The modern day troll is the monster lurking in every social network on the Internet. It is said that the users operating the accounts post enraging content only to annoy and anger others. Most web communities abhor the posts of trolls, but not all trolls are innately evil. Sometimes their comments can bring a new perspective and be a crucial part of online discussion, despite how inflammatory they may seem.
Take for example Logan James’ twitter handle @YesYoureRacist dedicated to pointing out the racism apparent on Twitter. All James does is search for key words such as “I’m not racist, but...” to find throngs of offensive comments. He then reposts verbatim what the user says for comment from the masses. And more times than not, a discussion begins.
As James points out in an article on the British website The Independent, “The most disturbing thing about @YesYoureRacist isn’t the racism itself. It’s that the people I retweet — the vast majority of which appear to be teenagers — genuinely don’t understand whether they’re being racist.”
Without James putting the public spotlight on their comments, nothing would’ve changed in the minds of the people saying them. It at least makes us more conscious of the racism in everyday online and face-to-face communication. James points out the uncomfortable truth that we have more growth to do as a society through trolling the Internet.
Possibly the most famous troll may be Michael Brutsch, known as Violentacrez on the online community Reddit. Under the guise of his username, Brutsch posted some of the most disturbing content found in online forums. These forums were categorized by Reddit as pornographic and featured “jailbait” and “incest” themes, but he did not oversee more than just these communities. In all, Brutsch controlled more than 400 subreddits according to the Gawker article revealing him as Violentacrez.
His posts garnered outrage from many Reddit users, who would then repost his content. This eventually lead to his comments becoming highly discussed and visited. In most cases, users would call for censorship, but in the end the majority would push to leave them up. The conversation would shift from disgust to the importance of freedom of speech.
In an article written before he was identified as Violentacrez, Brutsch said in and interview with The Daily Dot, “What was surprising was the community support for it. Most posts that complain about these things never do very well, and are quickly buried or deleted ...I think it’s interesting how many people defend my right to act the way I do, while decrying my posts themselves.”
While many of the posts made by Violentacrez defy what many would define as appropriate, they forced an online community to evaluate their freedom of speech in a way the Founding Fathers couldn’t have predicted.
This isn’t the first time modern society swallowed its pride to protect freedom of speech. Each new case asks us to think long and hard about what it would mean to censor a message whether we agree with it or not.
In folklore, trolls live under a bridge and force travelers to solve a riddle to move on, and the Internet trolls of today followed suit. Today’s trolls can bring social networks to attention, focusing the collective on a topic for heated discussion. Like them or not, many trolls allow us to see the subtle offensive remarks that are made everyday on social media.