Trolling as the Intellectual Discipline of the Internet

Trolling is equal parts delightful and nasty. It’s also valuable.

It’s nasty because it takes advantage of people – particularly those more innocent, ignorant, naive, or less experienced and jaded by online discourse.

It’s delightful because these same people are often nasty, brutish, ill-tempered, willfully stupid, careless, and vindictive themselves.

Beyond the entertainment value and offensive potential, trolling serves a vital function. It promotes intellectual discipline.

By pretending to be or believe something outlandish and calculated to trigger particular biases and assumptions, trolls unmask those biases and assumptions.

There’s a certain mix of humility and arrogance in it. The troll has to first become the fool, by allowing their reputation to be damaged by the stupid and untrue things they post. But they get a gleefully satisfying superiority when the trap closes. When the target is triggered in just the intended way, the target becomes the fool, and the troll is the genius.

The object lesson for all observing is to be more careful, less thoughtless, consider your biases, don’t be easily triggered. The lesson for the target is rarely understood and more rarely taken, but the chance is there.

So trolling is valuable for the online community at large. But it’s dangerous for the troll. It’s very hard to play the trolling game well and repeatedly without letting it make you arrogant or bitter. It can suck you in to scoring points on strangers for public spectacle, instead of working on yourself. The disciplinarian is always in danger of enjoying it too much, and neglecting inner improvement.