Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Three Tales of Trolls

Sometimes things happen in threes. I recently read these stories and, maybe it’s just me, but I think they share a common thread.

In the first story, Mattathias Schwartz goes deep into the troll subculture. These are people who go out into the web to fuck with others. It’s an amazing story that goes far beyond the media’s usual “wild west” web story. The one place where it falls short is in its brief treatment of any solutions to the problem. It’d be interesting to see a followup on the various methods pioneered at places like Slashdot to combat trolling. Still, amazing read.

In the second, David Grann profiles Frédéric Bourdin, who may be the most successful impostor ever. He actually convinced a small Texas family that he was their missing son, even though his hair and eyes were the wrong color and he had a French accent. Bourdin is a troll in that he pretended to be something he wasn’t, in order to feed off the reactions to his lies.

Finally, in the third, Duncan Riley reports on the latest incident of Thomas Hawk getting thrown out of somewhere for taking photos. This time it’s the SF MOMA that catches his ire, but it was previously 45 Fremont Street and 1 Bush Street. I’m a staunch believer in the rights of photographers (indeed, when I was running JPG Magazine, I put together a whole issue on the topic to which Thomas Hawk was a contributor), but I’m also a strong believer in the Don’t Be A Dick school of photography, which reminds us that when you’re on private property, owners can ask you to stop taking photos at any time. Fighting with them only makes it worse for the rest of us with cameras.

To be clear, I’m not saying Hawk was wrong in any of these cases. I’m just saying that when you keep being the victim in stories like this, one has to wonder if you may be trolling for a conflict.

In all three cases, consider how the outcome would have been different had the people involved followed the old net axiom: Don’t feed the trolls. Online or off, the best solution is often to ignore the guy who’s out to fuck with you.


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Hi, I’m Derek. I live in San Francisco and make awesome community-centric web stuff. I sometimes post things to Flickr and Twitter. I’m mostly harmless. More.





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