Who are the True Internet Trolls?

Joscelyn Kate

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I didn’t even know it was happening to me. In 2015 I found out I was pregnant with my first child and joined a pregnancy app that also had a community for parents to connect. It became a great place to learn about pregnancy, what it was like having children (not the pretty stories all over mom blogs, but real testaments). I learned that there were people who didn’t believe in vaccines, people who thought the earth was flat, I learned that I was racist and the reason we exist the way we do is because of colonizers, so many things I hadn’t learned anywhere else. The internet is a rabbit hole, no matter how good your intentions. It’s one shiny object after another and then all of a sudden you have no idea how you got to where you ended up.

Who's Trolling?

So anyway, weird behaviors started emerging on the forums. I learned that these posters who upset people on purpose are called “trolls.” Trolls go online and make comments, not in an effort to share a message or communicate effectively, but to evoke some kind of reaction, either 1) to see people get hurt or to lash out at them without repercussions or 2) encourage lots of interactions to they feel interacted with.

Obviously, every troll’s motivations are different but the main idea is that they are intentionally participating in an inauthentic way. Some people who would frequent the forums often, and comment on multiple posts per day, would speculate that some of the trolls were other people who frequented the forums and interacted normally on some occasions but trolled on others. I was beyond intrigued by this concept.

People would participate in the forums as regular parents, share life information, perspectives, and advice. And then they'd log out, and log back in under a different user and troll those same people? This was bizarre to me. And the more I participated in discussions, the more I saw comments connecting the dots.

This troll was this poster because they always write with punctuation but no caps. Or this troll was this poster because they say “yeah” instead of “yea”.

There were so many nuances. And after a while, I started to notice posting styles and punctuation and syntax in other posters too… and I started seeing patterns too. People who would comment and get upset or riled up would suddenly be gone... And a troll would suddenly appear lobbing very personal attacks, showing they weren’t new but instead were in hiding. It felt so invasive—not that anyone truly believes you can trust the people you interact with on the internet but to an extent, we do believe we can trust the people we interact with on the internet, especially if we, ourselves, are people who can be trusted on the internet. The trolls, with ulterior motives, I don’t even understand where they’re coming from.

Once the screenshotting started taking over, I was in deep. People would be screenshotting comments to show “proof” in other discussions of something that happened with another poster. Posters would then change their screen names to avoid being associated with a comment in a screenshot. But if they changed their screen name, and you googled it along with the website name, you could find their old posts, with the new screen name attached. So if you already had a screenshot of someone’s comment under an old screen name, and they changed their screen name, but didn’t tell anyone, that old comment would be assigned to their new screen name, and bam you’d discover who the troll was…

I started mentally keeping track of the people other posters alleged to be trolls or who had multiple accounts. I would google the screen name to see if it was associated with another name. Sometimes I would ask older posters if they knew an older screen name or why a reply was to one screen name but quoting a comment from someone who didn’t have that screen name, and I found out, that was the poster’s old screen name. *Gasp*

I thought there was one troll. I thought there was one poster who was working to troll the boards, who was trying to make it a bad place. I believed there was one person responsible and if we could get rid of that troll, or that one troll and their cohort of minions, the board wouldn’t be such a difficult place to have good discussions.

Everyone.

But every time I googled, and put together comments, and asked questions, I hit a dead end. In some way, I couldn’t find out who was actually bringing people's pictures, family pictures, addresses, real names, and more to these message boards. I thought it was someone who had some method of finding this information and did it repeatedly. I believed the conspiracy of the internet troll. Someone was out there with double computer screens, an excel spreadsheet, multiple logins, and some advanced tech system that helps them scour the internet for people’s social media photos...

I didn’t realize the internet made it so easy for people to find everything and anything they want. I didn’t realize that once I released my picture on social media, even if I retracted it, it could be found through something called “cached” site pages. Any comments I’ve made on any platform can be found and bits and pieces of my life can be read like a book, despite my lack of consent to share the entirety of my life in one moment.

The internet has made it so releasing pieces of my life *as I see fit* is not possible, once the information is out there, it becomes a piece of glitter in the shiny hallway that leads us deep into the rabbit hole. We look at this person’s piece of glitter, and we google that person’s piece of glitter, meanwhile, we forget that pieces of our own glitter are hanging up somewhere being gawked at, compiled, and manipulated.

I believed I could protect my own information online and that misusers of information only existed in the dark parts of the internet. I of course was not myself, a misuser of information. And ff one of these misusers made their way to an app I used, they lost their way and just needed to be exposed.

But then, as I was screenshotting, and keeping information, building a shiny hallway of other people’s details... and throwing it in their faces… I realized… I’m trolling…

Xoxo

Gossip Girl

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Lover of lattes, champagne, avocados, sleep, and my perfect family. The epitome of a liberal millennial snowflake.

Boston, MA
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