Friday, December 3, 2010

Flame Wars: The Troll

Punjabis are generally understood to be a hot-headed people; they are as quick to laugh as they are to anger. Perhaps it is something genetic, more likely it is something cultural. What ever it may be, it is usually trouble.

I am no particular exception from this rule of thumb and having grown up in an online gaming environment--more often frequented by horny teenage boys than any other demographic--I have sharpened my verbal abuse with angry retorts directed at my offender's mother and his inability to function well in game or society. These digital insults harken back to the principles in Sun Szu's The Art of War. Today they are in common practice and used to incite anger in the other player, usually to the effect of disrupting his activity and ability to focus. "Your mom [insert sexually offensive action and object]," coming from a member of the softer sex usually throws any male off balance, as does any slight against his sexual ability or comprehension of a relevant issue. All respond at first with surprise, then some with humor and others with anger.  After all, gaming is a male-dominated field and the testosterone levels lend heavily to a 'Macho Man' mentality and a need to defend it by immediate confrontation.

So, the knob whose dignity has been mortally wounded (or maybe just for the hell of it) usually starts something called a 'flame war.' A series of angry, irrational textual defecations that serve no other purpose than to piss everyone off. Flame wars are by no means limited to the gaming world. They are found on any website with an unmonitored comments section, anywhere from video hosts to reputable news sources. The irate poster is also known as a troll.

The internet's sumptuous veil of anonymity has allowed many to freely insult the denizens of the interwebs for years and has usually provided a handy shield against personal attacks. Features such as "BLOCK" and "PRIVATE" are very effective in cutting off user tantrums mid-insult to comical effect. But when the same arguments move to more personal social media networks like Facebook and Twitter we begin to have a more serious problem. The user who was a combination of random words and numbers suddenly has a name and a picture; the user has become a distinct, easily recognizable individual. The safety of anonymity is gone and the troll has an unnerving way to focus on you as a person, curse you by name and association. The emotionally satisfying outbursts suddenly have social and personal ramifications that can be truly frightening. Especially when there is a threat of a physical encounter, this is when a troll has become a stalker.

I am all for hurling abuse online, it's how we get to say whatever we want, but do so with caution. Your name is a valuable asset... Anonymous' not so much! ;)

As a fellow twitterer said... Be Warned: Do Not Feed The Trolls!

For real: As always, be wary about giving away personal information online, like full name, phone numbers and addresses. If you do happen to have an online stalker who is threatening you with bodily harm please notify the police! Stay aware and be proactive!