Last week, John Oliver single-handedly crashed the FCC's comment section when he solicited millions of internet commenters, or monsters as he rightly called them, to voice their opinions regarding the government's decision to end "net neutrality" -- a sort of fair conveyor belt of bandwidth that ensures providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime send and receive your data at the same time. Oliver's call to action by basement-dwelling Internet trolls was both satirical and true. You are all monsters. Okay. . Some of you.
The birth of the Internet commenter, or troll as you are so often referred to as, is foggy. The genesis of the Internet troll was sometime around 1991, and that person probably used a service called Prodigy. If you're a child of the '80s, you'll know this. The other early Internet provider was Compuserve. The two services were the Coke and Pepsi of the early days of the World Wide Web (different from the Internet). Both had rudimentary discussion boards, and this was probably the first time that the average person had the opportunity to voice his or her opinion outside of the dinner table -- which, I have to admit, was probably was a good thing.
For thousands of years, from the first rock-formed table somewhere in Europe (where the history comes from) to a reclaimed wooden table from the hull of the Santa Maria sitting in some brownstone in Brooklyn, men (and I supposed women, too) have been unconsciously giving their opinions and have been automatically agreed with. No questions asked. The idea that someone could have a conversation outside of work and home was exotic to some people. Exotic in the most non-sexual way. In the early days, users weren't specifically commenting on stories but rather interacting with each other, peer to peer. Instant messaging but not so instant because of the 16.6 mbps dial-up connection. Nevertheless, in whatever automotive DYI discussion board there was at the time, there was bound to have been an exchange between two users that set the troll universe ablaze. Think the Big Bang but for trolls. The exchange must have gone something like the following:
Dale69: I've always used 5w-30 in my late model Ford and find it handles better.
GerrySlursky: Eat shit! Nobody with any brains about late model Fords would use 5w-30. You're (sic) mom has AIDS.
And that's the exact moment when the shit hit the fan. This was the evolutionary moment in the early stages of commenting, like when a fetus goes from a bag of goo to hands and feet and able to live on its own. From the above fictional-but-probably-accurate comment, things rolled downhill quite quickly.
Time was once sacred for us. We couldn't waste time creating an account, uploading an avatar, just to comment on this fucking AWFUL performance by a 10-year-old doing Sweet Child of Mine. I MEAN SERIOUSLY... THOSE AREN'T EVEN THE RIGHT CHORDS! Who taught you, Helen Keller?
Ah. But yes. Time. We valued it. To complain or voice your opinion of something you read, you had to sit your ass down, break out the "Underwood Five" typewriter and sit and type, then wobble down to the mailbox, and wait two or three weeks. You were at the mercy of the editor whether they printed it. Things are too easy now. And that is a huge problem. Whatever is locked up in that head of yours, I don't want to hear about it. I've long argued that I don't care much for reading user comments -- on anything.
Websites began allowing comments on stories to give the reader a voice -- to be engaged, or involved. "Speak You Mind." "Voice Your Opinion." "Get Heard Below. Leave a Comment."
No. None of that. Not here. Especially not with me.
Of course the easiest way to shun trolls and Internet monsters, as Oliver calls you, would be to moderate every comment and message board. And that's impossible. Plus who wants to sit in the message board for "Men seeking Bestiality?" I'll pass. And I'm so glad that I couldn't spell bestiality. Comment below and call me an idiot, I don't care. There are some words I don't care to learn.
The root of Internet hate is that we hate ourselves. We hate our lives. Moderately. Unless we're guarding LeBron in the The Finals, or were able to get in on some Facebook stock after painting some walls like David Choe, the majority of us are miserable. Some more than others. The result is that we take that misery out on the beautiful people on the Internet. We throw a verbal bomb, then run and hide. Only you don't need to hide because you're already alone. The worst is when you stay online and watch the carnage enfold -- like an arsonist returning to watch the blaze. I swear, we were better off as a society when every single thought you were thinking didn't get out whenever you opened your laptop.
Your kids, not mine (Because I have zero), have yet to master the art of trolling. Soon, they will, and when that happens, the world's civility is over. If you thought cyber-bullying was an issue, wait a decade.
I do feel good when I get hate comments and tweets and email. They're infrequent but when it happens I always reply the same way. "Did you get my box of balloons?" I'd say. More often than not I get the same reply, "What the fuck are you talking about douche?" A follow-up email or tweet includes a picture of a Great Dane puppy from some random Flickr account. It does the trick to confuse the troll and the whole thing ends in twenty minutes. Internet trolls can't deal with confusion. They lose whatever control they have. Control that they refuse to give up. Which is why they comment in the first place.
I invite you to join the discussion and leave your comments below. If you receive a bunch of dog picture emails, you know why.