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Trolls take over the Internet

By From page B7 | August 17, 2014

I was aware of some of the awful things the Internet can be used for, but I wasn’t aware of the extent of this one or what it was called.

Many of you may be aware of what is known as trolling and may even be a victim of it. I have mentioned the incredible profits you might have made by investing in the big stocks, and the small ones, if only you had bought them at the right time.

Some years ago, at the dawn of the Internet, and continuing to this day, you may have gotten online “offers” from Nigeria, for example. I doubt any readers of the Daily Republic would have responded to them.

Typically, the “blast” messages, sent to who knows how many Internet users, would read something like this: “Dear (Mr., Mrs.): Your name was given to me by a mutual friend who said you would be able to help me. I have received an insurance settlement of $500,000 for my injury in an automobile accident. My problem is that the money has been deposited in an American bank in my name. But in order to claim it, the bank wants a good faith deposit of $10,000. If you can help me with that, I will immediately return the favor by wiring $100,000 of the settlement into your own bank account. Sincerely, (the Nigerian equivalent of ‘John Smith’)”.

I have always wondered what the success rate is of this kind of “solicitation.” I’ve also wondered if there’s anything more troubling that you might find in your mailbox. There is: Recently I saw an eyebrow-raiser in The New York Times with the headline “Web Trolls Winning As Incivility Increases.”

No surprise that there are lowlifes out there who get a thrill from sending obscene pictures and “narratives.” Here’s an extended quote from the Times’ article: “ ‘Troll’ is the fuzzy term for agitators who pop up, often anonymously, sometimes in mobs, in comment threads and on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, apparently intent on wreaking havoc. The term is vague precisely because trolls lurk in darkness; their aims are unclear, their intentions unknown, their affiliations mysterious.”

Just a few days ago, after Robin Williams had taken his own life, his daughter Zelda Williams received massive numbers of online obscenities. One more quote from the Times’ article: “Ms. Williams decided to quit Twitter on Tuesday after being hounded by trolls purporting to show her father’s body with bruises around his neck.” There was more, and maybe worse: “Look at what he did to himself because of you . . .”

I would think that every revolution in communication has spawned its own kind of abuses, but this one is not only ugly, but also impossible to contain. The Internet stars – you know the names – are unable to crush the monsters who get such a thrill out of sending online “messages” that go way beyond what we ordinarily think of as pornography. There’s some irony that the companies whose shares have been among the most profitable in history have reached a dead end when it comes to blocking literally murderous pornography, allowed by their creations.

Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]

Bud Stevenson

Bud Stevenson


Discussion | 2 comments

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  • JimboAugust 17, 2014 - 10:04 am

    The worst of the trolls are on those unsociable media sites where they have the nerve to try calling themselves 'sociable'.

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  • The SugarJarAugust 17, 2014 - 2:21 pm

    Agree that the internet can be used for good or evil (or bad). I enjoyed your take on the use of it for bad, Mr. Stevenson. I'm guessing in general we'd agree on at least the most flagrant examples of that bad.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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