Opinion: Be wary of the Loathsome Troll


NORWALK, Conn. — Words are really weird. Take the word “troll.” When I was a kid listening to fairy tales and nursery rhymes (and more recently while reading the Harry Potter series), trolls were these evils creatures that lurked in dark, scary places, kind of like the “loathsome troll” made famous in one of the late Shel Silverstein’s poems.

Later, a little older, troll became a fishing term my brothers and I used in the lakes and rivers of southern New Jersey as we sought to trick mostly pickerel and bass with artificial lures. I’ll never forget the blank expression on my fifth grade teacher’s face when I asked how the same word could mean two rather distinct things.

(Nor will I forget the discussion with my friends after school that day. We concluded that trolls and fishermen were basically out to trick either children or fish into doing something bad or stupid, and thus why not use the same word.)

And now, as a middle aged adult, the term has an even stranger, but somewhat related, meaning: a troll is someone on the Internet, usually a blog, who tries to derail discussions with outlandish statements, nasty accusations and provocations. The goal is to provoke, entrap, kind of like catching one of those pickerel.

And I must admit, while reading NancyOnNorwalk, which I like very much because the stories are plentiful, informative, and interesting, I have developed a new appreciation of the lengths these trolls, with their anonymous names, will go to derail discussions and upset others. I call what they do the “no good, mean and nasty person” provocation.

These troll-ments are rarely directed at Nancy; instead, they are usually reserved for the characters in the stories. For instance, she might write a story about something the Common Council or the BOE did. And the comments will be okay, either for or against, and actually quite interesting, and then, out of the blue, boom, someone will post a troll-ment that is either a complete non-sequitor or a personal attack against someone mentioned in the story or one of the other commentators.

Occasionally, these blasts from nowhere derail the discussion for a while, and then, again out of the blue, someone new will join the discussion and post a comment on the real substance of the story, and things may or may not get back to normal. This makes for choppy reading, to put it mildly.

What’s strange about all this, and reflects on the power of anonymity, is that this could never happen among a group of people sitting around having a live debate or discussion. Imagine:

“I think the capital budget is a little too low this year, said John.

“But we need to control our debt service,” Jane replied.

“Councilman Smith should be kicked out of the Council,” said Mike.

“I think we could increase it a little,” John concluded.

“Smith is nasty, absurd, and a jerk. He should be kicked out,” said Mike.

“Yes. A small increase might be okay,” said Jane.

“John and Jane are stupid, I mean really stupid!” Mike shouted.

Now, if this were to happen in a live discussion, people would begin to think that Mike is not playing with a full deck, and they would be absolutely right. But on the Internet, especially behind the cloak of anonymity, some people would rather have a little of what they strangely perceive as fun than participate in meaningful discussions.

Shel Silverstein warned generations of children to “Be wary of the loathsome troll that slyly lies in wait…” I would recommend adult Internet users to “Ignore the loathsome troll that slyly lies in wait…”


11 responses to “Opinion: Be wary of the Loathsome Troll”

  1. Norwalk Lifer

    Dear Mr.Kimmel:

    Your celebration of bi-partisanship was sullied by the comments of the individual who appointed you. Mr. McCarthy, unfortunately trollism is called something else when made public, it’s called politics. And it’s nothing to be proud of, when the tools of public service are used in such a defamatory manner. I am a proud member of the Democratic party and have been for years in Norwalk; I’ve seen it transmorgify itself throughout the decades, but the ideals hold steadfast. What is at dispute here is the manner in which such an appointment is delivered. It is not proudmaking to have one introduce another and use that moment to make a political point. I do not think you might grasp how much comments like this disenfranchise others. So to this end, if Mr.McCarthy was “trolling” for new large mouth bass in his zeal, you might find, that he did you a disservice, he did a great disservice for those of us who supported you for years, I, myself was one of those individuals. It is sad to see, how a few words can basically de-construct a whole body of work, that would be celebratory in nature. John McCain himself, did a great service when an unknowing individual cited this President, as candidate as an “Arab”, John McCain said clearly “No, no ma’am, he is an American just like me, we just have different viewpoints on how to move this country forward” that sir, is a comment worth applauding, That is the higher ground, I will close with wishing you much success in your endeavors, as the city of Norwalk depends on that, and that is a much higher priority for me and others.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. Don’t Panic

    Next up… contemplations on the expression “soap box”.

  3. jlightfield

    Hrmmm, this new-fangled Internet does seem wild and wooly. Let us not forget when the crotchety old guy says “get off of my lawn,” its because he’s protecting his turf. Or, when the glum old guy bemoans “those meddling kids” its because his plans were derailed.

    Taking to the Internet to opine on trolls, as if this was a recent phenomena, is kinda like going to another country where you don’t speak the language and shouting louder in English because no one understands you.

  4. Grendel

    McCarthy throwing some red meat at a political convention shouldn’t be confused with the actual act of physically abusing 80 year old people.

    NorwalkLifer probably also doesn’t know that Amanda made herself fair game by attending the GOP convention. Really what does she expect? Her behavior is going to be very well known to all of Norwalk once the campaigns heat up and it should be. Hopefully she at least learned how to run a convention, something she obviously is clueless about.

    As for trolling, I’m sure they’ll be here soon. I expect it is going to get worse too as the more and more they realize that they are on the losing side.

  5. oldtimer

    Does McCarthy attending a Rilling fundraiser then make him a troll ?

  6. M Allen

    @oldtimer – an “internet troll” is someone who attempts to derail a comment section such as this by making such an absurd comment that it causes others to respond about something unrelated to the topic at hand. It has nothing to do with who or where. Even a comment on-topic but so egregious in its remarks can be considered a troll. For example, a defamatory personal attack on an individual. These tend to derail the standard commentary and are thus referred to as “trolls”. People who intentionally do this are also known as “trolls”.

  7. loveforthecity

    Bruce get a life, you are a troll.

  8. M Allen

    and that is a troll. Which I should have ignored, but it was an excellent example.

  9. Norwalk Lifer

    Dear Grendel:

    I am fully aware of the whole story concerning that unfortunate incident, please do not defend immature and easy comments about a whole body of people who are very interested in their town, and indeed engaged to make it better. While you might find this fodder for dismissal of a total package of ideals, I do not. And with regards to the upcoming political race in this town, it would be better for all of us to shun disparaging comments such as this, and to focus ourselves on the issues that effect all that live in this town, from crime, to development, to urbanization, to financial growth. Otherwise, one would get the impression all is perfectly “well” in Norwalk and we have the time and the luxury of focusing on one or two useless sound bites uttered by an overly ambitious, zealot positioned to act as the attack dog at the door.

    We’ve had enough of that in this town.

    Norwalk Lifer

  10. Ante Litteram BOE

    Dear me. The esteemed councilmember takes exception to trollish comments when they are anonymously posted about him. Such outrage is understandable. Yet, one must question if he has ever expressed outrage when many others in public service are subjected to trolls and their poison pens.

  11. Bruce Kimmel

    Ante Litteram BOE: Please re-read the column. It is about trolls in general. There is nothing in it that pertains to me.

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