There's an interesting article in Wikipedia about trolls and trolling:
I found this bit particularly interesting:
Self-proclaimed "trolls" may style themselves as devil's advocates, gadflies or "culture jammers", challenging the dominant discourse and assumptions of forum discussions in an attempt to break the status quo of groupthink — the belief system that prevails in their absence.
Critics have claimed that genuine "devil's advocates" generally identify themselves as such, out of respect for etiquette and courtesy, while trolls may dismiss etiquette and courtesy altogether. Most discussion of what motivates Internet trolls comes from other Internet users who claim to have observed trolling behavior. There is little scholarly literature to describe either the term or the phenomenon. The comments of accused trolls might be unreliable, since they may, in fact, be intending to stir controversy, rather than to advance understanding of the phenomenon. Likewise, accusers are often motivated by a desire to defend a particular Internet project, and references to an Internet user as a troll might not be based on the actual goals of the person so named. As a result, identifying the goals of Internet trolls is most often speculative. Still, several basic goals have been attributed to Internet trolls, according to the type of disruption they are believed to be provoking.
Proposed motivations for trolling:
- Trolling can be described as a breaching experiment, which, because of the use of an alternate persona, allows for normal social boundaries and rules of etiquette to be tested or otherwise broken, without serious consequences. This may be part of an attempt to test the limits of some discourse, or to identify reactive personalities. By removing identities and histories from the situation, leaving only the discourse, some scientists believe that it is possible to run social engineering experiments using troll methods. However, few believe that troll organizations are engaged in science, and a few scattered individuals, with no particular method or thesis, cannot be described as scientists. They might however be engaged in research.
- Anonymous attention-seeking: The troll seeks to dominate the thread by inciting anger, and effectively hijacking the topic at hand.
- Amusement: To some people, the thought of a person getting angry over statements from total strangers is entertaining.
- Anger: Some people use trolling to express their hostility to a group or point of view.
- Cry for help: Many so-called trolls, in their postings, indicate disturbing situations regarding family, relationships, substances, and school — although it is generally impossible to know whether this is just simply part of the troll. Some believe that trolling is an aggressive, confrontational way by which trolls seek a sort of tough love guidance in an anonymous forum.
- Self-proclaimed trolls, and their defenders, suggest that trolling is a clever way of improving discussion, or an alternative method of viewing power-relations.
- Setting oneself a challenge, simply to see if one can do it, and be successful: One member of an online forum, for example, joins under an unrecognizable identifying name to see if the other members of the forum can be fooled and, if so, for how long.
- Wasting others' time: One of the greatest themes in trolling is the idea that a troll can spend one minute of time posting a troll, causing multiple other people to waste several minutes of their time, catalytically affecting others. Most trolls enjoy the idea that they can waste others' time at comparatively little effort on their behalf.
- Domino effect: Related to amusement, but in a more specific fashion, it starts large chain reactions in response to one's initial post. Achieving a disproportionately large response to a small action is the general theme. This is similar to how a young child that goes "missing" (but is actually hiding) may act with glee, seeing a large number of people conducting a massive search in response to the supposed disappearance.
- Suppression of information: A particularly nihilistic troll often aims to curb the sharing of helpful information between forum participants. For example, the skilled troll can turn an informative discussion about tips and techniques on coping with disease X... into a completely useless flame fest. This can keep essential information out of the hands of those who need it most, thus proliferating human suffering.
- Effect change in user opinions: A troll may state extreme positions to make his or her actual beliefs seem moderate (this often involves sock puppeteering or duals, where the bad cop is a sock-puppet troll) or, alternatively, play the role of the devil's advocate to strengthen the opposing convictions (with which he or she actually agrees).
- Test the integrity of a system against social attacks or other forms of misbehavior: For example, blatantly violating terms-of-use in order to see whether any action is taken by the site administrators.
- Overcome feelings of inferiority or powerlessness by getting the experience of controlling an environment.
- Fight "groupthink": Many trolls defend their actions as shocking people out of entrenched conformism.
- Satire: In these cases, the individuals do not think of themselves as trolls, but misunderstood humorists or political commentators.
- Satisfaction gained from personal attacks.
- Harassment: following a person — who has been targetted for harassment in one forum, but who has chosen to escape being victimized by moving on — and trolling the forum as a means of making that new "home" an uncomfortable place for that person to be online.
- Anonymously testing an alternate persona.
- Emptying a forum: this is usually only feasible if the forum is small.
Some users of Internet forums are considered to be "trollhunters", or "trollbaiters". They willingly enter into conflicts when trolls emerge. Often, trollhunters are as disruptive as trolls. A single troll-post may be ignored, but if ten trollhunters "pounce", following a troll, they will drive the thread off-topic.
What do you think?
I'm specifially interested in why it's considered ok to harass people anonymously on the Internet when we consider it a prosecutable offense when done over the phone or face to face? What's the difference?
Edited to add: The bolding is mine
Edited by Rhea, 16 January 2006 - 02:20 PM.