Con Trolling The Internet: Power Dynamics And The Culture Of Troll Shaming In The Age Of Social Media

It is true that from time to time I have assumed the mantle of instigator in the name of Socratic discourse. I will oftentimes prod a sleeping giant with the intent of waking someone up. If I use inflammatory language, I do so only in an attempt to coerce a dialogue open. Conversely, whenever my detractors have used the same tactic against me, they have done so with the singular purpose of muting my voice. I am not interested in further justifying my own actions, nor do I wish to cast aspersions on others who find no value in opening discourse; however, it must be stated that in order for us to make proper use of the gift that we have inherited and come to know as “language,” we must wield it precisely, or risk losing access to its true power.

Discrediting my existence due to a fear of interfacing with my message or the method of its delivery is one thing, but doing so by labeling me with what is currently the most offensive epithet in the internet’s lexicon—a troll—is not only specious, it is a cause of great sorrow in my heart. Everything I’ve done has been in the service of language and truth, regardless of how my will has been perceived. But because I perpetually refuse to suck the proverbial cock of the publishing industry, many of its apologists feel that they are duty-bound to fuck my face with it.

As an example of what I am talking about, look at this Twitter exchange regarding one of my essays between three prominent voices in the publishing realm:

Ted Hash-Berryman

As for Christian Bok and The Volta—their eagerness to commit the fallacy of composition demands that their opinions be dismissed outright. Sina Queyras (Lemon Hound), on the other hand, utilizes a much more malevolent tactic, and in doing so goes so far as to become a troll herself. If trolling is understood to be the act of using ad hominem attacks, which betray a lack of substantive content, and straw man arguments, which avoid addressing the essence of the issue at hand, it’s obvious that posting the phrase “Don’t feed the troll” is a paradigmatic example of trolling.

Many members of the internet community, like Queyras, have appropriated the concept of a troll without truly considering the implications of its use. In her response, she isn’t merely dismissing one of my essays, she is attempting to create the perception that it is impossible for me to say anything of value. Even more incredulously, Queyras is suggesting that my existence should be ignored outright. While it may appear on the surface to be a harmless insult, Queyras’s comment is a clear illustration of troll shaming.

To denounce someone as a troll, or troll shame, is to do nothing more than leech credibility in the most insidious way. The truth is, everyone with a presence on the internet can be viewed as a troll. Anything posted online is done so, in part, to promote one’s own visibility or to shift the conversation toward one’s own self-serving interests. But the grave danger of dissuading others from entertaining opposing, alternative, or cosmic viewpoints is that it further tips the imbalance of power toward the already-powerful. Individuals who engage in this type of activity, no matter how subtly or ineptly, who believe they are ridding their domains of trolls, are in fact the most pernicious trolls of all.

Troll Shaming, Ted Hash-Berryman

Trolls of this nature are hypocritical by definition. These are the Con Trolls of the internet. Con Trolls embrace troll shaming as a means of maintaining the status quo. They are a self-appointed thought police who act in the service of the prevailing cultural attitudes, which are inadequate, obsolete, and ripe to serve as the compost within which a truer perspective must germinate. Con Trolls have managed to create an atmosphere of animosity under the guise of defending peace by labeling every alien idea as “trolling.” The problem with this type of behavior is that it is unapologetically in opposition to the natural evolution of language and ideas, and thus is unsustainable and ultimately futile. Although the concept of a troll is a fairly new one, the practice of troll shaming has already become a prominent defense mechanism within the psyches of the internet’s self-elected elites.

Of course, there are those instigators who prowl the comments section of any website, who are purely anarchistic, who seek to shock for the sake of shock-value, and who are often driven by ill-will or misanthropic delusions. These are the Street Trolls of the internet metropolis, and they are the people most commonly associated with the concept of “troll.” Such trolls feed off of the misery and disgust of others and exist only for their own self-validation. Since this style of trolling creates maximum disruption, becoming a Street Troll appeals to those looking for a quick release from the systemic impotence of monotonous first-world existence. Street Trolls must be absolutely denounced since their aims are purely destructive, even though they are unquestionably less contemptible than Con Trolls.

If this evaluation seems to be incongruous with common sense, you don’t have to take my word for it; for further understanding of the hierarchy among categories of trolling, reference Diagram 1A: Hash-Berryman’s Hierarchy of Trolls, and the corollary appendices A-C.

Ted Hash-Berryman

Diagram 1-A: Hash-Berryman’s Hierarchy of Trolls

There is a final category of troll, to which Figure 1A [above] alludes: the Truth Troll. There is a cosmic irony in that more information than ever is rushing the channels of thought, yet the voice of truth remains inaudible amongst an infinitely oppressive white noise. There is no question that it benefits the powers that be if people en masse are prevented from glimpsing the timbre and directive of this voice. A Truth Troll realizes, therefore, that the tactics of trolling are often necessary, as they force individuals to confront a reality that has long been obscured by cultural forces. A Truth Troll treads the narrow path of righteousness while dragging a baited hook, but refuses the dark temptations that lure Con and Street Trolls down the slick slope of egotism. Fundamentally, a Truth Troll envisions a world in which there is no need for trolling, for that is a world that has actualized objective Truth.

Such a world will come in time; but, our situation in time’s present nexus requires that we be the ones who create it. This is why it is deleterious to merely dismiss trolling as a juvenile act of whimsy or as a wicked act of sophistry. Only by razing the control system can humanity establish an objective vision that is attentive to all avenues of thought and expression, not simply the ones that benefit the academic and political elite. The power of language, of poetry, has never been bound by any particular school of thought, institution, lineage of knowledge, or keeper of money. Those who appropriate this power as such have long since lost their way and must relinquish their hold of the cultural reins, lest the yoked beast kick them off. Don’t be deceived: Troll shaming is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of thought control. The troll shamer serves as a mercenary for this control system, and anyone blindly following the advice, “don’t feed the troll,” is relinquishing his or her will to the forces that prevent humanity from unfettering the cultural manacles that bind us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our imaginations, our ideas, and our interests are in grave danger. All measures must be taken for our defense. Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion of art, the people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the great poets and of the people when I assert that we will not only troll for truth to the uttermost, but we will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again. With confidence in our forces—and with the Hell-forged armor and spear of the troll—truth will gain the inevitable triumph.


Appendix A: Truth Trolls

Ted Hash-Berryman

Examples of Truth Trolls (from left): Stephen Colbert, Malala Yousafzai, Malcolm X, Edward Snowden, Wendy Davis, Mohandas Gandhi

Appendix B: Street Trolls

Ted Hash-Berryman

Examples of Street Trolls (from left): Sean Hannity, The Westboro Baptist Church, George Zimmerman, Reality Show Stars, and Tonya Harding

Appendix C: Con Trolls

Ted Hash-Berryman

Examples of Con Trolls (from left): Bill O’Reilly, Ryan Seacrest, Margaret Thatcher, Joseph McCarthy, and Arianna Huffington


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