Since the mesozoic era of social media in 1980, when CompuServe introduced the first chat service, online chat services like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and YikYak have evolved in an accelerated fashion.
Now, there’s a myriad of ways to engage digitally.
Craving a seedy cesspool with no-holds-barred to release some ugliness? 4Chan is a perfect bet. Annoyed with how people just can’t wire cables correctly? Or simply want to obsess over the letter G? A subreddit can fill you up.
Image via subreddit r/cablefail
Even the workplace is forsaking slow email communication for speedy instant chatting.
SLACK, a team messaging app with a $3.8 billion valuation, has become essential to many startup companies. And Facebook is getting in on the action with the introduction of Workplace; so is Microsoft with its Microsoft Teams.
With all of these advancements, it becomes only natural to wonder where that leaves the loudest of all online chatters, namely, the troll. Are trolls evolving with the times as well? Doxxing and swatting, respectively, have brought trolling beyond the keyboards and into real world action territories.
But what is the future of trolling, and what will it look like? And what does the future hold in remedial response to trolling threats?
Trolling Like A Pro
The act of trolling carries varying definitions. At once, it’s a “deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them,” a standard Wikipedia definition.
“Ken M is so good at trolling, he’s got an entire sub reddit dedicated to him.”
Chris Paul, who hosts the None Taken Podcast and has an active Twitter presence (@iamthearbiter), admittedly spends a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook “pushing buttons, being a contrarian and upsetting the status quo,” but he makes sure to point out that he is not a troll. “Posting things with the specific intent of hurting and upsetting people” is what distinguishes a troll, he clarifies.
“I believe in the things I say,” he remarks, “and trolls don’t.”
He’s got a point. Many studies have shown that trolls spew statements they don’t believe in under the guise of anonymity to otherwise enrage, harass or hurt their victims.
This form of trolling might bring to mind familiar references like Gamergate, and former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao’s controversial exit after an onslaught of bullying by users, or Ghostbustesr actress Leslie Jones’ harassment on Twitter by an alt-right banner boy (who got himself banned on the site as a result of this). And let’s not forget the countless teenagers and prepubescent (easy troll targets) on askFM and other forums who tragically committed suicide in their fragile youth from being trolled online.
Other times, trolling can be defined as a weapon of comedy. Jimmy Kimmel demonstrates this excellently in this video where he trolls Kanye West’s fans by faking a pair of Yeezy sneakers ($350/pair) with a pair of regular $12.50 sneakers and professedly “glues on some fake fur,” a compass, and voila! The responses are as hilarious as one might expect.
Moreover, it is commentary on the absurd cost and pulchritude attributed to a mere sneaker.
Trolling is so embedded into our lives that, according to this Time article, “[a] Pew Research Center survey published two years ago found that 70 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds who use the Internet had experienced harassment, and 26 percent of women that age said they’d been stalked online.”
To many, much of the past election season seemed like a never-ending trolling session.
Congressman Steve Smith, an impostor Republican (and fervent Trumpist) who claimed to represent the non-existent Georgia’s 15th District, spent most of the election season trolling like a pro and getting famous journalists riled up. And he is not even real person.
Fake news flooded newsfeeds and polluted the media landscape.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) claimed, in this NYT article, that “journalism is partly to blame for being slow to adjust as the internet turned its business model upside down and social media opened the competitive floodgates.”
In other words, expeditious trolling news is too fast and agile, and can mute out real news, which takes more time to develop due to its basis in integral reporting.
And Melania Trump’s recent First Lady agenda, where she aspired for “better ways to honor and support the basic goodness of our children,” almost seems like a ruse, but was in line with the public’s growing awareness of trolling. Of course, the irony of being married to Mr. Donald Trump, a notorious, impetuously immutable Twitter bully, was not lost on most people.
But it is still very interesting that the topic of social media behavior made it to the top of her list of First Lady duties.
The Future of Trolling
Thus far, a way to combat trolls has been to either ban people on Twitter or to successfully sue one’s trolls. There have been calls for making all Twitter accounts verified so that trolls may not hide behind anonymity, which would make trolling infinitely harder and expose potential liabilities–but so far Twitter has not confirmed this in its near future.
If the future of trolling is to somehow manage it, or eradicate it, where does one draw the line regarding what merits acceptable trolling?
As much as bullying and trolling are somewhat murkily interlinked, it isn’t quite true that trolling must always be a stain on society. It can serve as a poignant comedic and satirical response to our culture. In fact, some people troll really well for the amusement of the greater and collective whole. Just look at the famous Amazon Hutzler 571 Banana peel reviews.
And no one does it better than Ken M, otherwise known as Kevin McCarthy. He has been dubbed The Most Epic Troll On The Internet. In fact, Ken M is so good at trolling, he’s got an entire sub reddit dedicated to him.
Here, he righteously schools NASA’s Rover on its work ethic:
The future of trolling may very well lie in the suppression of one’s reaction to it.
Paul believes we may be in a transitional phase to a future where “privacy becomes obsolete and we have full information on each other, and, hence, an even playing field.” He cautions, however, that it isn’t a desirable outcome since it skews civil rights.
But Paul insists that the best response to trolls is no response at all.
These sentiments are also echoed in Paul Jun’s (a former troll) step-by-step on how to handle trolls.
No stranger to trolling, Yun describes how he once virtually descended on, and destroyed, a couple’s online wedding. “We had our war gear on, while the wedding attendants wore cloth armor: tuxedos and dresses. The charge looked like something out of the movie Lord of The Rings: all of us on horseback, shining in our armor, weapons drawn, and running in as our prey scattered like ants…Some of the victims tried to escape, only to be pummelled by an enormous axe or a raging fireball.”
He’s not sure if the couple ever tried to marry again, but he claims he is, himself, completely rehabilitated and turning his past into an opportunity to teach positivity.
Yun’s overall message it to ignore the trolls.
“I have never seen a troll lay down his or her arms and say, ‘You know what, you’re right. I was so wrong,’” he says.