“Trolling” is a main internet hazard. One that is cruel and anarchic. The effects of “trolling” soon become known to those who speak out on topics people feel passionate about. Often vicious and evil-minded, a “troll” can attack even those who raise no contentious topic, but who attract disturbed comment, whether verbal or pictorial.
Here is a commonly seen, rather chilling representation of the internet “troll”.
‘In Internet slang, a troll is 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 readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.The noun troll may refer to the provocative message itself, as in: “That was an excellent troll you posted.”
While the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, media attention in recent years has made such labelssubjective, with trolling describing intentionally provocative actions and harassment outside of an online context. For example, mass media has used troll to describe “a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families.”‘
Prominent writers on Sathya Sai Baba and his cult, the international Sathya Sai Organization, such as Robert Priddy (Norway), Brian Steel and Barry Pittard (Australia) came to regard the last decades of unrelenting attacks on us as an occupational hazard. Many decent Sathya Sai Baba devotees would have nothing to do with one of the worst “trollers” (among other of his undoubtedly sociopathic ‘talents’) on the internet, Gerard ‘Joe’ Moreno. See also: Gerald Moreno – Fanatical Cyber Libeler
Any scholar or investigative journalist who reviews the history of the exposure of Sathya Sai Baba and his cult can see the sheer volume of Moreno’s dismal opus, and the sheer intensity of his defamation, character assassination, ad hominem arguments, misrepresentation, vituperation, name-calling, and, as only briefly seen below, distorted and demeaning cartooning of former devotees who have spoken out, and other, endless devious exploitation of internet resources ….
Among other revealing details, note his permanent banning by the Wikipedia authorities: Defender of Sathya Sai Baba and his Organization Gerald ‘Joe’ Moreno of Las Cruces, New Mexico
The saibabaofindia group, some members of whom were long close to Sai Baba and his core servitors are, in their aiding and abetting of Moreno, as to extreme behaviours, most a-typical of the many good and decent rank-and-file Sai Baba followers. However, he has been a kind of populist hero among some followers. Heads of the international Sathya Sai Organization, like Dr G. Venkataraman, have long turned a blind eye, and permitted members to persist in their cruel defamations of many former devotees around the world, including outstanding leaders who, until they raised their voices, were held in high esteem (just as they have always been in their own wider communities!). See:
For news of British laws for curbing at least some of the “Wild West” aspects of the internet, see below. For a brief Al Jazeera television news report, click here: What is an internet troll?
The article from Britain’s ‘Independent’ newspaper may prompt the notion that as increasingly many deeply entrenched high establishment figures get “trolled”, there will be commensurate moves to enshrine measures in bodies of internet law. The ‘Independent reports:
“The victims of his (Frank Zimmerman’s) vitriolic messages included the businessman Lord Sugar, General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the Army, and David Petraeus, the former US Army commander in Iraq and Afghanistan and now CIA head. And to Terence Blacker, one of his former neighbours, Zimmerman posed as a member of the hacking group LulzSec, sending a series of threatening emails”.
In her insightful and fairly detailed article in The Guardian newspaper, Lucy Pepper makes a note which, in a perverse way, comments on the sheer versatility of an internet voice of hate such as Gerald Moreno. “Trolling” is but one of his cruel and unusual skills:
“You can hear haters described in song by Isabel Fay, but they’re not the same as trolls, even while many people (Fay included) use the terms interchangeably (I’m not being a hater when I say that, by the way; I’m being a pedant). Trolls aren’t necessarily any more pleasant than haters, but their agenda is different – they don’t just want to insult a particular person, they want to start a fight – hopefully one that has a broader application, and brings in more people than just the object of their original trolling. The term derives from a fishing technique – say your stupid thing, watch the world bite”.
Internet ‘troll’ who targeted Louise Mensch escapes with suspended sentence
Safe in what he must have thought was the anonymity of the internet, Frank Zimmerman portrayed himself as an expert computer hacker with inside information on the newspaper phone-hacking scandal as he sent abusive and threatening missives.
Yesterday, as he appeared at Cheltenham magistrates’ court having been arrested on a warrant by police, he was revealed as a destitute, 60-year-old agoraphobic with flowing white hair and a history of depression.
The victims of his vitriolic messages included the businessman Lord Sugar, General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the Army, and David Petraeus, the former US Army commander in Iraq and Afghanistan and now CIA head. And to Terence Blacker, one of his former neighbours, Zimmerman posed as a member of the hacking group LulzSec, sending a series of threatening emails.
But it was his messages to Ms Mensch that brought him to the dock. Zimmerman told the MP she faced a “Sophie’s Choice” – a reference to the novel in which the heroine has to choose between the life of her son or daughter.
Addressing the Corby MP as the “slut of Twitter”, Zimmerman wrote: “We are Anonymous and we do not like rude c***s like you and your nouveau riche husband Peter Mensch. We are inside your computer, all your phones everywhere and inside your homes. So get off Twitter. We have sent a camera crew to photograph you and your kids and we will post it over the net including Twitter, c***face.”
The MP, who had given him her personal email address after he contacted her on Twitter claiming he had information on the hacking scandal, ordered protection for her family and informed police who traced the IP address of the messages to Zimmerman’s house in Barnwood, Gloucestershire.
After the sentencing Ms Mensch tweeted: “Sentence seems proportionate and just. I hope it will deter others from this kind of abuse and bullying.”
She added: “Other women besides myself were targeted by this man; and police forces…[devoted] resources.”
The sentencing of Zimmerman is the latest sign that prosecutors are clamping down on cyberbullying by so-called “trolls”. Earlier this year police took action against Liam Stacey, 21, from South Wales, who was jailed for 56 days for mocking the Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter after he collapsed with a heart attack. Sean Duffy, 25, was jailed last September for mocking the death of Natasha MacBryde, 15, who threw herself under a train. And last week, Facebook was ordered by the High Court to hand over details of users accused of bullying Nicola Brookes.
