A Trolling Tome Gathers No Loss

In November every year, the Oxford University Press, publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, picks its ‘Word of the Year’ – “a word, or expression, that we feel has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. It need not have been coined within the past twelve months and it does not have to be a word that will stick around for a good length of time.”

I’d like to make an early prediction. This year’s word will be ‘troll’.

For those of you who may not be au fait with the expression in its non-mythical sense, the Urban Dictionary defines ‘troll’ thus: “One who posts a deliberately provocative message … with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”
There’s been a marked increase in this kind of activity recently, and it’s not just confined to internet message boards and newsgroups any more…

For various reasons mostly connected with the extraordinary kindness of others, the number of people following me on Twitter has increased dramatically in the past couple of weeks. This means that more people see the things I write. On the whole, that’s a good thing, and feeds my burgeoning narcissism nicely. But it also means, apparently, that I am more available for the receipt of abusive messages than I ever was back in the bad old days when only fifty people and an online shoe shop followed me. Because this week, someone tweeted this at me: “Congratulations on making yourself sound like a dick! Im going to suggest you are a ugly lonely old bag (most probably over weight)”.

Readers familiar with the idiom (rather than the idiot; you don’t know him) will notice straight away that this message bears all of the hallmarks of the classic troll. Tweeted by someone with only nine followers, it contains an unnecessary exclamation mark; it displays only a tenuous grasp of the English language; its accusations are based on guesswork rather than evidence. (Granted, at least two of them are true, but my point is that there is no way the author could have known that. He guessed lucky, is all.)

I have to admit to being rather pleased; being targeted by a troll felt like an indication that I had Arrived in some way – see ‘burgeoning narcissism’, above – because I’ve seen famous tweeters being plagued by trolls who think that it’s a great way to get attention and gain more followers. Comedian Al Murray, who seems to be a particular target for reasons I can’t quite fathom, often shares his obvious delight at receiving such messages: a typical exchange will read “Your boring” “My boring what?” “What?” – much to the delight of pedants everywhere. But I’d rather not give a troll the satisfaction. If having their @name in lights is what they want, then that is the very last thing I will give them.

Which brings me, with weary inevitability, to the Daily Mail.

The Mail’s editorial policy, neatly encapsulated in one headline

We all know that newspaper circulations are falling as a result of online editions and social media. But, rather than bemoan its fate, the Mail has adopted a new strategy. Despite the regular sniffy articles decrying Twitter and Facebook as the worst thing to happen to the world since Hitler – or, given its editorial policy record, possibly even worse than that – it has harnessed the power of social media to feed its own need for attention. By posting deliberately inflammatory nonsense like the recent “I’m proud to be a trophy wife” article by Samantha ‘too pretty for my face’ Brick, Mail Online is now the most visited news website in the world. Just think about that. More people visit that site than any other news site on the planet; not the New York Times, not the Guardian, not the BBC. And they visit it, not because the ‘news’ it contains is more accurate or balanced than on any other site – only the hilariously deluded could possibly believe that – but because, in many cases, the Mail has prodded them into outrage with a sharp Liz Jones-shaped stick. As a result, its advertising revenue increased by almost 70% last year. Every time you click, the Mail makes money.

Trolling clearly works. But only if you let it.

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~ by somethingblonde on June 16, 2012.

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