Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Dangerous Lives of Trolls

Though this reporter wrote the godawful Cautionary Tale of the Internet Poker Addict story that helped ransack the internet poker boom a few years back, I highly recommend his latest investigation into web-woe in the NY Times Magazine, an opus on internet trolls. This is eye-opening stuff, basically an examination on how large scale networking technology (so useful in bringing people together for productive purposes) have also helped connect raging sociopaths who, in the pre-internet days, who probably live out their lives in isolation in some homemade shack in rural Montana. Schwartz opens with the notorious story of Mitchell Henderson, a suicide whose MySpace memorial page became the target of vicious pranks from denizens of the /b/board on (a famously unruly forum that launched a number of internet memes such as rickrolling and lolcats). This part is fascinating, if a bit too alarmist. The article really gets going when it narrows the focus on two especially ardent misanthropes, famous trolls who use their computer savvy to taunt and humiliate the grieving parents of a dead child and the like. Michael Haneke and Neil LaBute have nothing on these Cyber-Darwinists.

What I learned from this article is that we've a long way from the days when internet trolls were just a collection of potty-mouths, malcontents, and performance artists. Whatever happened to the genius who took on the persona of Thundarr, barbarian movie reviewer? That was a classic troll.