Evan Osnos writes about the year of the political troll in a recent issue of New Yorker. He postulates that the trolls have finally come out of the keyboard closet:
The ur-troll himself, one Donald Trump, now trolls openly on the Republican platform. But the Democrats aren't blameless, either, given the recent events in Nevada where Roberta Lange, the Chairwoman of Nevada's Democratic Party, received many trolling phone calls and texts (including indirect death threats) from some enraged supporters of Senator Sanders.
Anna Merlan, writing for Jezebel, contacted three of those enraged Sanders supporters who had texted Ms. Lange. I find these quotes by the trolls in her piece fascinating:
Atlanta Man declined to give his name when I reached him. He sounded weary and embarrassed. He said he’d been getting phone calls all day.Atlanta Man called Ms. Lange a corrupt bitch and noted that someone will hurt her. To clarify what somebody might have taken as a threat. Mmm.
“Most of them are just hangups,” he said. “I’ve gotten threats on Twitter, too. But I don’t make a big deal out of that stuff. All I can say is that I’ve apologized to her and I’m sorry. I said one thing I guess that somebody took as a threat.”
Then there is Ethan, who saw menacing threats as a good way to represent the anger of the people and who also seems to think that Internet threats are exactly like a computer game:
“We know where you live, where you work, where you eat,” another text to Lange read. “Where your kids go to school/grandkids. We have everything on you. We are your neighbors, friends, family, etc.”
The person who sent that one is a 26-year-old named Ethan with a Wisconsin area code, although he assured me the number was fake (and, I assume, the name was as well).
“Do you know what the concept of Anonymous is?” he asked me, immediately.
I said that I did. Ethan explained he’d been undertaking an Anonymous-esque action, but also, that he was trying to play a threatening character deliberately, to send a message.
Ethan then explains that Ms. Lange is "very much a top person" and stands for the "establishment."
Ms. Lange works in a restaurant. Here she asks Senator Sanders to be more forceful in condemning the verbal violence she has suffered from some Sanders' supporters:
“I think he should acknowledge that there were death threats to me, that there [were] death threats to my husband, that there [were] death threats to my 5-year-old grandson, that they called my work and tried to ruin … like I said, this is my volunteer job being chair,” she said.
“I have a full-time job where single mothers and people trying to pay off their school loans work, and it hurt our business,” she said. “People were calling our business so much that they had to unplug the phone.
Bolds are mine.
The take-home lesson from those quotes is this: Some trolls don't see what they do as hurting real people, or argue that real people shouldn't have felt hurt.*
Some trolls judge their own pain and suffering (which can be very, very real) as a sufficient reason to lash out at individuals whom they don't even know, to spread the misery around.
Some trolls, perhaps pupa-stage ones, view the breathing, living people on the net as mere characters in computer games, and such characters can't feel pain or fear.
And some trolls create an imaginary powerful monster in their minds, where an individual is the establishment, with enormous scope to do evil. Then it is the troll's responsibility to attack that monster.**
Other types of trolls abound, including sadistic ones. But as Osnos' New Yorker piece notes, a truly despicable misogynistic Internet troll might be a kind guy in the meat-space, one who rescues dogs, gives to charities, loves his mother, has a long-term girlfriend or wife and gets on well with female colleagues at work. It's a Dr. Jekyll - Mr. Hyde phenomenon.
A famous person once asked how people would behave if they could wear masks and stay anonymous and thus experience no consequences from bad behavior. Well, now we know how some people will behave behind the veil of anonymity.
The angle of the New Yorker piece is that political trolling has become mainstream in 2016. But ask almost any woman who has an Internet presence, and you would hear her hollow laughter over that argument.
That's because just being female turns a writer into a magnet for woman-hating trolls. It doesn't much matter what uppity women*** write about, though certain topics, such as feminism or covering traditionally male fields (sports), will multiply the writers' troll appeal, and the more argumentative the writer, the more vicious the crap she will receive, most of it gender-coded.
And crap it is, almost completely void of any counter-arguments or factual criticism, just a primal scream of rage. That rage seems to me greater in quantity and more primal in quality than the hate messages male writers on the net receive.
If I am correct in that (which I am, she mutters), misogynist Internet trolling is like charging female writers but not male writers an extra harassment tax****. That, in turn, makes the choice of Internet writing a less appealing "career" for women than men. Some women will find that tax too high to pay and simply stay silent. That is, of course, the objective of all such trolling.
* Even Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager,seems to blame those who were frightened by the events in Nevada:
While he was not at Saturday's convention, Weaver said that based on the account of Sanders surrogate Nina Turner, the reports of a violent atmosphere had been overblown.** For instance, some simple goddess minding her own business might be viewed as the whole vast and world-ruling feminist establishment, solely responsible for the castration and subjugation of all men, and also responsible for everything any feminist has ever written about anything.
"She said, no one went on the stage. No one had the right to feel threatened," Weaver said. "What happens is when you rig the process, and you get an angry crowd, you know they're not used to that."
*** Who should have stayed silent and preferably in the kitchen, the nursery or the bedroom.
**** Other groups, including people of color and/or those belonging to sexual minorities may also have to pay a trolling tax. Women of color might even get taxed twice.