Trolling is the stuff of internet myth and legend. Using the internet as a platform, the troll is a person that will go out of their way to try and spark an argument by making deliberately stupid or offensive comments, safe in the knowledge that they are out of harm's reach. And, to be fair, it can be hilarious if done well, spiting the everyday internet user into an all out rage in a very public way for the entertainment of many.
Take David Thorne as an example. Now so well known for his antics, he has written a book about them. His best moments come in the form of long email conversations, where Thorne responds to the correspondences he receives by making ridiculous requests and telling absurd anecdotes, much to the frustration of the recipient. He rose to infamy in late 2008 after posting a long chain of emails, in which he attempts to settle a $233.95 bank debt with a drawing of a spider, commenting: "I do not have any money so am sending you this drawing I did of a spider instead. I value the drawing at $233.95 so trust that this settles the matter." The ensuing hilarity is incredible, as the bank employee desperately attempts to explain that they will not accept drawings as payments.
Ultimately, it's hard to chalk Thorne's persistent antagonising up as more than a bit of fun, and he eventually had to pay the debt, but this is very much the tame end of the spectrum. A Seattle-based graphic designer, Jason Fortuny has caused far more havoc in his time, easily inciting the rage of thousands. He came into the spotlight when he posted a listing to Craigslist posing as a "submissive" female seeking some "rough" attention from a "dominant" male. Fortuny received hundreds of replies from men and an abundance of graphic images, which he then released into the public domain.
Jobs were lost, marriages ruined, and suicide was rumoured. Fortuny went on to be sued for his actions, and in his moments of fame, Fortuny also claimed to have run the blog Megan Had It Coming, in which he attacked a recent young suicide victim named Megan and her family. A step too far? Yes. It's easy to take the amusing antics of Thorne and move things along, using trolling to inflict real pain.
When trolls act as a group, they are capable of reaching new heights, or harrowing depths, depending on how you view it. Popular forums such as 4chan and Something Awful are home to large communities who will organise and coordinate attacks against anything they feel disinclined to online. The most famous group is Anonymous, who have been responsible for making #gorillapenis a trending topic on twitter, and uploading vast quantities of porn to YouTube under false titles, just to name a couple of exploits.
Adam Goldstein attempted to fight back against Anonymous and others after he was accused of bad customer service following an eBay transaction. Complaints landed on forums, and amazingly Goldstein angrily replied, much to the delight of those taunting him, threatening legal action and violence. The shitstorm rumbled on, and the forums deemed Goldstein's prices and practices unfair: soon his social networking sites were hacked and defaced, his websites went down, personal information was stolen, and his home was bombarded with everything from large pizza deliveries to sex toys.
Trolling is inevitable, and is here to stay while it is so hard to punish those responsible. But it's also quite entertaining at times, even if the humour is dark and childish. It has become an accepted part of internet culture. The average user forgets too easily how many people they could be interacting with when they post online; it's not a safe place, so don't treat it as such. As a rule, browse with a cool head and be aware that some users might be out for a laugh, an argument, or worse: if you don't want pizza deliveries, sex toys, and junk mail, don't feed the trolls.