Saturday, April 26, 2008

Aren't we all just so witty

Over at Making Light, a discussion is going on regarding whether a certain commenter at is a troll or not.

Ah, Trollology. It would be the perfect subject for me to study in depth if I were sufficiently brain-damaged that I was unable to study anything else.

I've come to some very unsettling realizations about the bizarre side of human nature by paying attention to trolls. I think I once witnessed a very weird creative impulse at work in the comment section of Kevin Drum's blog.

Kevin Drum is a liberal Democrat. His blog has a lively and vigorous comment section. Most of his commenters are liberal Democrats. Trollery is inevitable in this environment. Post something that purports to be from a conservative point of view, and people are going to read it wondering if it's meant to be some sort of joke.

Now. There seems to be a long-standing tradition on Kevin Drum's blog that there be some designated "troll handles". They have names like "Al" and "egbert" and "American Hawk" and spout a conservative point of view.

Here's what deeply and profoundly disturbs me.

Sometimes, say, American Hawk (I haven't seen the name on KD's comment threads in a while, but he was a typical example while he posted) will obviously be a liberal parodist spouting dumb ol' Republican tomfoolery, the better to make fun of those stupid old Republicans. Sometimes American Hawk will sound like a somewhat unhinged right-winger. Maybe this version of American Hawk is a liberal parodist, but just as likely he really is a somewhat unhinged right-winger. And sometimes he sounds like a relatively reasonable conservative, maybe a right-wing version of Kevin Drum.

It's perfectly possible "American Hawk" is a handle shared by several people. But think about it: why would a reasonable conservative post using a handle that has previously been used to make fun of Republicans?

So I came to an unsettling conclusion: many people think that if you want to make fun of a certain subset of humanity, like Republicans or religious fundamentalists or progressives or vegans or whatever, then the thing to do is mimic them so exactly that no one can tell it's a troll.

Well, it was unsettling for me. Maybe this is old news for everyone else. I just think it's weird that I could be reading some apparently sane comment by an Obama supporter about what he should do to ensure victory in the Indiana primary, and for all I know it might actually be written by some snickering Republican wit who wants to see Obama lose badly because he's a Democrat, and who thinks it's the height of cleverness to pretend to be posting some level-headed analysis by an Obama supporter.

Not only is this something of an alien mindset to me, but it means anything I read on these here Intertubes could just be utterly fake, just someone's idea of scintillating wit. Anything.

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