It's hard to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room, especially when he's screaming rage-fueled obscenities into your face and bathing you in his excrement. So let's finally acknowledge it: That's right, it's time to talk about comment trolls. O, comments sections! The dive bar of the Internet; where communication finally hits rock bottom and turns over its life to Christ. The Kitty Genovese of language; where intellectual discourse is raped and murdered while everybody watches, yet nobody lifts a finger to stop it. Comments sections are where loaded guns of idiocy discharge reams of retard bullets into innocent and unsuspecting bodies of text, leaving all of language itself wounded and bleeding. Comments, like teenagers, contribute absolutely nothing to anything, yet they are inexplicably allowed to exist pretty much everywhere. It's been said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, so let's see if we can't find out why this tragedy occurred, and maybe, just maybe, we can start taking back the dark night of the Internet.
Way back in the rough and tumble days of the Internet, utilitarianism was king, entertainment media was a distant dream, and pornography had to actually be printed out to be masturbated to correctly. Back then we had these things called Bulletin Board Systems, or BBS for short, which were little more than regional discussion boards--you literally just paid for access to a local forum and whatever the moderators put there, that was what you had. There were a few larger, themed boards (mostly text-based RPGs where people used this thing called "imagination" to play online computer games, and the term "grinding" was still relegated to the thing you did into your sock while typing out exactly what you'd do to those naughty night elves) but for a good deal of the nation, if you had Internet access, it was inextricably tied to your home town.
Do you realize what that meant?
That meant that most of the early Internet was literally nothing but comments, and it was, counter-intuitively, all rather civil. Because it was a whole different matter to measure, gauge and state the level of somebody's "fucktardedness" when they lived across the street from you and might be good at punches. However, this same proximity was also unfortunately responsible for the birth of the Internet Tough Guy.
But don't confuse the ITG with the modern troll; though they are definitely related, they are very different things. The term "Internet Tough Guy" is mostly used these days to refer to anybody that brags about their physical prowess, starts arguments or just generally acts like an asshole. But the true ITG was a much different, much sadder monster: He was literally a guy that misunderstood the virtues of online communication to the extent that he would threaten to fight you physically in the real world for online disagreements. Experts differ on exactly how the ITG got Internet access in the first place: Some reasonably speculate that he must be experimenting with it at a friends house on a drunken dare; some insist that he must've stumbled onto a computer by accident and, assuming it to be a broken television, just started punching angry letters into the giant alphabetic remote; while still others somewhat controversially theorize that the ITG become lost in between dimensional planes and somehow actually physically stumbled into cyberspace after taking a wrong turn while trying, and ultimately failing, to find his dick with both hands.
But regardless of how he found it, the ITG always ended up doing the same thing: He would gladly and immediately offer up his physical address, try to arrange travel plans and attempt to set appointments to fight online entities for any and all offenses. He was like a human Blackberry of Assault. Ah, I can just see them now--so stupid and furious that they'd crack open their desktops with a tire iron and, upon finding the circuit boards, assumed that they must be the cities in which the tiny smartasses that plagued them lived.
As Internet connections evolved, local BBSs became less prevalent and more and more was done with browsers. And with the popularity of the browsers came increased national and even international interaction, so the ITG was forced to evolve; it simply became impractical to offer to fight all comers when the man disagreeing with your assessment of exactly how much CCR rocks (you say "the most" while he insists it's merely "a lot") lives across the country or even the globe. So the ITG became less of a physical threat, but he still needed a place to take out his aggression. He became more of a refined typist; he now tossed out homophobic slurs and racial epithets instead of theoretical IOUs for punches.
He was still mostly ignored, and the Internet was still mostly polite, but people began to see the benefit of the ITG: Now that he wasn't penciling "fisticuffs w/ queer" into his scheduler, he was free to make all the vague threats and insults he wanted with nobody to call him out for his lack of follow-through. More and more people saw his antics, and realized that the Internet could not only be a place to pleasure oneself to sad IRC orgies, it could also be an outlet for your rage with absolutely no consequences. Slowly, the ITG transformed from a rare beast into a common occurrence. He was a buoy of vitriol drifting into ports of reason and relevance and spewing obscenities at anything unfortunate enough to bump into him. Soon it was commonplace to find a few angry comments on everything from provocative atheist manifestos to innocuous recipes for macaroni salad (musterd?! WTF only fuckfags use mustrd shitbrew assbulge).
Eventually, there were so many forums on which to vent rage that they actually began to outpace the amount of rage that needed venting. In short, there were a dozen toilets available for every one verbal shit. What happens when there are more venues for you to vent in than there is need to compensate for a tiny penis? What else could they do? ITGs began to phone it in. Instead of page-long linguistic ragequits, shorter insulting comments cropped up, seemingly only there to establish the presence of an insult. But, of course, even if you deposit the tiniest, most insignificant bag of poop on a man's doorstep, the end result is the same: He still has to deal with your shit.
Owners and operators of these venues--from bloggers to forum moderators--still became upset at even the most store-brand-quality of insults, and responded with the same vigor as they would any other attack. It was a complete reversal from how it all started: Instead of the occasional virtual Chuck Norris bashing on keys with his forehead because his fingers simply could not contain his fury, casual assholes (or 'casholes,' if you will) reigned supreme, and the true fury was now being espoused by the victims. It required so little effort on the part of the provoker, yet required so much effort on the part of the provokee that it was a net gain; they lost more than you put out. It mattered little that there was no actual benefit to be had from this practice; a fucking gain's a gain, right? You're winning! Something! Fucking finally!
The appeal was easy to see: If you can't whittle a toy horse, knit a blanket, write a poem or play an instrument, at least you might be able to destroy some amount of the free time possessed by the people that can. If the productive members of society who are usually out there creating something--no matter how small or trivial--instead used their time yelling at you for slights that you put absolutely no effort into, then they were also not producing. And if they were not producing, and you were not producing, then voila! You're suddenly just as valuable to society as they are! Instead of simply being "lesser than" the average person, now you're finally "lesser than or equal to"! You're no better, but at least they're a little worse! And thus trolling was born. It was easy, it provided a largely illusory benefit (but a benefit nonetheless) and best of all - you're ruining something! They always say, "It's easier to destroy than it is to create," and while most people saying that intend it to be a bad thing, you, the troll, see it as a benefit.
They're totally right! It is easier, isn't it? Aren't easier things better?
It's like you practically have no choice but to type "meh" or "fag" or better yet (and I'm only giving this to you because I love you) you could combine the two.
You could type "mehfag."
Because hey, what else do you say when you've found something to be of average quality that is also written by a fag? Necessity is the mother of invention, after all; it's hardly your fault that everything fails, is it?
Find Robert on Twitter, Facebook and his own site, I Fight Robots or you could type "mehfag" into the text box below whe-oh you're already doing that? Well, aren't you clever.