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Troll playing

June 10, 2009

…In my time on the internet, I’ve come to appreciate the art of trolling. But many people still do not appreciate trolling; and many more don’t even understand it.

While there are different theories of trolling, trolling is the art of saying ridiculous things that you may or may not believe in just to inflame people.

Now…how is that art? Couldn’t anyone do that?

Au contraire.  There’s good trolling and bad trolling. Bad trolling is obvious, unbelievable, and blatant. If you have an uncanny valley, so to speak, then bad trolling is like those really creepy dolls that are so obviously fake because they are so close to being real that the fakeness jumps out singularly. The worst trolling can be seen miles away from the topic list.

On the other hand, good trolling is subtle. A good troll, furthermore, can take any topic, even one that might be rather uncontroversial, and then begin flame wars and troll topics about them. Mac vs. Windows? Who cares? A troll can make you care, and then get you fighting about it.

This doesn’t mean all inflammatory comments are trolling; after all, some people don’t intend to inflame. These guys literally mean what they are talking about and believe it to be uncontroversial. So, as we say, there’s something called Poe’s Law in particular for religious ideas. Obviously, true religious fundamentalists (or anyone else with strong, yet odd opinions) are not trolling, but sometimes their true opinions are so outrageous that you cannot distinguish them from someone who is simply a really good parodist or troll. And the same is true of trolls — sometimes, they are so convincing, you wonder if they are not actually the real deal.

Ann Coulter: Troll or Legitimate?

Ann Coulter: Troll or Legitimate?

People have accused those such as Ann Coulter of this. Conservative pundit? Or liberal spy pretending so that she can win people to the liberal side? We will never know. Or, my personal favorite, Jesusophile from youtube. Personally, if I had to put my money on it, I think Ann Coulter, Jack Chick, and the Westboro Baptist are real, but Jesusophile and Stephen Colbert are just parodists and satirists. Then again, your mileage may vary.

So, back to trolling as an art. There are many media of art, and I think the same is true for trolling. I think trolling is like oratory…in an oratorical contest like as provided by the National Forensics League, there are many events. For example, you’ve got extemporaneous speaking and original oratory on one end and you’ve got prepared speech and dramatic interpretation on the other (among other events). And the goals and criteria of each are different. Similarly, in drama, isn’t ad lib different than scripted?

So, I’d like to inform you about a new kind of trolling I’ve been developing recently. In my years as a denizen of the interwebs, I’ve seen too many trolls who try to do it ad lib. They use their own material, own words, own everything. Yes, they may be playing devil’s advocate, but they are still all original.

And you know what? This is just the hard way to do it. Too often original trolling doesn’t capture the nuances of an original position in the same way that a fictive world often doesn’t capture the essence of a world.

So, I thought…what if I took what people *already* said and then performed it for my audience? Would it be any less of art if I could pull it off…for indeed, dramatic interpretation is an oratorical contest, and one can be graded on selection of work, interpretation of work or faithfulness to the original intent, and so on.

I call it troll playing. Or role play trolling. The rules are simple: get a script of something outrageous, but which is truly believed. And then pretend that you truly believe it, but only by selectively, yet exactly quoting the original speakers. Keep the charade going for as long as possible only using borrowed material.

I’ve practiced this for a while, and I don’t know if I’m expert at it. But let me tell you about my latest exploit. On Further Light and Knowledge, I read a topic that linked me to a topic on the Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board about the possibility of chemically castrating gay members.

At first I thought, “Are you people out of your minds? You can’t be serious!” And then, as I read the MAD Board’s discussion, I realized that not only were people serious about this idea (or at least, indistinguishable between serious and parody), these guys were discussing the moral merits of such a proposal in Mormonism. For example, if we castrate gays, is that limiting their agency? No, because someone could choose to be castrated or not. But wait, if we choose to live a life devoid of temptation (like SSA), isn’t that like choosing the adversary’s plan? Everyone will indeed be saved…but mustn’t there be opposition in all things? I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

And at this moment, I realized it would be a perfect script for troll playing. Especially in a non-mormon audience. I copied the first post in the topic and made a topic of my own elsewhere. In response to others who were (predictably) shocked and disgusted, I copied and pasted more posts, with minimal editing. And after about 50 posts of rage, I simply said: “Thanks for participating in my topic; I couldn’t do it without you. Here’s my script, if you were wondering.” That, in turn, raised more rage. The topic was all a joke? THERE IS A MORMON BOARD OUT THERE WHERE PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY THINKING ABOUT THIS? And the like.

OK, so maybe you think I’m a horrible person. Perhaps I am. But then a commenter noted astutely: “If you don’t really believe this, then isn’t troll playing a Mormon trolling by proxy?”

In closing, I’d like for you to nibble on another application of troll playing: devil’s advocacy trolling. What happens when you have an idea you disagree with, but don’t know how to argue it? What if you present this idea as if you were an advocate (troll play as if you really believe it), and then argue (using your opponent’s words) as if it were true. If you can incite enough rage, eventually, someone will disprove your troll argument. This is no sweat, but they have really disproved the argument you already disagreed with! With devil’s advocacy trolling, you can step in another person’s shoes, show how their feet stink, and do it all without smelling the funk for too long. Two birds, one stone, etc.,

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11 Comments
  1. That thread is disturbing.

  2. To say the least. It was closed relatively quickly though.

  3. Blender Beth permalink

    Would you mind telling me where you conducted your chemical castration of teh gheyz trolling exercise? Feel free to email it to me. I’m trying to gather information for the folks at exmormon.org who turned me onto the discussion at MADB.

  4. unfortunately, Beth, it was at a private site that requires membership to view posts and topics. So I could tell you that it was at endoftheinter.net but since the site is private, it wouldn’t be much help.

  5. JTJ permalink

    This is simply brilliant. If I only had the time….this would provide hours upon end of entertainment.

  6. Ann Coulter is for real… and she’s a troll. A very successful one. OTOH, Teresa Heinz Kerry was definitely a Republican plant.

    I can’t believe that thread at MADB. Just further proof that place jumped the shark a long time ago.

  7. JTJ:

    It’s true. I used to troll with things I seriously believed in, just to be inflammatory, but that wasn’t good for my blood pressure, because I would get too involved into it. Now, with my own ideas, I take a very hands-off approach. But with troll playing, I can still have my fun.

    re Jack:

    I think you’re on to something. I don’t like to think the worst about people (and don’t necessarily think that this is the worst someone can do), but I get the sense that Coulter wakes up each morning saying, “How can I sell more books and get more people talking about my stuff?” And her columns are her answer. A very correct answer, apparently.

    Again, I can’t believe the MADB thread, but at the same time, I can. Like, it requires me to have more faith in humanity to not believe it, but reality shows me such faith is misplaced, so I can believe it…if that makes sense?

  8. It’s easy to start fights over Mac vs. Windows. Maybe you don’t care about the subject, but many other people care passionately about this issue, and you’re trivializing their concerns with this post.

  9. Those many people, quite frankly, are silly and should be ashamed of themselves.

    ^see, by trivializing their concerns, I engage in meta-trolling.

  10. touché! ;)

  11. Adam permalink

    Trolling might be fun, but wouldn’t i be better? What is the point if you know you will lose?

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