What is an internet troll?
Victims of anonymous trolls on Twitter and other social media may soon have the power to discover their tormentors’ identities, thanks to a new law. But what’s the difference between a troll and somebody who just has very bad manners?
I’m sitting waiting for the House of Commons to start debating a Law Against Trolls or, as they would call it, an amendment to the Defamation Act. It would basically let internet providers off the hook for the publication of their content, so long as they signed up to divulge the identity of any of their users. To warrant such a disclosure, the injured party would have to show that their reputation had been significantly damaged; then they would be given the offender’s identity, and would be free to pursue a civil case. Online abuse still won’t be a criminal offence, even if the bill is passed. It has wide support in parliament, so is not intended to be a very heated debate: I want to watch it to see how many MPs actually know what a troll is.
The term is widely misused: Frank Zimmerman, who received a suspended sentence for asking Louise Mensch which of her children she wished to remain alive, is not a troll, he is a hater (the death threats take him beyond the realm of ordinary hater into criminal hater; but that’s his category nonetheless). You can hear haters described in song by Isabel Fay, but they’re not the same as trolls, even while many people (Fay included) use the terms interchangeably (I’m not being a hater when I say that, by the way; I’m being a pedant). Trolls aren’t necessarily any more pleasant than haters, but their agenda is different – they don’t just want to insult a particular person, they want to start a fight – hopefully one that has a broader application, and brings in more people than just the object of their original trolling. The term derives from a fishing technique – say your stupid thing, watch the world bite.
Now, the effects of this can be devastating, especially for people who are being attacked precisely because they admitted to a vulnerability in the first place. Olivia Penpraze, from Melbourne, Australia, started blogging about her depression in 2010. Over a period of time, amid many messages of support, some trolls told her that she ought to kill herself because she was so ugly she was better off dead. She took her own life two months ago, at the age of 19. Last year, in Worcester, 15-year-old Natasha MacBryde killed herself under similar pressures. Following MacBryde’s death, Sean Duffy posted a message opining that she wasn’t bullied, she was just a whore, for which he received an 18-week prison sentence and was banned from using social networking sites for five years. This is the dead centre of troll territory; what they’re looking for is that sharp intake of breath; the collective, “How can you say that?” outrage. Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, who also makes cool videos for the web, has had his share of haters, and greets that with equanimity. He thinks it is the consequence of this type of communication (“You remove a social barrier on the internet, and suddenly people feel a bit more freed up to say things”), and also a consequence of the fact that you move in broader circles online than you ever would in life. But while hating bounces off him, trolling does not: “There were a couple of comments that came in that were horribly racist. You do shudder. You think: really, you felt the need to write that?”
Racist trolling probably has the highest profile cases – most recently, Liam Stacey was jailed for 56 days after tweeting offensive messages including, “LOL” and, “Muamba, he’s dead, hahahaha,” when the footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch during a match in April. It’s generally very unusual for trolling to result in custody – and race is generally at the crux of it when it does. There is an astonishing seam of trolling that concerns violence against women (I was particularly struck recently by the person who said they wanted to fuck Josie Long in the eyes) but such abuse is generally without consequence.
Of course it’s possible to troll at a much less violent level, simply by stalking through internet communities where people might be expected to think in a particular way, and saying things that will wind them up. If you would like to try this sort of trolling to see what the appeal is, I suggest you go on to the Comment is Free section of the Guardian’s website and post something like, “People shouldn’t have kids if they can’t afford to pay for them. End of.” Or: “men like skinny women, which is why you won’t be able to find me a banker with a fat wife. WILL YOU?” Or: “Men like sex. Women like cuddles. GET OVER IT.” Or: “Nobody even knows what’s in a greenhouse gas. How can I take ‘climate change’ seriously when nobody knows anything about it?” Amusingly, I am getting quite wound up by these remarks, even though it was me who made them.
Wiseman explains this as straightforward pranking. “That’s a control thing, isn’t it? It’s baiting. Other people think you’re being genuine, and actually all you’re doing is trying to get a reaction out of them. Borat is that gag, written big. ‘I’m going to pretend to be one thing, in order to get you to respond in a particular way.’ It just happens that previously we often saw it played out with liberal values, and often now it’s played out with very illiberal values.”
I think there is something more nefarious than a prank going on, however – since these remarks often do either skew or hold up or derail the conversation, I divine anti-intellectualism, a complete rejection of and/or fear of the idea that people whose views are in the same mould might do something really fruitful with a discussion. They might work on their differences to make an argument that is more robust or far-reaching. Sticking your oar in and distracting everybody by dragging them back to first principles is a good way to ensure that nothing constructive ever happens.
Hence the mantra, “Do not feed the trolls.” But that’s destructive as well, because it makes you look afraid, which empowers trolls, or there’s a chance that you might have mistaken a troll for someone who has a good point but bad manners.
Trolls often, when you talk to them, turn out to be quite nice. One minute it’s all “when will you WAKE UP to the fact that your STINKING LIBERAL MANURE has DESTROYED THIS COUNTRY” and the next thing you know, you’ll get a message saying, “Sorry I was testy, I just got stuck in traffic on my way back from the garden centre.” It’s all about humanisation, which is the big conundrum facing this amendment – people behave badly online because they feel liberated, and they feel liberated because it’s virtual. Our standards of courtesy are bound to our corporeal selves; freed from one we’re freed from the other. Calling trolls “trolls” probably doesn’t help. We should call them rude people.
Additional research by Edna Mohamed
There is a Spanish version available: