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NYT Explores the World of Internet Trolls 423

prostoalex writes "New York Times magazine explores the history and status quo of Internet trolling. They look at the early days of Usenet trolling, current anonymous forums, and social networking pages as the latest venues for trolls: 'In the late 1980s, Internet users adopted the word troll to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities. Early trolling was relatively innocuous, taking place inside of small, single-topic Usenet groups. The trolls employed what the M.I.T. professor Judith Donath calls a pseudo-naïve tactic, asking stupid questions and seeing who would rise to the bait. The game was to find out who would see through this stereotypical newbie behavior, and who would fall for it. As one guide to trolldom puts it, If you don't fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.'"
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NYT Explores the World of Internet Trolls

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  • First troll (Score:5, Funny)

    by deft ( 253558 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:20PM (#24426807) Homepage

    Im not going to do it... as I know the clever thing for this thread will be to post something off topic, incidiary, and generally annoying to the typical slashdot crowd.

    OK, thats enough of that, sitting here typing on my superior-to-linux windows box (thanks microsoft!)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:22PM (#24427861)

      Hah, but my single-boot, WGA-empowered, fully patented Vista box with its DRM goodness, playing RIAA-approved music and MPAA-approved movies using RealPlayer, accessing the Internet from within the Chinese Great FireWall with ActiveX-enabled Internet Explorer, and working on OOXML-formated Office documents, is superior than your box.

    • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Friday August 01, 2008 @04:18AM (#24429631)

      I don't want to start a holy war here, but what is the deal with you superior-to-linux windows box fanatics? I've been sitting here at my freelance gig in front of a superior-to-linux windows box (a Dell Inspiron w/an NVidia G84 graphics chip) for about 20 minutes now while it attempts to copy a 17 Meg file from one folder on the hard drive to another folder. 20 minutes. At home, on my Pentium Pro 200 running Slackware 3.6, which by all standards should be a lot slower than this superior-to-linux windows box, the same operation would take about 2 minutes. If that.

      In addition, during this file transfer, Virtual Beer Pong will not work. And everything else has ground to a halt. Even my Google face-swapping software is straining to keep up as I type this.

      I won't bore you with the laundry list of other problems that I've encountered while working on various superior-to-linux windows boxs, but suffice it to say there have been many, not the least of which is I've never seen a superior-to-linux windows box that has run faster than its Linux counterpart, despite the superior-to-linux windows boxs' superior NVIDIA graphics chips. My 486/66 with 8 megs of ram runs faster than this 300 mhz superior-to-linux windows machine at times. From a productivity standpoint, I don't get how people can claim that the superior-to-linux windows box is a superior machine.

      Superior-to-linux windows box addicts, flame me if you'd like, but I'd rather hear some intelligent reasons why anyone would choose to use a superior-to-linux windows box over other faster, cheaper, more stable systems.

  • by rlp ( 11898 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:21PM (#24426811)

    Wow, you mean they're still publishing that?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Haoie ( 1277294 )

      You must be thinking of the New York Post.

      Or perhaps its affiliate, the Hot Sex Weekly.

    • by abscissa ( 136568 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:37PM (#24426967)

      HEY BUDDY I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOUR PROBLEM IS maybe you are STUPID but the NEW YORK TIMES is a good newspaper you should LEARN TO READ instead of being a fat nerd clearly you thought it would be FUNNY to make a joke like that i really hate people like you. right now my daughter who just learned to read is CRYING because of what you posted

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        HEY BUDDY I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOUR PROBLEM IS maybe you are STUPID but the NEW YORK TIMES is a good newspaper you should LEARN TO READ instead of being a fat nerd clearly you thought it would be FUNNY to make a joke like that i really hate people like you. right now my daughter who just learned to read is CRYING because of what you postedL

        Soooo, you're an NYT subscriber then?
      • Score:3, Informative. ha ha ha
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by catmistake ( 814204 )

      Can you believe it? Its still the best fishwrap in the world.

    • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Friday August 01, 2008 @04:11AM (#24429593)

      Netcraft confirms: NYT is dying
      Yet another crippling bombshell hit the beleaguered NYT community when recently IDC confirmed that NYT accounts for less than a fraction of 1 percent of all newspapers. Coming on the heels of the latest Netcraft survey which plainly states that NYT has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. NYT is collapsing in complete disarray, as further exemplified by failing dead last in the recent journalist comprehensive reporting test.

      You don't need to be a Kreskin to predict NYT's future. The hand writing is on the wall: NYT faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for NYT because NYT is dying. Things are looking very bad for NYT. As many of us are already aware, NYT continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood. is the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of its core developers.

      Let's keep to the facts and look at the numbers.

      NYT leader Sulzberger states that there are 7000 readers of How many readers of the Boston Globe are there? Let's see. The number of NY Times versus Boston Globe posts on Usenet (which is also dying, BTW) is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 7000/5 = 1400 Boston Globe readers. Tuscaloosa Times posts on Usenet are about half of the volume of Boston Globe posts. Therefore there are about 700 readers of the Tuscaloosa Times. A recent article put the Sarasota Herald-Tribune at about 80 percent of the NYT market. Therefore there are (7000+1400+700)*4 = 36400 Sarasota Herald-Tribune readers. This is consistent with the number of Sarasota Herald-Tribune Usenet posts.

      Due to the troubles of West 1st Street, abysmal sales and that douchebag Sam Zell, the Los Angeles Times went out of business and was taken over by the Chicago Tribune who sell another troubled newspaper. Now the Tribune is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

      All major surveys show that the NYT has steadily declined in market share. The NYT is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If the NYT is to survive at all it will be among news hobbyist dabblers. The NYT continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, the NYT is dead.

      Fact: NYT is dead

  • by ya really ( 1257084 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:29PM (#24426891)

    For free access to this article, you must be a registered member of the

    Perhaps you were just conducting an experiment to see who really RTFA, right?

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Nah, asking for registration is just the commercial version of trolling.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

        Tagged troll in a discussion about trolling... what do I win?

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        Whoever marked your comment as a troll sadly has no clue about the etymology of the word. Trolling is derived from a fishing technique, where the fish are caught with bait and hook on a line. That's certainly what the NY Times is doing (bain = article, hook = registration, fish = Yu0).
    • ? I just read the whole thing and I'm no member
  • Troll Contest (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) * on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:30PM (#24426897)

    I have already posted once in this thread, and I predict a few troll mod's on it :)

    Is there any /. that can refrain from deliberately going after a troll mod in a troll themed post? I doubt it.

    In any case trolling is a behavior that predates the Internet by a couple thousand years. I am sure there was more than one ancient drinking hole with an asshole in it that JUST had to say something to get people going. I can see a lot of viking brawls started by comments about who raped the ugly chick.

    Of course trolling in the past was a far more dangerous sport. These days you get to do it in your mother's basement with little fear of real reprisal.. which kind of takes the fun out of it a little bit.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      That's why the best trolls are the informative ones, such as the 2-page whoppers which have been showing up lately. Browsing at -1 FTW.
    • Trolling USENET was an art on to itself. The alt.config.X wars were quite stellar.

      This is how I did it you cracklin' ass whippersnappers. []

      • by MikeURL ( 890801 )
        Trolling Usenet, as i remember it, was always about trying to hook the people who were taking the forum seriously. /b/ is more like trolls trolling trolls and then spilling out to other trolling activities when they get bored of that.

        And they are showing up everywhere. The fact that the WSJ, Newsweek and now the NYT have featured 4chan is testament to the fact that it is getting big and unwieldy.
      • by oliderid ( 710055 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @03:39AM (#24429445) Journal

        Well from what I remember crossposting was usually used to create conflicts between opposite groups.

        It usually started like "serbs will kick your arse next time" on soc.culture.croatia or "Europeons are sissies and we americans are tired to defend your pathetic... whatever" on soc.culture.europe

        And of course croats, europeans would react. Those messages will appear on soc.culture.serbia or soc.culture.america.

        And then a thread of pompeous messages will appear and soon or later the word "Nazi", "WW II" will appear en masse.

        It was so predictable, boring, "common USENET trolling" was far from being an art to me. The only interesting I've learnt from this is how world war II is present in most people mind all over the world.

        Most flamewars were utterly boring too, the ones I remember are FYROM and Macedonia (thx to Greek nationalists who managed to post their insults wherever they could) or Cyprus (between turks and greeks), tamil tigers, pfff and countless of topics. Most of the time their discussion were mostly copying & pasting articles (they usually kept posting the same for months) from the web and then signing them with "greeks are fags" and then somebody would reply "you turks are gay" with another copy/paste article...So interesting really

        I was an active user of a group:
        talk.politics.european-union or something and that's why I left USENET around 2002. I usually appreciated exchanging arguments with British eursceptics on that group (in a civil manner) but those trolls and nationalists were really an infection.

    • Yeah,if someone wants to see REAL trolling,just go into any bar where the band plays behind chicken wire on a Saturday night. Them's some tough trolls there,pal. Of course when it came time for me and the rest of the band to call it a night that crunching sound under our feet,which was a mixture of broken glass and broken teeth,was a little disconcerting. But you have to give them credit,those trolls are truly dedicated to the sport.
    • Re:Troll Contest (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <> on Friday August 01, 2008 @01:52AM (#24428931) Homepage Journal

      Case in point: Socrates. He went around asking people serious and uncomfortable questions. For moderation he was made to drink hemlock. In meta-moderation, pretty much everyone now agrees that moderation was unfair.

      • Re:Troll Contest (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SoupIsGoodFood_42 ( 521389 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @08:43AM (#24431413)

        Only an idiot would compare the "art" of trolling to Socrates. Asking serious and uncomfortable questions is not the same as trolling. Socrates intended to provoke discussion to learn and educate. Trolls intend to simply get a reaction, attention, not to educate -- or if they do, they're doing it in a way that is unconstructive.

    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @03:09AM (#24429299) Journal

      Well, if you want to think about history, Socrates was essentially executed for trolling. He kept saying things that challenged the status quo and accepted behaviours, and made his countrymen uneasy. So they executed him.

      Later we had people like, say, Galileo. What nowadays is turned into Science-vs-Religion, was actually largely an issue of flaming a totalitarian monarch. The pope was originally Galileo's friend, and encouraged him to write his book. He just asked that he writes about both his system and the new one, and shows what the old one doesn't explain and his does. Pretty much in line with today's scientific method and what we now call Occam's Razor. But Galileo was the stereotypical self-important socially-inept nerd and obviously didn't deal well with the pope's not immediately seeing that he's right and everyone else is wrong. The book took the pope's words, distorted them and put them in the mouth of a character called Simplicius (basically: The Stupid). And that character lives up to his name, by being unable to use even elementary logic right, and getting tripped by his own fallacies. It also incidentally painted the pope as the uber-defender of a model, where he actually was very neutral at the time. (What we today call a strawman.)

      In other words: Galileo flamed the pope in public.

      What followed was not as much science vs religion, as just abuse of power. The pope didn't took lightly to the thorough flaming, and actually did make the heliocentric model official church position just so he can prosecute Galileo.

      I propose to have Galileo sanctified as patron saint of socially inept nerds and flame warriors ;)

      But it does kinda illustrate another point I'm trying to make: one man's flaming or trolling, is another man's valuable (if mis-guided) contribution.

      Galileo was actually right about his heliocentric model and about the moons of planets, even if his way of presenting it was flawed and annoying.

      Socrates, if we're to believe his disciple and biographer, actually did have a point about his contemporary culture. But those who mindlessly adhered to it, felt trolled by someone questioning what they do. (And funnily enough, pulled one of the first "think of the children!" maneuvers in the process. One of the main accusations against Socrates was that he poisoned the minds of the young with his teaching them to question the status quo.)

      And you can see the phenomenon in modern times too. You can see people flying off the hook and going into "OMG, I'm being flamed/cyber-bullied/whatever" mode, if you as little as point out a bug in their software or web site. Or since NYT mentions asking newbie questions as a troll tactic, I'll ask the reverse: how many genuine newbies got flamed for asking a newbie question?

      Or you can see the phenomenon on Slashdot too. There's plenty of using -1 Troll or -1 Flamebait or -1 Overrated as, basically, "I don't like that idea and want to censor it." Or occasionally, as some comically impotent revenge for not agreeing with someone in a whole other thread. I've even seen quotes from physics textbooks modded as one of the three.

      Just something to think about.

  • by ya really ( 1257084 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:33PM (#24426933)
    Slashdot Links []. Without saying, "You must be new here," is anyone suprised?
  • Stay back! (Score:5, Funny)

    by TrashGod ( 752833 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:42PM (#24427007) Journal
    It's a troll honeypot!
  • by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:48PM (#24427055) Journal
    I always figure the phenomenon of trolls was related to the same root source as Road Rage, the dehumanizing effect of anonymity. It is twofold: first it is easy to dehumanize the person you are hating-on because they are obscured in a metal box, second it is easy to let go of your social common sense because you are obscured by your metal box. I've seen people who go ballistic with road rage being very quiet and polite in the subway when they are face to face with their fellow commuters. I some how doubt that the trolls that spout racist slurs here on Slashdot would willingly do the same in Times Square.

    • the dehumanizing effect of anonymity.

      Naw, it's got nothing to do with anonymity. It's all about fist distance. People are more polite when they're within fist range.

      The real question is more why troll in the first place? I'm not sure there's a single answer to that question.

      • by MikeURL ( 890801 )
        Freud actually explained it in excruciating detail. Trolling is nothing more than the death instinct set free from the normal bounds of the reality principle.

        What would be weird is if people DIDN'T troll. Then we'd need some new theories about human behavior.
    • I some how doubt that the trolls that spout racist slurs here on Slashdot would willingly do the same in Times Square.

      Trolling isn't the same as flaming or posting flamebait. I guess you could consider flamebait a type of troll, but I've always thought of them as distinct things (and notice we have mods for both here).

      Flaimbait, to me, is when people spout racist slurs or are overly rude. They may only be trying to provoke a response (in which case, you could argue it's also a troll), or they may be poorly socialized individuals who, protected by anonymity, are simply out of line.

      Trolling, on the other hand, is more of

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      My experience as a troll tells me it's because most of mankind frankly is -very- stupid, and easily strung along and made to believe incredibly stupid things, or gets angry about things that aren't worth sweating over.

      Road rage is often done out of anger, anyway. Trolling is done for laughs. Trolling is more akin to pranking people than trying to get back at them.

    • by jmv ( 93421 )

      To continue on what you're saying, I think it would be interesting to measure whether there's a correlation between road rage and the size of the metal box.

  • "Weev" (Score:5, Funny)

    by philspear ( 1142299 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @09:51PM (#24427091)

    You know, "Weev" on the front page of TFA is EXACTLY what I picture when I think of trolls or that "frosty piss" guy.

    • I just heard some sad news on talk radio - troll legend Weev was found dead in his Minnesota home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the 4chan community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to LiveJournal. Truly an American icon.

  • respectable term. First hacker, now troll. A real troll is a work of art - designed to drive some unsuspecting fool to post a correction to some obviously wrong information, without stopping to think if the poster is serious. AFU was perhaps the premier site for trolling USENET; ROM was like shooting fish in a barrel since mensanites can't refrain from showing off their superior knowledge.

    Paging Ted Frank...

    • by SoupIsGoodFood_42 ( 521389 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:10AM (#24428265)

      A real troll is a work of art

      A real troll is an adolescent mind who wants to feel superior by having emotional control over a group of people, probably because they can't get it in meatspace.

      There, fixed that for you.

    • 99% of 'real troll' is copy and paste and catching whoever wasn't paying attention last time. The last 1% is an artform. And hey, if you don't like the NYT calling anyone being a massive asshole on the internet a troll, get the rest of the internet from doing that first. It doesn't have to be incorrect information. It can just be a post made to enrage.

      Like going on a holocaust survivors forum and posting 'I've been to Treblinka. Doesn't seem too hard.'
  • Jets sucks, Knicks sucks, Yankees sucks, Krypton sucks.

  • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @10:49PM (#24427595) Homepage

    Is there any option in the slashcode that would allow taco to give trolls a +1 bonus for this article only?

    Seems fitting.....

  • I just RTFA, and these guys are not internet trolls, they are just utter idiots.
  • A good troll is like a powerful car, he takes off so quickly that you can't really keep up and you might not have known he was there. A bad troll is like a rice burner, you laugh at him trying to be like a fast car and it's retarded-looking.

    Oh yeah, and Microsoft is awesome, Linux will die in 2009, Bush was the best president ever, and Internet memes are cool.

  • by Deslock ( 86955 ) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @11:11PM (#24427779)

    The game was to find out who would see through this stereotypical newbie behavior, and who would fall for it. As one guide to trolldom puts it, âoeIf you donâ(TM)t fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.â

    The problem is much worse these days compared to USENET 20 years ago. Before the web made internet forums mainstream, there weren't as many idiots online and it was easier to spot trolls... nowadays when I see some astonishingly stupid comment, more-often-than-not it's genuine.

    And of course the transition from USENET to web-based forums has also had the unfortunate effect of information being redundant and/or more difficult to find. Between that and the sheer volume of trolling/idiotic posts, the usefulness of most online forums has diminished.

    Even /. suffers from this to a certain extent, but for the most part its moderation system makes comments a little easier to sift through. Sure sometimes mod points are misused in ideological arguments, but it's still more effective than nothing (and much better than the useless voting system at sites like engadget).

    So my question is this: How come other forums don't use a moderation system like /.?

    • How come other forums don't use a moderation system like /.?

      Well, not everyone can be as enlightened and 133t as we Slashdotters are after all...

    • sometimes mod points are misused in ideological arguments

      SOMETIMES? I'm afraid I must disagree with that. I think, depending on the argument it is *guaranteed* to happen.

      I think the best solution would be to create a kind of "web" (or insert your favorite buzzword) of interconnected people. When an article pops up, you only see the responses of your friends, or your friends and highly rated comments (unless you make them your foe), or your friends and a random listing of new posters. It would all be your choice. If you're a new user, you get random posts,

    • Most forums today offer some sort of moderation. Plus, I think there's been enough cases of people getting prosecuted in the real world to make everyone a little more toned down. Back in the old days things were a lot more careless. People would regularly make death threats or worse. Later on we also had things like WinNuke when the AOL kiddies started flooding on. Nowadays if you make a threat even in jest you are likely to have the FBI or someone knocking at your door, if you aren't sued. I mean, they're listening to everything so you can pretty safely assume that.

      I really think the internet has become much more civil, if anything, since the hundreds of millions of people have started using it. I mean, really. Sure there's the 3-4000 connections to my computer each night by portscanning zombies; there's always a few people making inappropriate comments on slashdot. Hold on, I'm going to go browse at 0 to see how... ...OH MY FUCKING GOD! I was right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo, and somebody was giving booze to these goddamn things! Won't be long now before they tear us to shreds. DISREGARD THIS POST, AND BUY CONDOMS! FOR YOUR ENTIRE BODY! WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!?!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    and he set things up so that even when he died of lung cancer, people still thought that he faked his death and would come back 20 or 30 years later.

    It was a great troll Andy, but you can only pull it off once. Getting your friends to play Tony Clifton after you died, was a good troll as well as all of those fake Andy Kaufman sightings and fake Andy Kaufman online profiles set up by your friends.

    Getting someone like Jim Carrey to play you in the movie was genius as he is a great troll as well. They even pla

  • less tolerance. Previously it cost money to read all opinions. Now the mainstream opinions are free. Does that support conformance?

  • One of the strangest trolls on USENET is happenning right now on []. The thing is that instead of ONE individual trolling the froup, about 50 individuals are trolling ONE PERSON, a spammer named Jamie Baillie [] with extremely poor social skills who is quite abusive and is a legend when it comes to complain to ISPs [].

    The situation has been fluctuating for more than 5 years on [], and currently, the Jamie Baillie activity [] is at a historic peak.

  • by spiralx ( 97066 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @09:17AM (#24431969)

    It amazes me that so many allegedly "educated" people have fallen so quickly and so hard for a fraudulent fabrication of such laughable proportions. The very idea that a gigantic ball of rock happens to orbit our planet, showing itself in neat, four-week cycles -- with the same side facing us all the time -- is ludicrous. Furthermore, it is an insult to common sense and a damnable affront to intellectual honesty and integrity. That people actually believe it is evidence that the liberals have wrested the last vestiges of control of our public school system from decent, God-fearing Americans (as if any further evidence was needed! Daddy's Roommate? God Almighty!)

    Documentaries such as Enemy of the State have accurately portrayed the elaborate, byzantine network of surveillance satellites that the liberals have sent into space to spy on law-abiding Americans. Equipped with technology developed by Handgun Control, Inc., these satellites have the ability to detect firearms from hundreds of kilometers up. That's right, neighbors .. the next time you're out in the backyard exercising your Second Amendment rights, the liberals will see it! These satellites are sensitive enough to tell the difference between a Colt .45 and a .38 Special! And when they detect you with a firearm, their computers cross-reference the address to figure out your name, and then an enormous database housed at Berkeley is updated with information about you.

    Of course, this all works fine during the day, but what about at night? Even the liberals can't control the rotation of the Earth to prevent nightfall from setting in (only Joshua was able to ask for that particular favor!) That's where the "moon" comes in. Powered by nuclear reactors, the "moon" is nothing more than an enormous balloon, emitting trillions of candlepower of gun-revealing light. Piloted by key members of the liberal community, the "moon" is strategically moved across the country, pointing out those who dare to make use of their God-given rights at night!

    Yes, I know this probably sounds paranoid and preposterous, but consider this. Despite what the revisionist historians tell you, there is no mention of the "moon" anywhere in literature or historical documents -- anywhere -- before 1950. That is when it was initially launched. When President Josef Kennedy, at the State of the Union address, proclaimed "We choose to go to the moon", he may as well have said "We choose to go to the weather balloon." The subsequent faking of a "moon" landing on national TV was the first step in a long history of the erosion of our constitutional rights by leftists in this country. No longer can we hide from our government when the sun goes down.

Due to lack of disk space, this fortune database has been discontinued.