There’s obviously some serious disagreement on what constitutes a “troll” when it comes to online harassment. I was reading a recent article in Time (I think it’s worth reading in full, even though it’s not very profound) and of course I immediately went to Twitter to gauge the response.
One thing that stood out was an obsession with differentiating between “assholes” or “misogynists” or “trolls.” Trolls, goes the conventional wisdom, are the antagonists who provoke for the sake eliciting a negative response, often for their own amusement. That’s a slightly scaled-down definition, and it in no way is the complete picture. Just look at the size of this Wikipedia article not he topic, for Christ’s sake.
In this sense, a “Troll” isn’t necessarily a bad person. After all, it’s pretty easy to see instances where provoking emotions in people can be a positive. Hell, where would we be without comedian Adam Scott’s constant trolling of Donal Trump?
But here’s the thing: the definition of “Troll” is changing. It’s being used more and more to describe the racist, misogynistic and oftentimes cruel attacks on individuals. The word could be interchanged with “asshole” any day of the week. But I don’t think “asshole” fully encapsulates what’s happening when, for example, someone threatens to rape a feminist’s 5-year-old daughter. The word “Troll” works pretty well, though. It’s a word that has purely negative connotations, and it usually calls into one’s imagination a gross creature. This has the added benefit of providing a little catharsis, I’d think.
So “Troll” is changing in meaning. It’s not going to stop, no matter how often people stomp their feet and complain about how the word is being “co-opted.” It’s just too perfect a word to describe the racists, the misogynists, the assholes, etc. It gathers them up in a slime-lined bucket where they can all aggressively claw at one another as they climb for the exit.
Accept it. There’s no going back. Now as to what we should do about Trolls … God only knows.