Moulton Lava

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Malwebolence: The Trolls Among Us

From the Sunday New York Times Magazine...

Malwebolence: The Trolls Among Us

New York Times Sunday Magazine
Published: August 3, 2008

A growing subculture has a fluid morality and a disdain for pretty much everyone else online.


/b/ is the designated “random” board of, a group of message boards that draws more than 200 million page views a month. A post consists of an image and a few lines of text. Almost everyone posts as “anonymous.”

Measured in terms of depravity, insularity and traffic-driven turnover, the culture of /b/ has little precedent. /b/ reads like the inside of a high-school bathroom stall, or an obscene telephone party line, or a blog with no posts and all comments filled with slang that you are too old to understand.

In the late 1980s, Internet users adopted the word “troll” to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities. Early trolling was relatively innocuous, taking place inside of small, single-topic Usenet groups. The trolls employed what the M.I.T. professor Judith Donath calls a “pseudo-naïve” tactic, asking stupid questions and seeing who would rise to the bait. The game was to find out who would see through this stereotypical newbie behavior, and who would fall for it. As one guide to trolldom puts it, “If you don’t fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.”

“Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll who, like many people I contacted, refused to disclose his legal identity.

Another troll explained the lulz as a quasi-thermodynamic exchange between the sensitive and the cruel: “You look for someone who is full of it, a real blowhard. Then you exploit their insecurities to get an insane amount of drama, laughs and lulz. Rules would be simple: 1. Do whatever it takes to get lulz. 2. Make sure the lulz is widely distributed. This will allow for more lulz to be made. 3. The game is never over until all the lulz have been had.”

Sherrod DeGrippo, a 28-year-old Atlanta native who goes by the name Girlvinyl, runs Encyclopedia Dramatica, the online troll archive. In 2006, DeGrippo received an e-mail message from a well-known band of trolls, demanding that she edit the entry about them on the Encyclopedia Dramatica site. She refused. Within hours, the aggrieved trolls hit the phones, bombarding her apartment with taxis, pizzas, escorts and threats of rape and violent death. DeGrippo, alone and terrified, sought counsel from a powerful friend. She called Weev.

Weev, the troll who thought hacking the epilepsy site was immoral, is legendary among trolls. He is said to have jammed the cellphones of daughters of C.E.O.’s and demanded ransom from their fathers; he is also said to have trashed his enemies’ credit ratings. Better documented are his repeated assaults on LiveJournal, an online diary site where he himself maintains a personal blog. Working with a group of fellow hackers and trolls, he once obtained access to thousands of user accounts.

I first met Weev in an online chat room that I visited while staying at Fortuny’s house. “I hack, I ruin, I make piles of money,” he boasted. “I make people afraid for their lives.” On the phone that night, Weev displayed a misanthropy far harsher than Fortuny’s. “Trolling is basically Internet eugenics,” he said, his voice pitching up like a jet engine on the runway. “I want everyone off the Internet. Bloggers are filth. They need to be destroyed. Blogging gives the illusion of participation to a bunch of retards. . . . We need to put these people in the oven!”

Socrates vs. Pseudocrates

Trolls employ what M.I.T. professor Judith Donath calls a “pseudo-naïve” tactic, asking stupid questions and seeing who rises to the bait.

Socratic educators are high-functioning "trolls" by most popular definitions.

I define a troll as "someone who asks an arresting question you'd rather not have to answer."

The main reason Socratic Interlocutors ask such questions is to highlight questionable beliefs that are ripe for exposure as haphazard "flights of fancy" rather than scientifically grounded hypotheses supported by solid evidence and sound reasoning.

Unlike Donath's definition in the NY Times, the questions asked by Socratic "trolls" are not stupid questions at all.

So why do those laboring under unsustainable misconceptions and delusional beliefs rush to label such insightful and didactic Socratic questions as trollish stupid questions?

(That's not a rhetorical question. I'd really like to know.)

And is there a reliable way to distinguish Socrates from Pseudocrates?

Title: Both Sides Now
Artist: Montana Mouse
Composer: Joni Mitchell and Barsoom Tork Associates
Both Sides Now

Rows and floes of devil's snare
And icy sanctions of despair
And popcorn fandoms evrywhere
I've looked at trolls that way

But now they only block my fun
They rant and rave at evryone
So many things I would have done
But trolls got in my way

I've looked at trolls from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's troll's delusions I recall
I really don't know trolls at all

Loons and tunes and frosty wheels
The lazy lancing way you deal
As evry scary tale comes real
I've looked at lulz that way

But now it's just another show
You leave 'em lurching when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at mods from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's mod's confusions I recall
I really don't know mods at all

Tears and fears and feeling down
To say I dread you right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus clowns
I've looked at strife that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, say I'm deranged
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In lurking evry day

I've surfed the web from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's pained aspersions I recall
I really don't read blogs at all

I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

CopyClef 2008, Joni Mitchell and Barsoom Tork Associates.
Resurrection Hackware. All wrongs reversed.


Blogger Moulton said...

Update: Thanks to Daniel Brandt for alerting us to this blog about the recent arrests of several of the peviously unidentified characters associated with this story.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Moulton said...

See also this essay on Sealioning.

8:51 PM  

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