting about "big changes coming but I can't possibly say what or when" for months now. Big deal. She got a job. We should all keel over and faint? Blergh.

But you can bet your last dollar that Anna's reveal is going to cause a huge volcano of hand-wringing and angst-filled posts. Anna is a reporter, and this is what reporters do. You don't like it? Move somewhere where bloggers are sanctioned and the free press is just a dream. Here in the USA we get to say what we want, even if you don't agree. And that is NOT trolling.

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Blogger Ranchmom said...

I don't know who all these other people are - the only blog I'm a fan of is yours ;*) but ahh trolling, now that was a good time!

30/6/11 7:35 AM  
Blogger hschinske said...

"This was before AOL came into existence and led to the downfall of Usenet by bringing on millions of the internet unwashed."

*grin* With a few honorable (I hope!) exceptions like me.

--Helen, who does wash

30/6/11 7:16 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

Oh Helen, you were on AOL? I had no idea! And I used to work for them after they took over Netscape. Ugh.

2/7/11 6:06 PM  

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