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Trolls Are Internet Bullies and Cowards.

Interesting sculpture. It's called the "Fremont Troll."

Recently, my friend over at AdLand (aka daBitch) posted a thoughtful essay about the mean-spiritedness of some of the discussions at popular advertising sites.  She wrote, “I’ve noticed an uptick of a particular style of comments recently. There are those who will jump to ‘you are bitter / you are a hater’ retort. Then there’s the ‘What work have you done?’ … retort.”

She was kind enough to ask me for my opinion. Here’s my edited version:

“Actually, the bitter/hater syndrome is not a child of the online ad industry. Everywhere, these people have a term: trolls. You know, those horrible acne-magnets that lurk under bridges in fairy tales.

I’ve done some reading about this phenomenon and if my memory serves, this anonymity is a result of how the internet was originally designed way back when they set it all up. And it is this anonymity that provides the bridge trolls now live under.

My hypothesis is that if you look at the sources of these mean-spirited remarks, 98% of them are posted anonymously. And my opinion is, they are all cowards. The anonymity allows them to spew their vitriol and poison without accountability.  

I think (as do many others) that if you have a strong opinion, you should stand behind it. Otherwise you’re not much different than the mean drunks who hide in the crowd at a football games and toss empty liquor bottles at refs for calls they don’t like.

On the other hand, anyone with personal integrity (and a wee bit of calcium in their spine) will publicly stand by and own an opinion they post, even if it’s an unpopular one.”

Because this is an internet phenomenon, the issue of trolls is in some ways new. On the other hand, it’s as old as the problem of schoolyard bullies. I would call these trolls the “bullies of the internet” were it not for the fact that even the most despicable schoolyard bully does not wear a ski mask.

On a recent page on the troll-packed site of AgencySpy, I saw this thread. We begin with a person who, posting under his real name, defended someone from a personal attack.

REAL PERSON WITH SPINE: “I hate people who write snide innuendos while hiding behind fake names. It will take more than the scurrilous accusations of a couple of mealy-mouthed twits who don’t have the wontons to post under their real names to convince me. [M]an up or shut up.”

We can talk about the unnecessary anger at another time. The point here is, at least this person posted under a real name. Then came the troll’s response.

TROLL HIDING BEHIND NAME OF “BRAZMANIAC”: “Fuck you and your fairytale platitudes.  I have news for you, it’s VERY easy to ‘man up’ and use your real name when you’re sycophantically praising a man you DON’T EVEN KNOW.  Hey, maybe he’ll see your name here, all shiny and sincere, and offer you a job!  Good luck with that.  In the meantime, people who have actually worked with [this person] have a few things to say. … I think protecting ones job and future is an excellent reason to maintain some anonymity.”

And there you have it – the classic, specious, and cowardly excuse.

In fact, this same reasoning can be used to excuse an attack on a retarded person. (“HEY ‘TARDO! Missing your brain?!?) Who would want to hire a person who makes such an attack? No one. Does that make it okay to do it anonymously?

This same reasoning can be used by the skulking drunk at a football game throwing the liquor bottle. He wants to hurt the ref but keep his job.

Bottom line is that trolls do not want to publicly stand by an opinion they have made public. And that is why they are bullies and cowards.

I conclude with three thoughts.

One: If you want to post an unpopular opinion, have at it. Sign your name and we’ll give you our attention.

Two: Opinions are one thing, ad hominem attacks are another. Attacking a person is low, and doing it anonymously is lower still; like being a hallway bully who wears a ski mask, pants the “gaywads” and then escapes in a waiting car.

Three: When we see bullying, we should fight back. This happens to be the NEA’s National Anti-Bullying Month and it’s a great time to do what a brave lady named Jennifer Livingston did. She’s a newscaster who received a vitriolic email telling her to lose some weight. And it is here I ask Mr. “Brazmaniac” and all trolls, bullies and cowards, if you want to see what having a spine looks like, watch this woman stand up to bullies like you.

If I got any of this wrong and you’d like to write to me and disagree, my email is and my name is Luke Sullivan.




From Agency Spy, a delightful article: The Universal Cover Letter.

Typically I stay away from Agency Spy. There’s a lot of fairly mean-spirited trolls trashing other people and their work. But I love this piece posted by Kiran Aditham:

Growing sick and tired of writing letters to recruiters, art director/designer Chris Vanderhurst decided to pen one “to rule them all” in his own words. Your end result, at least in text form, is what you see below. It may not do him any favors in reality, but it could at least break the ice. We say that the lad, a Notre Dame/Chicago Portfolio School alum, has the template pretty much nailed down.

Zany greeting no one uses in real life!

Introduction to myself in case you can’t read who this email is coming from. Brief background about myself because the only way I “know” you is by 5 degrees of LinkedIn separation.

Sentence full of innuendo that boils down to me being unemployed. Predictable comment about how your agency and me belong together, ignorant to the fact you are probably friends with several other recruiters I’m sending this exact letter to. Generic compliment that applies to every agency but, for the purposes of this email, “specifically” yours.

Let’s talk about me some more, because I’ve forgotten all of the following information is on my resume, which I made in Microsoft Word even though I call myself creative. I’ll make a list here in paragraph form, beginning with the college I went to that taught me nothing applicable to this position. This would be the perfect place for an unfunny joke about how good the football/basketball team is going to be this year! Giant stretch here talking about my experience, because this position I’m emailing about requires 3 more years of experience than I really have.

Here is where I mention the name of someone you actually may know in real life, who gave me his business card once in college. I hope the name drop makes you more likely to respond to me, but what I don’t know is that guy I just mentioned got let go 8 months ago. Plus, he was kind of a prick. It is now clear just how desperate I am.

A one word, drinking based farewell that implies I’m a fun person, and a wish that I hear from you soon. A warning/threat that I will follow up with another template email in a week if I don’t hear back from you. I hope at this point that you haven’t realized I’ve spent 30 minutes writing this, but not 30 seconds proofreading it.

-First name

Email signature with my full name, a title I don’t deserve, and clever use of punctuation like blackslashes between the digits of my phone number.