Celebrating “Trolling”

If, like me, you’ve got the ESPN app on your phone, you’ve undoubtedly seen some kind of notice lauding such and such team or player for crushingly “trolling” another with some devastating putdown that bursts their bubble. Of course, it’s not just sports stars and their teams that engage in trolling–you see it in politics and other areas as well. And there, too, “trolling” is often applauded.

“Trolling” is an apt term for this practice, conjuring as it does the creature living and lurking in the shadowy, dark, dank areas under the bridge–scary, creepy, and disconnected from the rest of society, but always ready to spring up when you least expect it. The derivation of “trolling” in its modern sense isn’t a reference to Norse mythology, however, but rather to a fishing technique: “trolling” occurs when the angler puts a baited line in the water, hoping that a fish will bite. That’s what internet or social media trollers do. They say something outrageous and provocative, and hope that someone will engage and they can display all of their powers of insult humor, ironic commentary, and smart-alecky know-it-allism.

“Trolling” isn’t kind or polite behavior. It’s snotty and snarky and over-simplifying. You wouldn’t countenance it from your kids at home, and you wouldn’t hang around friends who engaged in it all the time. So why do ESPN, political website, and other internet and social media outlets celebrate trolling comments, and encourage those people under the bridge to emerge? How are we ever to de-coarsen our society if we’re constantly patting people on the back for a “perfect” or “hilarious” trolling effort?

It’s weird to think we’ve reached the point where some people aspire to be great trolls. They’re not exactly aiming high.

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