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 [email protected] and my name is Luke Sullivan.