Internet Trolls

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Trolls (from Wikipedia)

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.

Trolls (from Urban Dictionary)Vurb_Salutes

One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.

Internet trolls are having a heyday. It is like Christmas to them, what with the presidential elections coming soon. Everybody is going shopping, so to speak, and the supply of trolls is stepping up. The massiveness of use of social media today where almost half of Filipinos are active, especially with Facebook, is akin to the massiveness of shopping malls. So, imagine these malls with Christmas approaching, and one gets an idea of how the campaign period is approaching the May elections.

Internet trolls are virtual sociopaths or persons with personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior, and a lack of conscience. Ill will and an actively negative attitude define the emotional makeup of trolls. They are not really unusual. All of us know some of them. They are quite visible in greater society, in our communities, and sadly, sometimes in our own families. But wherever they are, they make their mark, they create impact—at our expense.

The spectacular explosion of social media is a phenomenon, no less. There is hardly anything else in human history that is so life-changing at such a short period of time. And it is only a facet of its greater horizon—technology. Unlike technology, however, social media is most participatory. We are users, but we are also creators. The level of interactivity with social media draws on the creative potential of humanity. The democratized nature of social media is its availability to a greater number and the capacity of this greater number to be players, not just spectators. This is evolution at its revolutionary best.

The Internet now being a market or dimension of its own in human life, it has to accommodate the deviants among its members. Societies have a justice system to sort out social deviants and a penal system of jails and prisons to contain the more dangerous among them. At the moment, there is little in the virtual world that can counter the human and social harm that internet trolls cause to many. There ought to be, and I believe there will be, but we have some waiting to do.

But Internet trolling is also becoming a special industry that has no lack of takers. There is always someone who wants to hurt or destroy the reputation of others for various reasons. Partisan elections produce an army of reasons that trigger a high demand. It used to be that dirty media practitioners were the only ones who were the mercenaries of black ops. The growth of social media, however, is changing landscapes and there is now more business opportunities for budding psychopaths. After all, as trolls cater to their inner psychological affliction, they can also make under-the-table money in doing so.

Media practitioners who are on the take are not new. In fact, it seems they never seem to disappear despite efforts of legitimate media outfits to police their own ranks. Over time, however, those practitioners develop a reputation, the AC-DC type, attack-collect, defend-collect. And I do not even include the less controversial “praise release” players because public relations in media will always be there, in a democracy or a dictatorship.

The trolls of today are no less destructive. Like their paid counterparts in traditional tri-media, Internet trolls exploit the general ignorance of social media users in many issues. It does not help that Filipinos as a whole do not go out of their way to trace the source of news, much less their accuracy and integrity. There is an actual situation of information overload that needs some effort to declassify in order to ascertain truth from deliberate lies in partisan issues, political or otherwise. The most dangerous of all trolls are groups of trolls following conductors—the orchestrated guns for hire.

What makes trolling even more massive and damaging is that fake accounts in social media are allowed. With this, it is not only sociopaths that innocent netizens have to contend with, but sociopaths with fake identities. Political campaigns in the Philippines are only starting to awaken to the power of social media and netizens cannot yet discern quickly the real and the fake. It seems to me that the freedom of information bill that some advocacies are trying to push has better focus as well on identifying trolls with fake identities. They not only harm personal reputations, they not only twist the truth, but they give a very ugly and dark picture of the Philippines as well to global users of social media.

It is my view that technology, the Internet, and social media will cause a major shift in human consciousness. They will also be a powerful platform that can bring light to the darkness that has helped perpetuate poverty in the world. And, of course, transparency is a natural beneficiary of all these developments. It becomes crucial that the light brought about by information-on-demand is not discolored by the pollution of deception. Somehow, netizens must step up and become all the wiser, not all the more naïve, because life without the Internet and all it brings may soon be only a memory.

Internet trolls, then, join technology hackers as part of the world’s new criminals. Until a prohibitive system against them is put in place, netizens will have to depend on their vigilance and intelligence to fend for themselves.

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There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.”—Albert Camus

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