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In a crowded field, a new troll has established himself as the undisputed master of the art. To most people he’s repugnant, but to his peers he’s a formidable exemplar of a set of skills that have come to flourish in the era of online bile, useful only to those whose primary aim is destructive and reductive. He knows exactly the kind of incendiary comment that will bait his prey. And when the inevitable reaction comes, he basks in the reflected glory of his acolytes piling on, and turning a conversation into a battlefield. In so doing, he kills off any hope of a reasoned discussion, ensuring that name-calling, provocation and blatant hate take its place. This might not be good for the standards of public discourse, but it’s good for his ego – and it distracts from his ignorance.
According to Chuck Dueck, a senior vice-president at icuc.social, a company that manages the online presence for hundreds of companies and organizations, trolls fall into four different categories: those who deliberately practice harassment, those who enjoy being outrageous and causing havoc, those who love to argue, and those too stupid to know they are trolls. Dueck believes Trump is most like the second and third. “He has a long career of making outrageous statements designed to get attention,” Dueck says. “He now has the biggest stage to do it from. I believe he enjoys tossing out a statement and watching the reaction.”
Trolling works for Trump because it is fundamentally a manipulation of our emotions. “Trolling is crafted by people who believe it is their job to figure out exactly what people’s buttons are, then press those buttons,” says Jessamyn West, a veteran community manager who now works at the Internet Archives Open Library.
Trump’s trolling is a high-impact, low-output strategy. A single tweet or comment can generate days worth of free publicity, and keep him the central character in the race. Like all skilled trolls, Trump has proven masterful at inspiring his followers to do the bulk of his dirty work. According to West, the best trolls enter a conversation, make a comment or two, set off a fight, and step back as other trolls emerge to sling punches. Trolls aren’t warriors, they’re instigators. They know how to imply something racist, hateful or misogynistic, blowing rhetorical dog whistles that bring out more blatantly offensive supporters while allowing themselves deniability. “There’s an art to this,” West says. “It’s like a flaming bag of dog # on someone’s doorstep.” Even if you know who likely put it there, it’s not as if you can dust it for prints.
Though a troll is commonly associated with mythical Norwegian creatures, online “trolling” actually derives its etymology from a fishing term, which describes a method of drawing multiple lines behind a boat at once. “What trolling used to mean was a behavior online where someone would leave a lot of lures to snare people, to entice them to get angry,” says Derek Powazek