Are we throwing round the term ‘troll’ too liberally?
2 experts and 1 parent have answered
Webster’s defines ‘troll’ as a ‘supernatural being, often represented as of diminutive size, but sometimes as a giant, and fabled to inhabit caves, hills, and like places’. Meanwhile 'trolling' is actually a fishing term (and when you think about 'reeling them in', it makes a lot of sense). Well, we clearly need to be prepared for language to evolve in a digital world.
However, in mere months the term ‘troll’ seems to have gone from being used to describe individuals who post deliberately provocative or idiotic messages on bulletin boards and discussion groups, to the blanket phrase de jour of the mainstream media to describe anyone who abuses someone else online.
Could it be that grouping vast swathes of online abuse under one easy catch-all term is detrimental to the effort to encourage people to ‘connect with respect’, the tagline for 2013’s Safer Internet Day?
The individuals who this week sent online threats of rape to Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy MP aren’t ‘trolls’, they’re misogynistic sociopaths. They’re also potentially committing a criminal act. Legitimising their behaviour by labelling them with what they see as a badge of honour is counterproductive.
Conversely, we’ve seen influential celebrities and politicians retweet critics and label them as trolls, when often these tweets are what I would term no more than ‘disagreeable disagreement’. It has become all too easy to dismiss legitimate criticism as ‘trolling’, which reminds me of a great definition from Twitter user @ropestoinfinity: 'The less famous of two people in a twitter argument'.
Like the recent debate that has confused child abuse images and legal pornography, the popular take-up of the term ‘troll’ is blurring the lines between genuine criminal threats, and the sometimes potty-mouthed opinions that anyone can find offensive if they try hard enough. Although the technology we use to communicate is based on binary systems, humans aren’t.
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I totally agree! From my experience those who write the more unprofessional and biased sites with a band of trusty devotees prepared to spring in to encourage their often unsubstantiated claims, are inclined to be the most likely to receive adverse or downright stupid remarks. They appear to mention these ‘trolls’ as a way of justifying their comments, when in reality, most of these people are expressing a different or slightly bizarre point of view. The internet is not the place to be if these comments disturb you. We live in a free society where people are entitled to write what they want, when they want. I do not advocate the awful, abusive and downright scary comments I have read about, but by and large I think the term “trolling” is over rated and over used!
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Just because, in common usage, it's an extremely broad term, doesn't mean it doesn't serve a purpose. The way you describe it as not highlighting especially egregious behavior is correct, but is correct in the same way that the term "negative behavior" doesn't do justice to the act of murder.
I don't mean to split hairs, but it was bound to happen that a term evolved to be generally descriptive of negative internet behavior.