A troll convicted

Many of my informants seem to share the fear of internet trolls in memorial pages. A troll is a person posting offensive or inflammatory messages or harassing other users of the game/site/forum/chat (see more in Wikipedia).  One of the most famous trolling event is the attack to a World of Warcraft funeral (video here), which received international attention in YouTube.

Trolling can also sometimes be unintentional. Some people, especially teenagers, do not necessarily understand the effect of their writings, for example, in Facebook memorial groups. Computer mediated communication can distort the subtle features of sarcasm, tones of voice, gestures or other explanatory signals. (This is why emoticons where created.)

In UK there has been the first prison sentence to an Internet troll. Steven Morris describes the incident in the Guardian (13.9.2011, full article here):

Sean Duffy, 25, targeted Facebook tribute pages and posted videos on YouTube taunting the dead and their families.

Among his victims was Natasha MacBryde, 15, who died instantly when hit by a passenger train near her home in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.

The day after Natasha’s death in February, Duffy posted comments including “I fell asleep on the track lolz” on the Facebook tribute page created by her brother James, 17.

Four days later he created a YouTube video called “Tasha the Tank Engine” featuring her face superimposed on to the front of the fictional engine.

Duffy trolled in various ways and in various ways, but what interests me is this piece of information in the article on a particular posting on a Facebook memorial:

Other trolls joined the abuse.

Why these other trolls are not convicted? The police claims that they will try to find other trolls as well to prevent such thins happening again to any grieving family. Det Ch Insp James Hahn, of Thames Valley police says:

“Malicious communication through social networking is a new phenomenon and unfortunately shows how technology can be abused. However, our investigation shows that offenders cannot hide behind their computer screens.”

If only this would be true. Malicious activity in the Internet has existed since the very early years of the Web. Malicious activity and destroying the memory of the deceased is even more older. Devastating the memory of the dead has been one of the most effective way to disgrace families. One good example, however rather cliché-like, is that during the age of pharaohs their memory were often attacked by following rulers or conquerors who cut their names from hieroglyphs so that their legacy would be forgotten. This meant the eternal death.

In a similar way defiling graveyards and tombstones are demonstrated as attacks to the Church but the memory of the dead as well. (In Finland this activity was linked to Satan worshipers in the 1990’s.)

The dead are somewhat holy in almost every single culture all around the world. Their memories are preserved, worshipped, treasured and shared. Internet as a place to carry out these activities is rather new, but the problems seem to be similar. However, the trolls that attack virtual memorials do not likely analyze their own activity as “defiling the memory”, but as just having little fun in the expense of others.

Like we say in Finnish “meitä on moneen junaan”.

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6 thoughts on “A troll convicted”

  1. Interesting detail of this case is that Morris has apparently been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which of course affects his social behaviour. It also opens up the question of whether these follow-up trolls (and trolls in general) also suffer from mental problems.

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  2. Or what do we consider a person? Dunbar’s number (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number) suggests we might only consider “human” around 150 individuals, and the rest are “others”. It’s easy not to feel sympathy things that aren’t people to you.
    Also, I’ve said for years that on the internet, there’s “me” and “they”, but there’s no “you”. Unless one’s formed a link to someone outside the net, people on the internet aren’t “real”. They’re NPCs, as it happens. 🙂 (For the audience: NPC = Non-Player Character, a term from tabletop RPGs adopted to MMOGs)

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  3. I wasn’t aware of that number theory, thanks! Your comment might be actually explaining the very trolling phenomena itself. The critic towards web technology from its early years* in the 1980’s also is based on the fact that people do not feel real in online environments. Also at the same time to some people – and in some circumstances – they can feel more real than people in the offline world.

    * Internet – 1960’s, World Wide Web (the Internet as we know it) 1980’s

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