Violentacrez, Trolls, and the Importance of Defining One’s Terms

October 15, 2012 § 6 Comments

Today I published an article about trolling generally and Violentacrez specifically on The Atlantic. Here’s a snippet, which follows a longish discussion of the homologous and, ultimately, symbiotic relationship between trolls and sensationalist corporate media:

I am not arguing that members of the media are trolls, at least not in the subcultural sense. I am however suggesting that trolls and sensationalist corporate media have more in common than the latter would care to admit, and that by engaging in a grotesque pantomime of these best corporate practices, trolls call attention to how the sensationalist sausage is made. This certainly doesn’t give trolls a free pass, but it does serve as a reminder that ultimately, trolls are symptomatic of much larger problems. Decrying trolls without at least considering the ways in which they are embedded within and directly replicate existing systems is therefore tantamount to taking a swing at an object’s reflection and hanging a velvet rope around the object itself.

Full article here; shitstorm, I suspect, is imminent.

Update: Several people have mentioned that I didn’t acknowledge pre-4chan trolling/trollish behaviors. I agree; I didn’t talk much about that (although I do mention Usenet briefly in this linked post), because…well because that’s not what I was talking about. When I made the statement “Within the ranks of self-identifying trolls, a class of troublemaker whose roots can be traced back to 4chan’s infamous /b/ board” I was literally talking about the brand of self-identifying trolls whose roots can be traced back to 4chan. In other words, “modern” trolling subculture. There’s lots more to say about those earlier behaviors (which I discuss in greater detail in my dissertation), but that wasn’t the focus of the Atlantic piece. Someone else, please write that article!

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§ 6 Responses to Violentacrez, Trolls, and the Importance of Defining One’s Terms

  • Anonymous says:

    Great piece in the Atlantic – esp w/r/t RIP trolls and continuity with sensationalistic media (I live in the area where Amanda Todd did). Thinking also about Zizek & trolling: lulz (if not lol) as jouissance…; admire your ethnographic approach.

    • Thank you, and thanks for reading! And yes, one of the things missing from many accounts of trolling behaviors is the focus on pleasure (the pleasure of trolling itself and the pleasure of watching others troll). This isn’t to minimize the problematic aspects of these same behaviors, but to acknowledge that it is appealing to a great number of people, for reasons much more complicated than –as many people assume– individual sociopathy. It’s all very complicated, strange stuff.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  • Anonymous says:

    A few other people have been pointing this out, but while 4chan certainly is one of the biggest things to happen to the Internet’s subcultures, big chunks of organized troll subculture were very much in place before 4chan started. I remember for example, back in 2000-2001, the organized trolling in and There was, a website founded by a group of trolls so that they could post troll articles and also be the mods at the same time. (An archive of that site is still available).

    I very much remember that back in 2000 there were already tensions between the “old school trolls” who focused on cleverly provoking tons of outraged responses, the memeticists who posted silly stuff like nonsensical poems based on nonsensical themes (NATALIE PORTMAN NAKED AND PETRIFIED), and the “crapflooders” who focused on disrupting the comments section by posting tons of objectionable stuff.

    And this is just a sliver of all that was going on in the web back then; the “Something Awful” website forums, which I know little about, were arguably a far more influential hotbed of organized trolling (I understand that a lot of 4chan’s subcultures got started in SA and related forums).

    • Oh, there’s no doubt that tons of stuff predated 4chan — I wasn’t arguing otherwise, but rather that the “troll culture” that “modern” self-identifying trolls refer to coalesced (i.e. didn’t even emerge from exclusively, but really came together to form the thing we now recognize as “that thing”) in the mid 2000s. I discuss the SA connection, as well as earlier connections to various other shock-image forums like Stile Project, in my dissertation (which is about 50 times longer than the Atlantic piece — there was only so much room), but even there I make very clear that I’m not doing a full exhaustive history of all trolling always and forever — just this particular manifestation of trolling, and the ways in which it feeds into and is fed by existing cultural systems. I do appreciate the comment, and would love to read whatever source material or articles you might have to share!

      • Andrey Losev says:

        Can I read it/Is it going to get published?

      • I’m working on publication stuff now, actually — the dissertation itself (which eventually will be online through the University of Oregon’s scholar’s bank) has a 6 month hold while I work out those details. That version will be available in February, and the book, who knows. The whole process takes so much longer than you think it will/wish it would…

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