There is something about the semi-anonymity of the internet that brings out trolls. People who would not think of saying rude comments in person feel it is OK to let their inner rage out in comments on the internet. If you read the comment sections of a lot of newspapers you will see these trolls on display, flamethrowers ready and caps lock keys set to upper case. They degrade the level of discussion to the point where any forum that doesn’t filter them out quickly becomes unusable, as their noise overwhelms the signal.
I get a few of these trolls here on my blog every once in a while. Since I approve all comments before they are posted, it is simple to filter them out. They seem to get more active near elections, as the excitement of a pending vote inspires some to get out the vote, and others to post threats on the internet.
I don’t think the majority of these trolls will ever go past leaving a threatening message, so I use the delete button, and that is the end. However, some blog owners have been subjected to repeated, serious threats, had their personal information posted, had deliveries sent to their houses, and other methods of harassment. I have never had anything close to that happen to me. But it does seem to be increasing in general on the net.
If you are thinking about becoming an internet troll, you need to know an important fact: you are not anonymous. Just because you left a fake name doesn’t hide the origin of your message. If you are commenting from work (like maybe – battelle.com ) the network IT managers at your office will have a record of the machine that was used to sent the message. Businesses tend to have very strict policies about using the internet, and trolling is a fast way to get yourself fired.
I’m all for free speech. I am not, however, willing to have my blog degraded by trolls, and I don’t sit passively for sustained threatening messages. Losing your job because you don’t know how the internet works would be a very poor outcome.