Dennetmint

The frontier is no longer safe

Crossposted from my Portland Community Media blog. Read comments on the original post.

Trolls? Not of the gnarled faces and belly gems variety. Good Magazine’s Mattathias Schwartz recently wrote a feature for the New York Times that examines the dark lords of our WWW.

Known as trolls, these often anonymous surfers basically mock users on the Internet, from the suicide of a 12 year-old boy (over a lost iPod, according to trolls) to hacking into the Epilepsy Foundation’s website and plastering forums with bright, flashing GIFs (one photosensitive epileptic went into shock). Why do they do it? For the “lulz,” a corruption of the word, “LOL.” Or as Virginia Heffernan beautifully translated, for kicks.

Schwartz’s article was the first time in a while that I heard the Internet referred to as a frontier. In which case, nearly all of us are pioneers. But unlike frontiers with geographical relevance, there are no ocean cliffs to stop us as there was with Manifest Destiny. There is no foreseeable boundary to innovation on the web. And unlike for early American settlers, teamwork does not equal survival.

Flickr photo by mygothlaundry

 

So then: Identity fraud, credit theft, hacking, and now trolling. The subculture has been steadily cresting. The Internet is no longer safe (was it ever?). Trolls out for revenge and for kicks will post personal contact information of Craigslist Lonely Hearts responding to a fake ad, hack for and post real social security numbers or drop off death threats at your house. Trolling can go beyond the web.

Trolls interviewed have cited various reasons for the joy they take, the most common being that if people are stupid enough to fall for it, they deserve it. But upon further self-examination, one troll gave a “for the good of humanity” retort with a Hobbesian twist: “It’s not that I do this because I hate them. I do this because I’m trying to save them.”

There you go. A summary of seven pages from the Sunday Times Magazine by a well-versed reporter.

Anyway, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Cyberterrorism comes to mind. First Amendment rights. Sociopaths. People who take anonymous postings seriously are stupid to do so. I agree with that point, but it’s really quite another thing when you have trolls who are using personal information that you thought was safeguarded against you (social security numbers?! Who do you have to be and where do you have to hack to get that?). To threaten you into submission off the web.

Thoughts? Opinions? Reassurances? Anyone?

Flickr photo shared under Creative Commons by mygothlaundry

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