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The Rise of the Internet ‘Troll’

Posted on by blog guest

A quick search for ‘trolling’ on any news site will bring up a string of stories relating to this internet phenomenon. They will talk about people or groups being viciously attacked on the internet by ‘so called “trolls”.’ The quote marks that are always applied to this term and the use of ‘so called’ despite the frequency of its occurrence in the media, should give you some indication of how hesitantly it is used by journalists, and how little it is actually understood. Trolling clearly exists as a concept, and is always presented as a pejorative term by media outlets, but is it being applied correctly in these cases? The short answer is no, it isn’t.

The Origins

image of what an internet troll looks like
If you want to go back to the origins of the word it probably comes from an old expression ‘trawling for noobs (newbies)’ on early internet message boards (we’re talking the ancient historical period of the 1990s here).


This trawling process involved posting a deliberately provocative comment – usually a blatantly incorrect piece of information – which any regular to the message board would immediately recognised as a trap, while any noob would immediately work themselves into a frenzy correcting, or spend time registering their offence at its content.

This might not sound like the most admirable of pastimes, but it’s something that’s understood and recognised by people that use message boards on the internet as a way of affirming who is in the know, and it often gives rise to long-running jokes that even the less-initiated are aware of. Car enthusiasts will incorrectly identify a car and wait to see who calls them on it, video game users will voice their approval of a game that no one likes, weightlifters will immediately respond to someone looking for approval with a dismissive laugh and a short ‘dyel?’ (do you even lift?). It’s pretty stupid, but in the context of ongoing threads it’s often funny and well-meant.

Juxtapose this with the cases that catch media attention: streams of vicious threats directed at celebrities; disrespectful comments targeted to upset people who have already suffered a tragedy; mindless personal insults that drive vulnerable people into misery. It’s a difficult message to get across as a journalist, especially when it’s already accepted that this is ‘trolling’ and that ‘trolling is bad,’ but basically this isn’t the same thing. There’s no expectation of the receiver being in on the joke; it’s not provoking a stock, well-met response; it doesn’t further a sense of inclusion.

Differentiating ‘Trolling’ and ‘Bullyin’

These accounts of internet bullying and harassment aren’t ‘trolling,’ they are internet bullying and harassment. Applying a socially pervasive term like ‘trolling’ to them does more harm than good, because it suggests they are condoned by a wider society of internet users. These users are frustrated at their codes and jokes being misrepresented to a younger generation of people coming to the internet, who may in turn think that there isn’t a difference between trolling and mindless abuse.

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This post was provided by Nick Farwell from Nick loves to blog about the latest developments in the world of online. Visit to voice your opinions and be heard.

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