The ranges of emotion and feeling which rouse us to action include, to some extent, a desire to attack, interfere, or destroy. These emotions still follow us to the Internet when we take action and interact with it, but they are given an increased blanket of protection as well as an increased perception of safety. It enables and encourages us to act in these aggressive and rebellious ways because it does not maintain any of the real-world consequences which we are used to. Indeed, this contrast of consequence makes our perception of the internet’s safety even more pronounced. As a result we are left with an ability, an environment, and a discrete sense that accepts and enhances our more destructive desires.
These acts have become so common that they have spawned titles, divorcing them even further from specific human beings; turned, as it were, into alien creatures called Trolls. Depending on the niche these names might sit alongside other titles like hackers, griefers, spammers, sock-puppets, and alts(alternates). It is important to note that in giving these titles an alien quality its intention is one of removing the human aspect of the (supposed) person in question. In making them less than human the title doesn’t intend to treat them as alien so much as treat them as background noise.
To understand this, we should recognize a Troll as one whose interactions on the internet sit on a foundation of interference. Hoping, in almost all cases, to create as much reaction as possible while investing as little as possible themselves. Consequently, Trolls are mostly interested in social spaces, where reactions to their work can be seen and interacted with. A Troll’s success is one where the effect > cause + consequence. Therefore, it’s been generally accepted that treating a Troll akin to background noise is effective in that it doesn’t elicit an effect. They are ignored.
However, this approach to Trolls holds primacy on the internet and has only a limited overlap with the physical world. The utter disregard one is expected to show a Troll on the internet is, in the real world, one of the last of many recourses available to us. For instance, in the real world, a person who acts aggressive and interferes with a conversation by insulting the parties could be met with physical force. Or met with countering insults. So why is it that, on the internet, few of these approaches are effective?
On the internet such tactics can work, but only when one exposes themselves sufficiently to allow such attacks. We might be able to recognize the distinction by viewing a specific style of website. In such sites where the blurring of real life and online is higher, where my real life identity is tied to my online identity, a particular consequence is able to re-assert itself as applicable. It’s a social consequence; one where our status as Real Person channels our actions into character-masks for our entire identity which shows to others who have a very narrow view of our lives. The result is shame, guilt, and increased responsibility of image. Where we find our online identity attributed to our real life identity, our willingness to act rebellious and aggressive wanes. The consequence + cause becomes > effect.
This disregard is a direct result of a lack of identifiable ‘Real People’ on the internet, and the lack of identifiable Real People makes for another question. Why aren’t people on the internet identifiable? A simple answer is because a computer is not necessarily attached to your body, so a 1:1 ratio of identity is simply not available. However, it seems to me that an implication exists which might be more interesting to us as users of the internet, one which questions both the role of the Troll and their alienness in contrast to ourselves.
It seems that a person on the internet is only a Real Person insofar as they align their online identity with a real-world identity. Furthermore, that a Troll is only a troll when their online identity is aligned with an alien identity. Consequently, we might be able to ask if the prior is merely masking themselves as a real person, and from that, if the latter’s alien nature is a mask for a different creature entirely. In short do we, as users of the internet, exist as people at all? Are the Trolls closer to aliens, or are we?
When a Troll seeks to interfere with our normal interactions online, are they looking only to interfere for effect’s sake? Or are they showing us who the internet is designed for, are they forcing us to see something about life online which we willfully disregard. Perhaps they are showing us the utter alien landscape we interact in, the silly naiveté with which we accept ourselves as who we say we are and our actions as real and meaningful. Like an insurgent force the Troll seeks to attack the occupation of the internet by ‘real people’, exposing the falsehood of there ever being a human being on the internet who isn’t a forgeable computer machine-identity.
With this narrative one could even see such sites where ‘real-world identity’ is a requirement of registration as being a kind of private settlement. These sites, walled from the Trolls of the internet expressly because of their alien nature, discriminate against them merely because they aren’t people. Following the natural course of history we, as people and occupying force, disregard the Trolls as background noise and troublemakers; not entirely unlike so many occupying forces before us.
Nevertheless, we must not forget that these representatives of Native civilization are not the de facto Citizen of the Internet. Trolls, more akin to the Warrior class, act where the Citizen do not. Given implicit encouragement by their peers and cover when needed, the Citizen holds (if lightly) a respect for their Warriors. Accepting their actions but not participating. Being more unwilling to participate in this style of insurrection makes the Citizen harder to pinpoint. The question becomes, where and who is the Citizen?
‘Who’ might be harder to explain than ‘Where’, so I will start with ‘Where’. The Citizen of the Internet exists in solitude, by themselves but alongside each other. In this way their solitude disconnects them from one another but not from the other creatures of the Internet. As perceived by these other creatures, the Citizen is an aggregate, a Collective represented as One. ‘Who’ The Citizen is, therefore, boils down to this: anonymous. They are anonymous to each other due to lack of interaction, and anonymous to the other creatures due to their being only part of a larger Creature. Inside the internet the Citizen might be called a Lurker, but that again is an alien mask.
Anonymity isn’t only applicable to the Citizen because, as we ought to remember, it is a description not a title. It is like saying a person is White or Green-Eyed. It doesn’t inherently tell us anything meaningful about that person. As a description of a group, a title like Anonymous is laughable (which happens at times). So to call the Citizen anonymous doesn’t go far enough. Looking deeper, then, we should be able to recognize the Citizen as being anyone, everyone, you or me. More likely it is you and me, and so we (in the collective sense rather than the quantitative sense) become the Citizen in the same way that we are able to become the Troll or quest to be the Real Person.
In this way we are capable of playing any of the roles or none of them. We can play Troll, or Citizen, or Troll and Citizen, or Real Person and Citizen. Being able to play all of these aspects at once or separately or not at all means that their distinctions are fantasy, arbitrary. And in this way each role isn’t a person, they are an alien creature because each role represents an abstraction of a person. Being Citizen, Troll, and Real Person places us as spectator, fighter, and occupying force all at once. We, in a sense, fight ourselves. And as creatures of the Internet we end up rebelling in safety, venting Trollish aggression in solitude against what are, ultimately, aspects of ourselves.