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.**