OK, as somebody who has consistently accused AM of trolling, I suppose it behoves me to outline my personal position on trolling, including what constitutes it, why it's so bad, and why if I had the power I'd personally bitchslap every single troll posted. This discussion will discuss Anne Marie quite a bit, main because she (for the sake of this discussion let's just assume Anne Marie is a she) is an example that everyone's familiar with.
Rather than attempt to discuss "What is a Troll?" (which varies from place to place and is really not an Internet-specific phenomenon - the Bill under discussion in Anne Marie's latest story is arguably a troll in the form of proposed legislation), I'll restrict myself to the K5 submission queue, and what I regard as trolling there.
There are several sorts of "trollish" submissions, some of which probably deserve distinct terms to describe them, but it's too late on a Sunday evening for me to bother defining terms for a taxonomy of K5 submission trolls. Anyway, to begin, there are the occasional "parody" trolls, which are somewhat related to the style of humor The Onion revels in. This kind is obviously intended as a joke and are pretty harmless - even those who don't get the joke seem to be prepared to have a laugh once the joke is pointed out.
Next, moving up the annoyance scale a bit, is is the troll style exemplified by AM's early submissions here, and is nothing more than an attempt to push readers' hot buttons to generate a flamewar. It typically includes all sorts of references which generate lots of noise but have little relevance to the main thrust of the story (for instance, relating socialised medicine and libertarianism with a story on how sexual fantasies can reduce pain perception). These are quintessential trolls, and I don't think that there's much argument that this type of posting is really a troll.
Anne Marie's later efforts are less obviously trolls, and deserve another category, if only because many people disagree with the contention that they *are* trolls. The main difference between these and the earlier pieces is that they have generally been on genuinely interesting topics. However, they still take incredibly contrary positions on events, without bothering to justify those positions and seemingly defying common sense (for instance, AM's take on Yahoo's decision to stop Nazi memorabilia sales was that it was "a bold move". Pragmatic - yep. Principled - arguably (if you believe that stopping Nazi memorabilia being sold is principled). A cowardly buckling to a tinpot French judge - also arguable. But "bold?"), and still includes references to topics that provoke lots of flames but on closer inspection are irrelevant to the main thrust of the argument (for instance, her gun law submission mentions ESR, who may be a gun nut but really had nothing to do with the legislation at hand, which I believe as a libertarian he would oppose if it was seriously propose).
Anyway, enough about the educated escort's namesake. On to what I regard as by far the nastiest form of troll I have (possibly) seen, though it's really not what is conventionally regarded as trolling. I'm still not sure what to make of the events I'm about to describe - I may have been completely made a fool of by an individual on #kuro5hin, who may or may not have been the same individual who goes by the same handle on kuro5hin itself. In addition, I'm still not entirely sure that, true or false, that this should be discussed publically - however, everything discussed here occurred in public forums, so it's not like the individual(s?) concerned was trying to hide his (their?) actions. Anyway, with that piece of verbosity out of the way, here goes (warning: this is long):
An submitter called "farl" submitted a piece to k5 describing a sexual encounter he had been involved in that occurred under conditions where consent was, at best, unclear, and asking for advice. He submitted identifying details, including an unobscured email address. I thought this was *extremely* unwise, and said so in an editorial comment to the article. His reply, given the possibility that he might be facing years in prison, stated that he wasn't at all worried about identifying himself - a position I found rather odd, to say the least. The article generated large amounts of other discussion - much of it warning "farl" that under Californian law that he may have indeed committed sexual assault, though he was unlikely to be prosecuted.
Anyway, I found myself on #kuro5hin, where an individual using the nick "Farl-SI" was present. This individual claimed that the article "contained some inaccuracies". Pressed further, he revealed that the crucial point of the article - that there was any ambiguity about the girl's consent, was false, and the night progressed rather differently to how he described. "Farl-SI" additionally claimed to have received large numbers of emails from people on both sides of sexual assault charges describing their (presumably incredibly emotional and hurtful) experiences. Unfortunately, I don't have logs of this conversation, but there were several prominent K5 identities present on #kuro5hin at the time, at least some of whom undoubtedly have kept logs or can at least confirm the gist of the conversation.
Now, it's not clear whether "Farl-SI" is indeed the "farl" who posted the article, and if so whether "Farl" was bullshitting me or bullshitting in his post. While it's entirely possible that "Farl-SI" was bullshitting, my troll detector tends towards giving false positives rather than negatives :) Anyway, if Farl-SI (whomever he is) was lying, it's me alone (and perhaps some of the other individuals on #kuro5hin at the time) who was/were trolled. While I regard the possibility as rather annoying, anger at Farl is not going turn me into a quivering pile of rage However, "Farl-SI" had no idea about how I would react. Like a close friend of mine, I could have been involved in a false sexual assault allegation (an event which has continued to haunt him for several years now). However, if Farl-SI was telling the truth (and thus the piece on k5 was crap) a whole bunch of sexual assault victims have been trolled. Unfortunately, I tend to believe the latter case is what happened. Either way, I regard the above incident to be the nastiest piece of trolling I've ever seen.
So, after all of the above discussion, just what identifies a troll? I'm still not quite sure, but I think my key criterion is submissions made in bad faith. Submissions that attempt to reduce the signal to noise ratio. Submissions designed to induce comments that decrease, rather than increase, mutual respect and understanding. Submissions designed to give people some kind of perverse kick out of the misery of others. Yes, maybe you should all get out the sobbing violins, but that's how I feel.
Why am I comparing Anne-Marie style trolls with the (again, I emphasize) possibility of the far nastier sort I outlined previously? As well as the conventional effects of trolling - reducing signal/noise ratio, driving away the more intelligent posters, and eventually turning turning k5 into usenet with better graphics, I believe allowing this kind of trolling encourages a culture that not being truthful is acceptable here. It's OK to lie, aggravate, and con people just to get a reaction. I think that attitude is fundamentally wrong, and it is one of the most disturbing opinions I have found at K5. It's the kind of self-destructive postmodernist conceit that annoys me greatly as somebody who was once, and may be again, a scientist. I believe it leads, even if the particular incident I described above was my overactive imagination, to a culture where that kind of thing could start to happen more regularly.
Anyway, I'll continue to vote down Anne Marie's articles if they continue in the same tack, and any others that meet my personal "bad faith" criteria. If people agree with me, well and good. If they don't, that's fine too. If K5 goes too far down a road I disagree with, I'll just go find somewhere else to go and rant. Or maybe write that book I've been kidding myself I'll write. Or do some work. I really don't mind all that much. I'm just curious, AM? Why? I know you don't respond, but surely you read. . .