No one is proud to be a troll, at least not publically proud. The trolls I have managed to engage quickly shift to righteous indignation – I troll because I can, I’m allowed, I’m entitled. There are many things in life that we can do but shouldn’t; drinking cleaning products and eating those moisture absorbing silica packets that come in the box with electronic products come to mind. Just because we can do something does not mean we should or must. That is the hallmark of civilized behavior. Trolls know this.
It is a rare troll that uses their real name. It is not a Snowden or Assange-esque fear of big brother but a fear of being the subject of the kind of abuse they are heaping on others that keeps them from using a real identity.
The interviews with umasked trolls such as @sweepyface (Brenda Leyland) and Violentacrez (Michael Brutsch) speak volumes. Leyland was unmasked by a UK news agency as one of the primary trolls of the McCann family, whose daughter disappeared on holiday in Portugal in 2007. Brutsch, outed by Gawker, was one of Reddit’s most intentionally offensive and high profile denizens. Leyland’s last public words in her own defense were, “I’m entitled.” She was immediately the subject of a fusillade of online hate. Soon after, Leyland was found dead in a nearby hotel – cause still unknown. Brutsch told Gawker that, “I just like riling people up in my spare time,” and asked repeatedly what he could do to stop Gawker from outing him.
Leyland and Brutsch both wanted sympathy, but offered none for anyone they may have impacted.
It is not just common sense that trolls don’t like to be confronted or have to defend their usually unprovoked and unsubstantiated attacks, it is a studied phenomenon. Facebook has been experimenting with a facet of their complaint mechanism which allows users to contact other users who have posted inappropriate material and ask that it be removed. Whether or not you agree with the idea of contacting your attackers, the program has had a measure of success.
Whatever you call them – trolls, snipers, haters – they all share the same characteristics. There are legions of people who serve-up criticism honestly, genuinely, responsibly and without anonymity. It is easy to come up with any number of reasons for not using a real name online, but hiding your identity to dish-out abuse, and avoid it in return, is the weakest of them all.