Friday, January 3, 2014

With a Devil on His Shoulder

My original plan for this site was for it to serve as a repository for the Joe Johnson story. But I was also aware that creative projects — especially ones on the internet — have a way of veering into new, unexpected territory. And now that's what's happened with this one.

Shortly after My Pet Troll went live, I heard from a reader who claimed to be a troll on assorted sites. The reader, who we'll call Gerald (not his real name), has given me permission to share his story, as follows:

Hi Paul,

I checked out My Pet Troll, and I'm a bit alarmed by how comparable Big Cock Johnson and I are. Just like Joe, I'm about 30 years old, I'm married, and I work a desk job. For the better part of the past year or so, I've been addicted to trolling professional wrestling fandom sites, whether they be message boards or Facebook groups, to the point where I've been kicked out after multiple warnings from nearly every one I've been a part of.

It's become a growing compulsion. It's not uncommon now for me to get drunk on weekends and have fun with the people who show up on my news feed. My closer friends think it's pretty funny when this occurs, but my brother's girlfriend wouldn't speak to me for a while after I told one of his Facebook friends (a girl) that he has a "giant schwanz." Why do I do this? Is it a need for attention? A need to be provocative?

My wife knows about my trolling. While she's not a fan, she views it as harmless knucklehead behavior. I know I should just leave well enough alone because there's enough in our lives to keep us occupied, but it's almost to the point where I'm crusading against moderators and studying gang mentalities. I feel that bad moderators are more abusive than most trolls, just in a covert way. I'm often putting my digital existence in the hands of a hair-trigger amateur who's more concerned with eliminating any trace of discord than promoting original discourse or dialogue.

Example: The moderators happily approve banal conversation-starters like "Was Hulk Hogan overrated or underrated?" But I don't care to hear the answer to that question. I'd rather know: "Do you think wrestlers who were breast-fed perform better than those who were formula babies, and why?" That'd require some creativity to answer, even if it is fairly nonsensical. But the moderators don't like that kind of question.

Another example: There was a time when WWE was taking place at an arena in South Carolina, and I remembered that a woman had once given birth in that arena's bathroom during a concert and left the baby in the toilet. So I mentioned that in a post and asked the group, "What was the strangest encounter you've ever had while attending a live event, wrestling or otherwise?" I felt it was fairly innocuous, but the post was deleted. When I reposted it, it was deleted once more and I was told that I was upsetting the moderator, whose wife had just had a child.

I realize this stuff probably sounds tame compared to Big Cock Johnson, but I think he was an outlier. He took things to the point where you had no choice but to restrict him, but there are far more trolls out there who are shaded gray. As I read your interview with him, I found myself relating to thought processes and, like you, wonder if he really feels conflicted. ''

Is this note a "cry for help"? Maybe, yeah, because there's a disconnect from reality. Reading Kirsten's response to the Joe Johnson interview, that's a big reality check. It makes me wonder if I've ever made anyone feel the way she felt. I know the remedy — stick to the Golden Rules, try to wean myself from these outlets, etc. — yet I'm finding it really tough. I wasn't a bully in school growing up, so I often wonder why there's this devil on my shoulder.

So that's Gerald. His story could be an act, of course (in which case he'd be trolling My Pet Troll, not bad!), but I had a fair number of email back-and-forths with him and found him credible.

I'm not looking to turn My Pet Troll into a support group or a series of therapy sessions, but I'm curious about the troll dynamic and would welcome more entries like this one, just to see where they go. If you have some experience as an internet troll and would like to share your story, contact me (I'll safeguard your anonymity, just as I've done with Joe and Gerald). And for the non-trolls out there, what do you think of all this? What advice or insights can you offer to Gerald?


  1. "I feel that bad moderators are more abusive than most trolls, just in a covert way."

    When it comes to a lot of forums I've been on, I've found this to be true. A lot of admins ensure they are never criticized by using their ability to ban people. Essentially, don't get on the bad side of one of the admins, even if you're doing nothing wrong.

    That is abuse of power. I've seen it happen a lot over the years of posting in a variety of forums.

  2. I find this whole troll discussion very interesting, and really can sympathize with the frustration regarding the overly empowered moderators (still, "abuse of power" - a bit grande, no?).

    However, I just can't help but feeling dumbfounded when reading these stories of self-confessed trolls. I mean, the writers just come off as almost unbelievably self-centered people. Their complaints read like eight-year-old's whining on getting thrown out of class for belching and shouting rude things to girls. "I don't care to know the answer to that question" so I'm entitled to troll. Because they really are grown-ups now and occasionally self reflect, their trolling somehow turns into this social experiment (where no one else is reaping the benefits)?

    Also there's always someone else on the other end of their "funnies". Kirsten's rebuttal was a reality check for you? Really? Anyone else other than an incredibly entitled person would know that if you call names or attack against other individual, they react to that. Many get offended - and that is their right. Just because you wanted it to be fun, you don't get to be pissed when they don't think that way.

    Again, I don't have a problem with some pot stirring - many a time it is direly needed. But unnecessary name calling, ranting on with an agenda and personal attacks are just self masturbatory junk. So if you indulge in these behaviors, there's a reason nobody wants to play with you. And it's not because you're edgy or clever - it's because you're behaving like a huge selfish prick.