Is Trolling Ever Okay?

Illustration for article titled Is Trolling Ever Okay?

Ah, the notorious troll. Perhaps you've come across one—those people who deliberately try to get under your skin. Sometimes, that means trying to piss you off. In a game, that could mean verbally harassing or annoying you, if not playing specifically to get in the way. That's the most standard conception of a troll, anyway. A troll could also be someone that convinces you of something silly or outrageous. A ‘good' troll manages to enrage or deceive the victim. A good troll also stays in-character no matter what.


I've written about all sorts of trolls in the past. Here is one that adopts a number of grating voices in Call of Duty. Here is one that pulls Xbox Support's leg by claiming to have an issue with an Xbox (and here are more trolls sending Xbox support questions.) Here is a troll that harasses women gamers for, well, being women.

If you notice, there is a difference in how I frame all of these trolls. The Call of Duty one and the Xbox support ones are posed as things we'd find funny as a spectator. The one targeting women, meanwhile, is posed as something awful. Commenters pointed this out with raised eyebrows, asking if I only disliked trolls when they targetted women.

I think there's an interesting conversation to be had here about what type of harassment is acceptable and what type isn't, and whether we are being selective when we designate one or the other. Might there be instances when trolling is 'okay'? Can trolling go far enough that it is no longer trolling, but rather a hate crime of sorts that we mask under the label of 'trolling' so that people can get away with it? The obvious example here is Anita Sarkeesian and the harassment she faces for her feminist project, but she is not the only one (and not all examples are gender-related, either.)

Might there be instances when trolling is 'okay'? Can trolling go far enough that it is no longer trolling, but rather a hate crime of sorts?

Being trolled can be funny... if it's not you; if you are merely watching a poor sap be a victim. In some ways I think we've normalized trolling, or have at least resigned ourselves to the idea of trolling being inevitable online (sadly!) "Don't feed the trolls" is way too common of an ethos.


Granted, just because something makes us laugh doesn't make it any less ‘wrong' to do. Should someone have to deal with a jerk that wants to ruin your experience? No, of course not. I fear that we are so used to trolls, that as funny as they can be, we lose sight of what a blight they are.

Might we also make concessions for a certain type of troll? In one of my Xbox support posts, someone asked the Xbox support Twitter account about the absurd questions they got. They said they didn't mind as long as it wasn't malicious. And many of those Twitter questions were rather harmless, in some ways, obviously not being serious.


Sometimes trolling is not so whimsical. Personally I saw the troll on World of Warcraft take up his, um, calling, out of genuine hatred. I will admit that making distinctions between trolls is kind of stupid, but I mention it because I don't think I am alone in how I see trolls. Some are more ‘fun' than others; some are genuinely alarming in what they do. All are people that in an ideal world, we wouldn't have to deal with.

I know an acquaintance that would often say he was an ‘equal opportunity troll.' I was skeptical of that idea at the time. I still kind of am. But I suppose that if you're going to troll, you might as well not discriminate about who your victims are.


Image credit: Shutterstock



I consider trolling a force of nature - if you give humans an anonymous outlet to express themselves, it's gonna happen.

However, trolling is not nearly enough of a reason to do away with anonymity - its benefits are far too great to be thrown out over some stupid, emotionally-provocative remarks from some unsavory users.