Saturday 18 August 2012

Trollface: Origins

These days, a troll is no longer a fearsome creature who lives under a bridge, eating everyone that passes. Although they may just serve the same purpose on the internet.

The original "trollface" comic. Source: deviantART

"Trollface" has quickly become one of the most popular memes on the internet today, thanks to the viral power of the infamous 4chan. What's interesting however is how the word "troll" has evolved over the years, and the majority of today's youth would barely recall its origins as a mythical creature.

Today, the term is used to describe a person who posts inflammatory or off-topic messages in online communities such as blogs or comments on YouTube videos, intended to evoke a negative emotional response and disrupt on-topic discussion. But the idea of the troll and the perpetuation of the term's new meaning has resulted in far more than providing a word to describe a certain person.

How far can one go before a troll becomes insidious and offensive? And can we excuse racism, sexism and religious hate by the mere fact that "they're just trolling"? Of course, this depends on personal tolerances, but what's certain is that when it gets past a point, humour is no excuse.

This is precisely what occurred just over a week ago, when the creators of an "Aboriginal memes" page on Facebook were asked to take down the offensive content after Facebook refused to take action. In its help section, Facebook states that they "allow clear attempts at humor or satire that might otherwise be considered a possible threat of attack". Apparently, in their view, the page did not constitute hate speech.

It is clear that, at least on the internet, the line between humour and vilification is a fuzzy one, and it's sad that it has gotten to this point. Roland Barthes suggested the idea of "myth", which is the representation of our dominant ideologies when meaning is conveyed through "signs" - which can be anything from images or symbols to words. Today's meaning of a "troll" has unfortunately carried with it a way for people to pass off offensive and discriminatory content as humour. Sure, we've seen insult comics and stand-up comedians, but it's a far greater issue when it's so readily accessible via the internet - including by children.


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