In the digital age, millions of people who would never have had a public voice before now have a venue to hold forth on virtually anything. Some people use the many forums available to them for the good – they take to social activism or politics. Some take to gushing over celebrities or blogging about their day-to-day lives. And then we have some people who take to the Internet to disrupt, disorder and in some cases destroy -that’s trolling. Many sociologists and psychologists have asked the same question – what possesses these people? The troll is uninhibited, anonymous and free from the taboos that ‘real life’ imposes. Typically, the troll knowingly spouts opinions that will upset other people; getting into pointless fights online while hiding behind the security of a pseudonym. Sometimes, it’s less nefarious; trolls may spout vaguely amusing but largely redundant, plagiarised or spammy material.
The trend of trolling has become so widespread that the saying “Don’t feed the trolls” is now a key piece of advice on social media the internet over. To put it simply, if you don’t give these types attention then, like the playground bully, they’ll go away.
If you’ve participated in any kind of discussion online or participate in any form of social media, chances are that you have encountered a troll or two. They tend to say just the right thing to get your blood boiling and your keyboard ready to engage in an all out war of the words. Of course, trolling isn’t just an online phenomenon. Angry, hate-inciting people exist in the real world; they’re just less likely to let loose when they have to take personal responsibility for their action.
Some celebrities have even had trollish moments; Kanye West’s infamous interruption of Taylor Swift’s moment of glory at the MTV music awards, for example, might be viewed as a real-life example of trolling. Then, there are those trolls who have struck nerves with just the right people, becoming questionably (in)famous for it – incidents of blatantly ignoring the warning about “feeding the trolls”. The following are five people who made names for themselves purely through their internet trolling. Given that the nature of the troll is to remain anonymous and under the radar, the identities of some of these trolls are still unknown – but their screen names, at least, have had varyingly huge impacts on the digital community.
5. Jason Fortuny
Some call Jason Fortuny a troll, some call him disturbed, some even call him a genius. Fortuny received widespread media attention after he published on Encyclopedia Dramatica responses he received from men in relation to a Craigslist ad he posted, posing as a woman. Fortuny posted names, photos, and screenshots of conversations. Calling it, “The Craigslist Experiment”, Fortuny landed 178 responses from men looking for casual encounters. But this act came with some legal consequences, as two people lost their jobs due to the posting on the public website. One man took Fortuny to court, with the result that Fortuny had to pay $75K in damages and attorney’s fees. While this incident might – generously – be viewed an ill-advised social experiment, Fortuny’s trolling shenanigans didn’t stop there. He also created a blog called, “Megan Had It Coming!” after the suicide of 13 year old Megan Meier. Inarguably horrifyingly, the website was dedicated to making attacks on the dead girl and her family. Fortuny has calmed down a bit since then, but overall he seems very satisfied at the ‘success’ of his online endeavors, a fact which might be as disturbing than the acts themselves.
4. Willy on Wheels
What’s great about Wikipedia is the wealth of information available on the website. We can research just about anything – knowledge has never been so easily accessible as it is today, thanks in large part to the Wiki world. The downside to this treasure trove of knowledge is that anyone can edit it. In 2004, a troll by the name of “Willy on Wheels” shed light on just how easy it was to vandalize Wikipedia by adding “…On Wheels” at the end of each article title. The work of WoW has even inspired copycats. WoW managed to vandalize and hack the Wikipedia front page, even adding his / their logo to the site, much to many users’ delight. WoW even had a plethora of fans, who attempted to get the unknown troll nominated for the role of administrator. While WoW’s original work can only be found in the historical archives of Wikipedia now, an internet legend was created.
3. Eric the Actor
“Eric the Actor” is also known by a less politically correct name, “Eric the Midget”. If you’ve ever listened to The Howard Stern Show, you’re likely very familiar with Eric Lynch. He started out as a caller to the show who was constantly in conflict with not only host Howard Stern, but also with other callers, guests, and staff. Lynch’s first call to the show was in 2002 when he wanted to respond to Stern’s claims that Kelly Clarkson wasn’t attractive. Stern wasn’t very interested in the call until Lynch started explaining the sound of his voice and the fact that he is only 3 feet 5 inches tall and had an array of medical conditions. Since his first call, Lynch became a part of Stern’s Wack Pack and has found himself making cameos on film and television and hosting backstage events at awards shows. Eric still calls into the Howard Stern Show occasionally, airing his opinions and disagreements to the world.
Most of us have used Yahoo Answers at least once when dealing with a crisis. Many people have found the advice and input they needed for a certain situation on Yahoo Answers, and others who are willing to contribute their knowledge and insight can feel a sense of accomplishment in performing an act of community service. But one troll in particular, known by his username “RBX”, has taken the opportunities that Yahoo Answers has given the world and used them for trolling. RBX, whoever he or she is, created quite the reputation by posting answers that either had nothing to do with the topic at hand, or by leaving comments to purposely tick off, upset or disturb the poster. RBX developed a sort of celebrity status on Yahoo Answers where everyone expected a ridiculous response from the troll.
1. Photoshop Troll
The person who runs the site photoshoptroll.com seems to be an expert in Photoshop. His website offers free services for touching up photos for free, and he advertises on sites like Craigslist. Of course, we all need a photo or two touched up, restored, or completely manipulated, and many are prepared to pay handsomely for the service. So when someone is offering to do the job for free – beware. Photoshop Troll will take your image and make it into something that you don’t want, and then he will post the conversation online with responses. Most visitors to the website find it amusing – revealing the troll in all of us readers – but the victims aren’t likely to share that opinion.