Trollology —A Basic Course
Defense Against the Dark Internet Arts
Schoolyards have bullies; sports teams and military units have hazing devotees and towel snappers. One of the great recreations of humankind is tormenting other humankind. Thus, the internet, with its partial veil of anonymity, has trolls, many trolls, many kinds of trolls. Trolls are mean, nasty. Their currency is sadistic glee, known on the internet as ‘lulz.’ Some are apolitical and do the work purely for the joy of daily torment; their glee can be deposited in the psychological bank as a feeling of superiority. Others do it partly for political purposes, trying to move their superiority beyond the mental plane, and making a concerted effort to move inconvenient people and their priorities out of the way. Trolls terrorize the gullible and the easily offended; sometimes, they manifest on the ground to shout at houses and throw things, but usually, they sit alone and type. They are a psy-op, a malicious military, a thoughtcrime Mafia — yet, they are mostly passive consumers of fantasy, and their troll life gives them their principal sense of being in control. To be a troll is to be a warrior, laying waste to the vulnerable while receiving only bleats, swearwords and account suspensions as personal injuries.
The powerlessness of trolls in reality has caused them to discover the two tools that allow them to cause real mayhem in the lives of others. The first and weaker of the two is schoolyard atavism — they and their targets are adults, but by hurling the insults and sly challenges pioneered by the schoolyard bully, they remind the target that he or she was ineffective against bullies as a child. This humiliation lives on into adult life.
The second and stronger of the two tools is witchcraft. Trolls use all four of the major kinds of spin shock involved in effective, purely psychological cursing (no spirits needed): downspun prediction for the targets (“your group will lose out”), upspun prediction for their own imaginary group (“we superiors will overwhelm you”), downspun characterization for the targets (“you’re a tramp no one cares about”) and upspun characterization for themselves (“I have intelligence you can’t dream of”). Also, like all negative shamans, trolls collect ‘dirt’ against their targets. Traditional cursers try to collect fingernail clippings or hair to link long-distance curses psychologically to their targets, perhaps even making the proverbial voodoo dolls with the target’s ‘dirt’ stuffed inside. Modern trolls look for ‘dirt’ in the form of moments of embarrassment that can then be relentlessly used to unnerve the target (“you fainted on the campaign bus and that shows you’re too weak and old to be elected.”) Ultimately, trolls seek symbols of the target’s weakness and use these symbols as a sort of tenderizing enzyme to soften the targets for attack.
It’s no accident that political bullying of minorities begins as false accusations and culminates as a witch-hunt, where the targets eventually receive real (though materially false) allegations of supernatural misdoings. Trolling is social witchcraft, and its spin techniques include projecting its own clouding of reality onto its targets.
Based on Twitter experience, I’ve noticed that there are 15 clichés that serve as the building blocks of almost all trolling online today. Many of these clichés have ancient pedigrees and exist in all schoolyard bullying and bad politics. I am not going to say much about the historical aspects. I will mainly list the troll clichés as they’re seen online.
1) The scorn laugh, the basic kookaburra call of sadistic glee. In print, it’s seen as “bwahahahaha”, “muahahahaha” or just “hahahahahaha”.
2) The troll death curse, or its lesser form, the mutilation curse: “I hope you die of cancer,” “If I ever see you, you’ll find my shotgun barrel in your mouth,” “I would gladly cut your eyes out,” etc. Targets often find these troll curses the most intimidating of all the abuse tools they experience, imagining that many of them are real death threats. In fact, one in a thousand may have a flicker of realistic intention behind it, and one in ten thousand may be genuine, but most are pure armchair terrorism and only express the sadistic enjoyment of imaginary domination.
3) The grotty curse, or its lesser form, the imaginary sexual humiliation. This is intimidation through themes that are gross and disgusting. “I bet you beg your wife to poo all over you,” “why don’t you stick your tiny dick in an electrical socket,” “Here’s a pic of what you’d look like if I crushed your head so that blood ran out of your eye holes.” Some trolls specialize in pictorial grottycurse and have massive collections of disgusting memes, just as deathcurse fans may have vast libraries of gun, torture and death symbol photos. The sky’s the limit, imagination-wise, for grottycursers: a woman named tennesseemommer commented about one tweeter, “Fucker! I could easily chop off his dick, dip it in gas, stick it in his mouth, and play Russian roulette with matches.” Luckily she had no matching movie of a Brazilian mob doing such a thing to a real victim. (Brazil, for whatever reason, is a regular source of grotty mob footage.)
4) Suicide-baiting, the “kill yourself” cliché. The staple of today’s schoolyard, this is also ubiquitous on the internet, often coming from young or not-very-bright people. The internetters who use it are also likely to write ‘your an idiot’ and other signs of neural slackness. Tens of thousands of people every day on the internet are advised to “kill urself,” or the like.
