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Trolls

As a current moderator of an online discussion list, Iâ??ve become accustomed to the inevitable stream of bots and trolls trying to pervade communities. Tools have been developed to help ease the anguish of moderating, but weâ??ve opted for moderating new members and a few older ones instead of more stringent restricted memberships and closing archives to the public. We hold a tight rein on the focus of our list, which seems to diffuse troublemakers with their own agenda.

Some trolls are very clever and even work in groups. But, is there indeed a more insidious underlying schema? Are these Simple Vandals or a Unique Social Movement? This theme was pursued by Amy Dhala at the University of Texas. After reading her descriptions of troll subtypes, it becomes clear that the Internet does attract its share of juvenile delinquents, adult hard drug users, and personalities of varying dysfunction.

Dhala goes even further,

â??The collective behavior aspects of these trolls show strong Marxist tendencies towards the development of a sociological subset.â?

Marxist tendencies? With the permeation of The Right Wing in our government since this paper was written, the term â??Marxistâ? has been diluted to name-calling for some, often in black and white fashion directed to those who must be â??againstâ? us if they are not â??withâ? us. Considering this environment, could even entire Internet lists be viewed as showing â??strong Marxist tendenciesâ?? Caution in labeling might be advised.

Itâ??s one thing to identify trolling profiles, but the tag of â??Marxist tendenciesâ? might be a more precarious, divisive leap.

Comments

Thanks for the links. The paper betrays a more rigorous analysis than I've ever attempted on the matter.

That said, there's something to be said for a certain brand of light-hearted trolling. E.g., such a "Faux-troll" might post a sarcastic or ironic comment as a set-up for others to pile onto (all in good clean fun, of course). In concert with the author, I've often found the cleverest practitioners of that form to be Brits or Aussies, though there've been quite a few Americans.

Some of the numbers don't make sense, though. The author establishes a total sample size of 33 (which isn't really large enough, but that's another matter), but later reports "[c]lose inspection of 42 unique Abstract trolls...." Presumably she's referring to trolling-posts, not to the individual "trolls" themselves; still, this begs the question of dataset size, since we don't know how many persons these 33 posts correspond to. In my experience, trolls can be mind-bogglingly prolific. It's not at all outlandish to suggest that all 33 might come from the same person.

It's also curiosu that all study participants were users of hard street or club drugs -- e.g., 100% had used ketamine. I've seen a lot of trolls who I'd bet money had never even been near ketamine.

Undoubtedly, this paper is an example of coming to far-reaching conclusions, possibly capable of injurious effect (McCarthyism revisited), based on an inadequate testing sample (if one can even be adequately drawn). Ms. Dhala is not alone in identifying categorical descriptions of trolls, as a quick Internet search would corroborate. However, I personally find that views on trolls, admittedly opinions, are more palatable when not presented as results based on questionable test data.

I think there is a difference between â??light-heartedâ? trolls, as you suggest, whose intention is to spur on conversation or debate, and those who hurt people or donâ??t care about the negative social consequences of their games, for instance when regular, respectful, contributing members leave a list due to a glut of dissension. And not all trolls even realize they are trolling.

Side note: Circumstances vary. I know someone who had an experience with trolling Brits and Aussies at the same time, which was not light-hearted fare.
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Final note: Ms. Dhala became a troll herself to engage in the study.

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