Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cruel As The Grave

Here is a public health warning: beware, beware a thousand times of righteous anger. It is righteous anger, not jealousy, that is as cruel as the grave. Righteous anger crawls out from the sewer when someone permits themselves to say "I'm not angry for myself. I'm angry for this other group (whether or not I have consulted them about being their spokesperson). To reinforce my case I will use their name (and with any luck, I will start a witch-hunt)." Thus fortified, the individual then engages in words and in actions which s/he would be bitterly ashamed of - one devoutly hopes - if they were on his/her own behalf, but feels that the displacement onto another entity somehow sanitizes them. If you doubt that, consider the Animal Libbers, or the people who lynch under the belief that someone is a paedophile.

The blogsphere is mercifully free of the worst trolling, mostly because we can all moderate our own blogs, unlike the hapless administrators of forums and messageboards who have to balance cries about censorship against outright abuse.

So, in case there are any bloggers about who fancy a spot of troll tiuition, I here present my very own Guide To Trolling, ©me.

Suppose some unsuspecting party posts an innoccuous coment or story, to which the apprentice troll bleeds to reply. Point one is: don't answer what s/he said. Twist or distort what they said and repeat that. For example, I remember a long-running row on ouch! because one person reported that they had a problem with an over-attentive shop worker. This chap would not be told that our poster didn't want his assistance; he followed the poster around, meddling in what the poster was trying to look at or pick up, and generally making a thorough nuisance of himself. Rather than be rude, our poster said, he had tried repeatedly to explain politely, but in vain, and would have to stop dealing with that store.

The immediate reply he got from the resident troll was, How nasty of you to rudely throw offers of help back in the poor man's teeth! Next thing, the troll said, you will be whining because no-one helps you.

Second point arising from the above: always use offensive language. Attribute to your victim "whining" or "moaning" or "whingeing" or some such: never a neutral term such as "say."

Third point, by now you have hopefully got your victim bewildered and on the defensive, despite the fact that it is you who are being rude and you who have invented the attributed remarks. But be careful: your victim, or a bystander, may sneakily attempt to spoil your fun by re-stating the original, innoccuous, remark, in such simple terms that nobody reading could be confused. Don't be discouraged: shift your ground. In your reply, attack your victim for something else. In the real-life example quoted above, the argument then meandered off into the claim that the victim was moaning because nobody ever offered him help. Soon everyone reading the thread was totally confused as to what the original poster had really said.

Fourth point, recruit allies. The BBC board above at the time was playing host to (notionally) three trolls, though they were all so stylistically similar that I wondered myself if they were all one person posting under different usernames. But that way, you can back yourself up and agree with yourself as much as you like, and the you can use your aliases to repeat and consolidate your mis-statements.

Above all, fifth point, it is important to destroy the credibility of your victim. You can make whatever outrageous statements you like, but be sure to trumpet loudly that your victim doesn't know what s/he is talking about. Then you are in a win-win situation. If they ignore this, your calumny goes unchallenged. If they reply by stating their qualifications for holding their opinions, yoicks! tallyho! there's a whole new route to attack open to you on the "you think you're so holy/so clever/so noble" line. You've put them in the wrong again, haven't you?

It is amazing how well this tried-and-tested technique works in derailing any discussion. The only thing the victim can do is refuse to play, or respond at all, in which case you've effectively gagged them, but then, what other function does a troll have?