5) Dehumanization. The long-time favorite of people trying to harass different ethnic groups. “They’re animals.” “You are slime and you belong in the scum.” “Degenerate filth.” “I don’t consider your kind human.” “You’re nothing but a pig.” “Crawl back under the rock you slithered from.” The word ‘degenerate’ has a particular political niche to imply the sapping of militaristic strength, either through being in a stigmatized minority group or through overly exploratory enjoyment or visceral creativity. This word echoes back and forth between fascistic types and conservative religions as a favored dehumanization motif.
6) ‘Crying’ or its lesser form, ‘getting emotional’ or ‘losing your temper.’ Call it the ‘out of control cliché.’ As I was told by the great UK master-troll Joker, whom I dubbed Samir al-Campaigny (his real name was reputed to be Samir), “waaaa waaaa poor victim Kamil.” The essence of the ‘crying’ cliché is that the troll is in control of him/herself, while the target has lost self-control. Trolling is a power game and to spin the target as weak is the essence of the game. The curse aspect of troll witchcraft is that, if the troll thus makes the target feel weak and daunted, the mischievous assertion has made itself real. Part of the ‘crying’ cliché is to represent all social complaints by minorities as ‘crying.’ If your group has disproportionately few job opportunities and you complain, that’s crying. If your sexual orientation is afflicted by haters and you draw attention to that, that’s crying. The stigmatized person is always out of control, and thus, by nature, is intended to be ruled by the controlling troll. Lulz.
7) The reiteration cliché. Trolls believe that persistence pays off. Their task is to out-obnoxious the target, and part of that process consists in coming back again and again with the same obnoxious assertion. The apex of this technique is what the Nazis called the ‘Big Lie,’ but there are less organized versions that merely hammer stupidly at the same theme. Some trolls will compose a false accusation like “X was involved in catching children to be raped by Edward Heath and thrown off his yacht into the sea” and simply repeat it constantly, no matter how ridiculous it is. If other trolls delight in it, and especially if some gullible non-trolls buy into it, it climbs in the trolling hit parade and may become a widely ‘believed’ piece of false news, even though those who consistently believe in it know full well it’s not a likely story. Since I, in my own account, speak out for ‘virtuous’ pedophiles who don’t break the law or exploit kids, I get many trolls who simply flip off any discussion and come back with ‘you support child rape and child porn’ or ‘you’re trying to normalize pedophilia and eliminate the age of consent.’ No explanation or evidence will dissuade the reiterators from coming back again with exactly the same false accusation. Preposterous historic assertions like ‘Jews want to kill Christian babies and make matzoh with their blood’ exist mainly as reiteration tropes.
8) The boredom cliché. This is a very simple one: the troll will say you’re boring him/her, or will type about yawning or send an image. This is closely related to the next cliché.
9) The isolation cliché. The troll will insist that his/her viewpoint is absolutely the voice of the public and the target’s position is scorned or ignored by everyone. To quote Samir al-Campaigny, “How deluded are you? Wake up. No one will care if someone beat you to death.” Here’s a more political version from Carrie Vogel: “And if you think that my opinion is in the minority, THINK AGAIN. Across the political parties, we all think (this stigmatized group) should be eliminated.” She meant, killed en masse in concentration camps regardless of legal innocence, and for trolling purposes, in her spin-view, every U.S. political party was happy with that idea. Trolls, in general, relentlessly pretend either to be the voice of the public in general, or to be part of an irresistibly upsurging movement. A pose of inevitability is part of the ‘upspun prediction’ witchcraft device, while a troll pose of near-universal acclaim is an upspun characterization curse levied at the target. In reality, the viewpoints initiated by minorities often have a good foothold in public life and may even attain broad acceptance. Many social movements representing themselves as inevitable victors soon taper off and fall away. The isolation cliché bridges over into classic politics with a variant I call the isolation-segregation cliché. This ploy, made famous by Joe McCarthy, says, “if you defend the stigmatized group, you must be one of them.” Suggest that anyone labeled a Communist has civil rights, and that shows you’re a communist. Sympathy for ‘fags,’ in the world many of us grew up in, showed you were a fag. Nowadays, if you support non-offending pedophiles, you can only be a pedophile, as far as trolls are concerned. Even researchers like James Cantor who talk to pedophiles are frequently labeled pedophiles and even child rape advocates by online trolls. The isolation-segregation cliché curses the target with the scenario of an isolation so great that that no one other than a fellow bearer of his or her curse will play with him or her (to put it in schoolyard terms). It also throws the shamanic dart, ‘only a share in your kind of self-gratifying selfish interest can motivate anyone to defend your group.’ The idea that stigmatized group members could care about other people is one of the most taboo notions in trolldom — the target must always be seen as narcissistic. The isolation-segregation ploy differs from regular isolation, however, by threatening all reasonable people of different backgrounds who give the stigmatized group a fair hearing. If they don’t segregate themselves from the stigmatized targets, the trolls quickly lunge to push them down nose-first into the stigma. This curse is thus unusually strongly aimed at creating the false set of circumstances it pseudo-describes. I like to vex isolation-segregation trollers by declining to reveal my own sexual orientation, but assuring them that I don’t take issue if they presumptuously label me ‘a pedo’ for supporting non-offenders. I tell them that I accept the label ‘in solidarity.’
