Spotlight On – BESTIARY

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Originally posted on March 6 2011)

A few days ago I got an email from the Folklore department secretary — apparently someone at the BBC had seen my interview with the Daily Mail and decided to follow-up with a radio thing.

just kidding, I WAIT WHATd

Because of the time difference, I had to wake up at 2:45am — the producer wanted to check in one more time to make sure I was still on board. I was, and he said they’d call again and pipe me into the conversation at 3:05. “The conversation?” I asked. “Oh you’ll be on with the father of one of the dead teens whose memorial page was attacked.” And I was like oh. Um. But it was 2:45 and my brain was still a little fuzzy, plus it was the BBC, so I said ok and during the 10-minute wait tried to strategize. I had a feeling that this was some sort of set-up — it’s not that I defend RIP trolling (many of the FB trolls I work with have little interest in trolling RIP pages, and some express outright contempt for trolls who go after mourning family members and friends — mostly their interest is in combating grief tourism, what they describe as inauthentic expressions of grief by random strangers), but I do have an answer, or at least a partial answer, to the question oh my god WHY?? -but that’s probably not what they were looking for here. What they probably were looking for here was confirmation of what they already knew (or thought they knew) to be the case.

And I was right, the opening question was something like, “how evil are the evil people responsible for this evil new internet trend called trolling” — immediately I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. Because what do you say? What could I say? This poor father was in mourning — no matter what I’d said, no matter how carefully or thoroughly I tried to place trolling, and RIP trolling in particular, into the appropriate historical/techno-social context, his kid would still be dead, and he’d still want to kick the asses of every person who’d posted something off-color onto his son’s page. It was a surreal moment for me as a researcher — my focus is on trolling behaviors themselves, and the people engaging in trolling behaviors, and the possible reasons that people, both individually and collectively, are drawn to trolling. Not grieving parents.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not like talking to Rodger changed my mind about my research, or revealed something I didn’t already know about trolls/trolling (namely, that their behaviors affect people in the “real world,” especially when the trolling-in-question involves dead teenagers). But it was a reminder that the people I study are regarded by many as monsters –hence the choice to include this post under “bestiary.” At one point in the interview, I was asked point-blank what was wrong with trolls. They had to be bad guys, right? In some way DSM4-worthy? I said what I believe to be true, that most trolls are as “normal” as anyone, though of corse there are outliers (as there are whenever you’re talking about a large group of people). The host and Rodger balked, as in literally let out a gasp, when I said that — these people can’t be normal, the host insisted, and I found myself in the very odd position of being, or at least feeling like, some sort of trolling ambassador. That’s not my job, exactly, but neither is the alternative. So I don’t know. In conclusion, bestiary!

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