When I was in my early teens (admittedly not that long ago), so-called "internet trolls" were fairly common. They'd sit around in forums and threads making inflammatory comments to provoke a response from other users. It was a form of entertainment. Recently though, the definition of being an internet troll has changed. It now has much more negative connotations - all down to the mass media picking up on the label. What was once a term for harmless fun now covers a full variety of things, perhaps most obviously those who use the internet to torment and essentially bully others.
Now normally I'm not opposed to language change. I am an English student after all. But this is one change I cannot stomach. To me, the new definition of "trolling" is not trolling at all. It is cyber-bullying and causes unnecessary grief (as was the case with the Rest in Peace Billy Robson Facebook page). The two are entirely different; for this reason, I'd like to see the general public recognise that bullying and trolling are not one and the same.
Trolling is in fact an art form, and a favourite past time of those who frequent internet forums such as myself. It takes a certain amount of skill to create a troll post (skills I unfortunately haven't picked up). It must provoke some kind of response. It must be subtle enough that it isn't an obvious troll, but not so much that it is unrecognisable as a troll by the wiser members of the internet community. It must have an element of comedy within it. It must waste people's time. And most of all, it must not be malicious.
This may seem like a fairly non-issue, and perhaps it is. It probably is just me being a pedant. But every time I see "trolling" being used to refer to cyber-bullying, I get a little bit frustrated. Trolling is a bit of harmless fun. Bullying is not. A poster may say things they know to be wrong to get a response, to enjoy seeing people take what they have written seriously. It is quite common in many forums. The topics discussed may be emotive, it may get people angry, it may be a little controversial - but it has not been designed with malicious intent.
Trolling is an art form: a delicate balance between semi-serious posts and comical outcomes. Whether you like it or not, trolling is a major part of the internet community and has been for years. To lose trolling due to the mass media putting bullies and trolls under the same umbrella would be losing one of the many things that make the internet great. Some trolls are good, others terrible, some are obvious, others subtle - but at the end of the day isn't art the same?
Love or hate trolls though, you have to admit that it isn't bullying. It isn't to insult. It isn't to cause grief. I think it'd be a shame to lose the art-form of trolling purely due to people confusing the terms.
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