10) The troll version of nuclear warfare, at least in the minds of trolls themselves, is the cuss word cliché. “Sick fuck,” “you fucker,” and, in the U.K., the popular “you cunt” are just the beginning of at least 50 ways of re-ordering the same half-dozen naughty words that are thought to blow gaping holes in the sensitive minds of targets. It’s never occurred to trolls that most of their targets were teenagers, and heard and probably said a lot of this vocabulary. A relatively mild example I collected from the English troll ‘Sandy’ (labrahuggables) goes “Oh dear, does the word shit offend you? Fuck you idiot weirdo motherfucker.” Sandy then moves on, in the same tweet, to the dehumanizing and crying clichés with “Now go cry in the gutter you crawled out of.” Incidentally, the username labrahuggables reveals an interesting feature of trolls — nearly all of them humanize their images with relentless doting on cute animals. They may mix up cuss-laden trolling with rescue dog notices from shelters. We owe J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, a great debt for including the villain Dolores Umbridge, a sinister, backstabbing, evil, sweet-talking female administrator who lived in a house full of cuteness and doilies. Bang on. Trolls hug Labradors and kitties one minute, then tell some celeb to fuck off and kill themselves in the next minute.
11) Schoolyard trolling cliché. This is a grab bag that includes every schoolyard taunt that hasn’t been given a more specific category. An Anonymous member tried to get under my skin with ‘urabitch Kamil, urabitch,’ tweeted multiple times. Think back to all the primary school jeers that ever irked you, and you have a repertoire that’s used with delight by neckbeard trolls in their 20s and equally avidly by bleach-blond dental technician Trump trolls in their 50s. A variation on schoolyard trolling is complete contradiction: for example, the target says “I hate communism” and the troll then comes back with “so you say you love communism.” This troll cliché has a mental age of 3, but it still gets use.
12) Though you might put it under grottycurse, I think that the rape curse requires a separate listing. The target is usually a woman and, once she says something that sounds assertive, she is swarmed by male trolls, and female trolls posing as male trolls, who announce in various ways that they wish that she be raped. In the reverse position, with female trolls assaulting a male, there is often a threat of penis mutilation — but this theoretically entirely visible genital act lacks the witchy-hidden internalized black magic of the rape threat. For horror, there’s just nothing else equivalent to something that gets forced inside your body cavity while pinging on your intimacy nerves. Trolls love horror, so they gravitate to this trope with glee. There are storytelling variations. I collected one man, talking to feminists, who said to feminist A, “I’m inviting you to watch me manhandle feminist B then fuck feminist C in front of you.” The troll was in India and the targets in the US, so this scenario seemed fanciful; nonetheless, feminist C came back with “Are you threatening to rape me?” Males are seldom directly threatened with rape by trolls, but one image that holds a dominant place in the minds of most English-speaking trolls, male and female, is the American stereotype of the massive black ‘Bubba’ who rapes other men in prison. At times, I see so much of him that I think Bubba is actually America’s favorite fictional character. A massive number of Americans — who knows what proportion? — don’t abhor torture by any means — they merely want it done by a proxy, a bad guy, and preferably a colored guy, to maximize the Americo-horror. Someone should do a poll on this. Exactly what Bubba will do to the target is sometimes laid out in lulzful grottycurse detail, complete with the image of the target never again regaining control of his rectal opening. However colorful the male version is, it doesn’t drive people off the internet, but the female rapecurse troll cliché has eliminated many famous and not-so-famous women from online life, a.k.a., the trollosphere.
13) Everyone knows a few ethnic stereotype images, like the hook-nosed, bearded Jew avariciously clutching his fingers. These traditional tropes still have a life in contemporary trolling, especially since the ‘white nationalist’ patch of the American alt-right has hauled the bearded Jewnose back from history’s garbage dump. I have a troll flashcard meme for this one that says “Stereotype phrenology is one of the wilder troll tropes — the person spins ordinary individuals as ineffably weirdly formed.” Inserted is a tweet from someone referring to the famous non-offending pedophile Todd Nickerson, who was featured in some articles in Salon, and saying, “my god, he even looks like a stereotype of a pedo.” In actual fact, any male face other than that of a skinny teen or beautiful 20s twink will meet the troll standard of “looking just like a creepy pedo.” Any face of a middle-aged male is a dead ringer for the mysterious pedo look. Meanwhile, the alt-right is busy sifting through photos of celebrity women and deciding which ones look like secret Jews, so the phrenology troll cliché has diverse adherents. Phrenology itself was the pseudoscience that ascribed character traits to bumps and shapes that were part of the skull — modern phrenology trolls can look at nearly any head and find lurking horrors of disgusting minority influence infesting it.
