Interview with a Troll
May 28, 2012 § 30 Comments
Recently I was approached by a newspaper reporter (who shall remain nameless) about a possible article on trolling. I agreed under the condition that I could talk about the importance of defining one’s terms. I was also asked to put the reporter in touch with a troll. I asked “Brian Macnamara,” who sometimes trolls under the name Paulie Socash (further info on Paulie here). In the end, the paper wasn’t able to run the piece (perhaps unsurprisingly, given Brian’s responses), but I asked for permission to post his answers.
How long have you been trolling for?
This depends on how one defines trolling, which few seem to know how to do and I hope you at least attempt to in the article. Really, I could ask a journalist the same thing given the similarities between what trolls and journalists do online. The goals are very much alike: to draw public attention to something (often without a full knowledge of it because that’s not the point) and invoke an emotional response from the public. Journalism that misinterprets things, fails to get the full story, or is deliberately provocative gets angry or otherwise impassioned responses, right? From where I sit, this is done deliberately to get more attention/page views. Same basic model as trolling. Trolls do it for the lulz. Journalists for a paycheck.
What exactly do you do – please give examples if you can (in broad terms if you don’t want to ID yourself)
This depends a lot on when and where (ie, what platform/space). Right now I’m not very active. One thing is that trolling really should be done in public: message boards, comment sections, social media sites, etc. Posting on a person’s facebook wall isn’t really trolling, and trolling isn’t the same as “cyber-bullying.” Base level trolling is just interjecting unwanted/controversial opinions one probably doesn’t even hold into a community that will react to them: pretty much any forum that isn’t regulated all the time has trolls of some sort. It’s not a new phenomenon at all.
I personally concentrate on making spaces that troll people and where this basic trolling can happen: these usually relate to whatever is sensational in the media. To use a UK example, if you recall Raoul Moat, I made facebook pages memorializing him after his death and saying what a great man he was. These drew a lot of angry people who couldn’t believe someone would pay tribute to a murderer. The ironic thing here is that I would actually get death threats from people mad about someone saying nice things about a killer. Likewise, I’ve made sites that condemn people for things most are praising them for (I didn’t make it, but the facebook page “Soldiers are not heroes” is a good example).
Who have you targeted and why?
In general, I target earnest people. People who take what they do online far too seriously. Grief tourists, for example, who are individuals who seek out the latest media-sensationalized death and grow far too attached to it as if showing “respect” for some random dead person (usually white, young, attractive, media-friendly) fulfills emotional needs. The kind of people who care way too much about Natalee Holloway or Chelsea King or about catching the kid in the viral video who was mean to a cat via posting their opinions and heartfelt emotional rants online.
Obviously targets are also chosen based on political leaning and the like. I once trolled a bunch of Klansmen by acting like one of them and joining their communities to start, then acting like I changed my mind and creating a “former Klan for racial equality” site. They were targeted because they were earnest, stupid, and easy marks, but also because I hate racists (even if I sometimes play one on the internet). It may be just for the lulz, but nearly every self-identified troll I have ever interacted with has certain tendencies (and limits) that are part of their “real” persona.
Why do you troll? Why did you start?
For the lulz. Because people who are overly earnest and serious online deserve and need a corrective. I started because there was no way to have rational conversations with some people and because I like to debate things. But there’s also a time to just say, You are an idiot, which is the most basic, entry level of trolling and most honest people will admit they have done it.
What does it feel like when you’ve successfully trolled somebody?
Feels good, man. Probably a lot like breaking a news story that exposes some idiot politician or public figure who groped his masseuse. You are drawing attention to some other person’s failings. For me the goal isn’t the individual, though, it is the overall public reaction. It’s about controlling the outcome and the presentation of an event.
Could you tell me some details about yourself? Even if it was something like your gender and age range then that would be helpful.
I’m 30ish, male, college educated, gay, employed, and I do not live in my mom’s basement. I even lift weights.
Do you think trolling is fair game, or do you think it’s unjustified?
Of course it’s fair game. All the internet is a game. Unjustified and unfair would only be if the targets can’t just walk away, which is where the difference between trolling and bullying/harassment and where the legal difference is or should be. Saying mean things is often justified and necessary, and expectations of decorum online are ridiculous.
Do you ever think about the impact on the people who are on the receiving end of trolling?
Sure, they are willingly joining the party. Only those who choose to be trolled can be trolled. And hopefully they learn to not be such fools in public about whatever the thing they care too much about is.
I also think quite a bit about the victims of real, criminal problems like sexual predators, stalkers, etc. online and am baffled as to why people and the media get so worked up over trolling.
Last thoughts: the use of “trolls” by the media is way too broad and people need to define it better. The poor disabled girl whose image was used by people making offensive pictures and has been in the media a bunch was not “trolled” (though her mom probably was since for being an idiot): she was not the target of the meme, just a convenient photo to use. Likewise, people who are bullied online by classmates under fake names are not being trolled. Trolling is a art and not a crime.