Once endangered by a lack of moist, dark bridges to hide under, the troll has seen a reemergence of late. The internet has provided the humble troll with the familiarity of the damp and dark (their mother’s basement) without sacrificing their right to express ‘useful’ social commentary. Though typically solitary creatures, trolls occasionally hunt in a pack, coordinating their activities from central command centres like 4Chan, Reddit and shady recesses of Facebook. However, not all of these exquisite inconveniences are made equal.
There are three different species of troll, each with their own unique set of characteristics. Trollus Amoralus, the first of these, is particularly nasty. Having shed empathy and morality at some point in their evolution, the Amoralus is willing to say anything, regardless of the consequence, in order to get a brief, cheap laugh. They are not to be engaged with at any point, so extreme is their irrationality.
Trollus Politicus, their tamer cousin, engages in trolling as a way of expressing their political beliefs. As they are particularly prevalent around student election season, it is imperative that the average punter identifies their often all-too-obvious allegiance to a major party, which guides their species in the hope of future pre-selection to a safe seat.
The final and most dangerous of these is Trollus Ironicus, a new, hybrid strain that combines the worst aspects of the other two. You might have encountered these intrepid beasts sitting silently, but smugly, in your tutorials, their brain too enlightened for basic interpersonal discourse. Their general targets include “SJWs” (Social Justice Warriors), “Feminazis” (women), Safe Spaces, Political Correctness (not being maliciously offensive) and other leftist groups and phenomena they consider sensitive and ‘irrational’. Though predominantly white, wealthy, straight males, they are highly resistant to the suggestion that they have privilege, positing instead that they are oppressed because the left has “won the culture war and therefore the right to offend”.
Though engagement should be kept to a minimum, if confronted aggressively and with vigorous arguments the Ironicus will quickly back away from their initial act, begging for forgiveness and pleading that they actually “believe in equality”. The Ironicus explores the fine line between irony and sincerity, claiming that, despite their support for ‘equality’, all groups and identities should be subject to the same humour and critique; they value free speech and jokes over all else. Despite this, there is undoubtedly a legitimate insecurity and sincerity in their irony, even if they’re loath to admit it.
This view is, of course, discredited by the fact that their privilege – which, despite their claims to the contrary, objectively exists – makes them unable to understand the nuances of oppression. Informed by a myopic Libertarianism that fails to distinguish between equity and equality, the species thrives in insulated bubbles that allow them to normalise their behaviour. Ultimately, however, their philosophy is betrayed by their insistence on punching down, applying their supposedly neutral commitment to humour only to victims, rather than beneficiaries, of oppressive structures.
A rare, but more pernicious, dimension of their outlook is their belief that trolling is
a productive force for change. For instance, Ironicus occasionally advances the view that
its criticism forces “circlejerk” activist groups to be more than self-congratulatory safe spaces, supposedly encouraging them to dismantle structures rather than police individual behaviour. More common, however, is the claim to intentionally present absurd, exaggerated caricatures of groups in order to point out the foibles of mainstream thought. The impact on its targets aside, the subtlety of its perspective, such as it is, is frequently lost on observers, who instead co-opt the offensive tropes Ironicus disseminates. Beyond merely confirming existing views, Ironicus provides new tools for the budding racist or sexist, enhancing hostility in the long-term where it – perhaps – intended to minimise it.
Even to the Ironicus’ most charitable observer, their actions are unjustifiable. Fortunately, the Ironicus is prone to occasional moments of sanity and rationality. They can, if the victim feels so inclined, be confronted. Tears often ensue. In any case, an alternate solution, and one that works for all species of troll, exists: do not feed them.