14) The last two troll tropes are the brainiest of the lot, though each may be used by people who otherwise seem not very bright. A very common cliché is something I call the ‘smartdumb’ troll technique. To receive an intelligent response from a target places trolls at a disadvantage, and as they grope for some shaman’s ‘dart’ of weakness to spin into the target, they decide to call him or her stupid. Anyone using first year university vocabulary will be told he or she is using dictionary dinosaur words that no one can understand. He or she is mocked for being too pompous to see how stupid he or she is being by feigning intelligence. In the example I collected for meme use, the troll Judge, Jury and Hexecutioner 404 (note the elegant fusion of a pretense of complete control with the death curse and the frank admission of witchcraft) had made a dubious assertion, and I responded with “If you abstained from troll techniques, I’d give you the benefit of the doubt. Trolling counterindicates truth.” The hexecutioner saw spin potential in the vocabulary, and said, “Translation: I’m a deviant asshole that thinks I’m smarter than I am in reality.” His troll follower SecularScarlet then chimed in “He’s not the brightest tool in the box, is he?”, getting the reply “No, he isn’t.” Both the one-man jury and the two-person troll claque jury had outnumbered me and judged me stupid. Case closed, in troll spin world. Smartdumb trolling is very close to schoolyard trolling, but it specifically repeats itself much more frequently and recognizably than any single schoolyard theme. I think it deserves to be a cliché of its own.
15) Lastly, there is the official cliché of Troll University, and I’ve given it a suitably edumacated label — ‘entropic assertion’ trolling. Entropy is the process that reduces order to chaos. This cliché is a biggie. The basic idea of entropic assertion trolling is to spin out a pseudo-fact, or a true fact rooted out of context by bias, that can only be rebutted or placed in context by a massive research project on the part of the target. “Jews make up more than half of America’s sexual deviants,” says the troll, and when the target comes back with “That’s totally untrue,” the troll says “Document your statements with primary sources or shut up.” If the target then tries to reverse the challenge, the troll either produces a bigot screed from a hater website to ‘substantiate’ the ploy, or tells the target that the troll made the challenge first and the target must answer it first. My entropic assertion meme says “Send the trollee off to do weeks of spurious investigation with every silly comment.” The collected example was from a tinfoiled individual who tweeted me with “Here’s something to disprove. The Franklin scandal. CIA behind them all, I.E., FINDERS, DUTREAUX (sic). What else. De Muertes cartel? Mas?” Yes, my credibility could only be established if I could link an old (1988–91) and probably highly fictionally embellished American child sex scandal with the concept that the CIA was sponsoring Belgian serial child rapist/killer Marc Dutroux and an alleged human sacrifice conducted in Mexico by members of the Santa Muerte religious cult. You can see I had to fall for the bait to some extent even to write this paragraph. The final word ‘mas?’ is Spanish for ‘more?’ As that word suggests, the extent to which entropic assertion trolls can usurp your time is indeed open-ended. There are many variations. Citing the work of biased historians, such as holocaust-deniers and people who claim black slavery was wholly organized by Sephardic Jews, forces the respondent to come back with counterfacts or else be spun as weak and emotional. Much research is needed — how many of us have a library of detailed books on the fine minutiae of the Holocaust to refer to? All so-called ‘fake news’ is really entropic assertion trolling ballooning up to culture-occupying dimensions. Another entropic assertion trope is the completely fake accusation. I collected a sample where the troll TacoDealer accused the adamantly non-offending pedophile and father/family man enderphile of “teaching a teenage boy how to give fellatio on here.” As my meme says, “Disproof of a total lie may be arduous.” Denial is easy, but try to collect evidence refuting something that’s completely fictitious. The troll is strong, and you are weak.
The ascent of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency shows that trolling, dexterously executed, can attain enormous power. Much of the U.S. media’s attention in recent times has been absorbed by fact-finding about the President’s prodigious slew of entropic assertions, with truth values ranging from awkward to outlandishly ridiculous to weirdly implausible. Trump’s online fan club lulzes voluptuously along with him, eagerly repeating entropic assertions like “Mexicans are rapists,” “Hillary is a criminal” and “Obama bugged my premises.” The actual factuality is irrelevant. This is a group troll moment, and its participants are rolling in sadistic glee as their leader issues one false accusation after another.