Warning: Contains offensive language, and me.
In a word, because it’s fun.
There are some standard rules to being on the internet, right? Stay on topic in forums, no brainless name-calling, Wheaton’s Law. And there are rules for dealing with trolls…stay professional, disengage as soon as possible – these things take away their power. If no one pays attention to a troll, the troll eventually withers up and dies.
All of this is true, and I agree with all of it. But here’s the thing…in certain circumstances, I like to break the rules. Specifically, when it’s on someplace like Twitter or my blog, where (a) there is no dedicated topic, and (b) people can drop off the conversation, either by going away, or unfollowing me, or what have you.
Why on Earth would I want to engage with a troll, though? I know that there is no way to capital-w Win, I know the troll won’t apologize, learn, or grow as a person. Furthermore, troll insults, by definition, are utterly harmless. Some ignorant poindexter thinks I’m ugly, dumb, and/or pushy….well, I’m just going to have to console myself somehow, since I clearly have no shot at dating this winner.
So if I feed trolls, I’m just “dragging myself down to his level”, and “being immature”, right?
I feed trolls because IT’S FUN. I play with these people because somebody being publicly dicky, especially on the internet, deserves to be made fun of, publicly and openly. I mess with these guys and “get down on their level” because I can DO that kind of humor – I’m very open about it on my webshow, and in person – and I don’t have to be my professional persona everywhere I go, 24 hours a day. I’m a person, and I have fun with my life. Some of that fun involves swearing, and some of it involves making fun of people who really deserve it. (Jon Stewart makes a living off of this exact same thing, and he has amazing ratings, so no backtalk, you.)
Furthermore – ignoring for the moment the plain and simple asshattery of anonymously insulting people on the interwebz – these people are so UNORIGINAL. I refer you here to John Scalzi’s famous blog entry on Hate Mail. If you’re going to call me a “stupid bitch” and respond to the men in the room with “YOUR MOTHER”, you’re actually begging for someone to laugh at you, and hard.
I will take some time here, though, for a word on safety. Crazy people use the internet too, and crazy people get riled up. So there’s definitely a set of warning signs I watch for, and a set of things I won’t do.
Take, for example, the case of a man who stirs up trouble online, but isn’t smart enough to make sure his easily Google-able internet presence doesn’t include (for example) his email, his workplace on LinkedIn, posted letters from ex-girlfriends, his home address, and work and cell phone numbers. Sure, there’s a real temptation to take advantage of such things. “After all, his job deserves to know what he’s doing online.” Well, there might be cases where that applies…for example, if his trolling is connected closely to his work (like an email from his company’s address), you might want to skip the feeding and go straight to anonymous tattling.
BUT – and I’m perfectly serious here – there is nothing worse you can do in the case of a man who clearly suffers such emotional problems than to take the fight to where he works and lives. Such a thing is a personal attack, and that kind of thing makes people crazy, fast. Most (well, some) of the time, these people are just blowing off steam online, and don’t deserve to have their means of feeding self and family threatened. But that’s beside the point.
DO NOT mess with trolls In Real Life. If somebody from the web gets stalkery and threaten-y, contact the proper channels, which may well include the police.
What have we learned today?
- Don’t feed trolls.
- Unless you won’t bother others TOO much.
- And they really really deserve it.
- And you really really want to.
- You can play with trolls, OR tell their company on them, but not both.
- Stay safe.
Now, have at `em! (I look forward to your letters.)