On July 4th, Odd Future band member and 2011 breakout star Frank Ocean posted a grainy screengrab of his new album’s liner notes on Tumblr. In the “thank you’s” section, he described falling in love with a man, and the heart-wrenching experience of being rejected. His story wasn’t really about sexuality so much as love—falling into it, accepting it, and requiting it. Those subtleties didn’t seem to matter on Twitter, where the 24-year-old was barraged with homophobic slurs and hateful messages—despite statements of support from Beyonce, Russell Simmons, and even (arguably homophobic) Odd Future frontman Tyler the Creator. Weirdly, the media portrayed Ocean’s story as a triumph for an industry where homosexuality is taboo. But a cursory look at Twitter told another, uglier story.
But what is the Internet, if not a vehicle for vigilante justice? After seeing the outpouring of hate on Twitter, five young Swedish designers decided to build a website that would leverage the power of the Interweb to defend Ocean.
Trolling comes in a variety of flavors, and, as Phillips discovered, some trolling was surprisingly altruistic. One troll friend told her how he’d taken offense to Facebook’s anti-troll stance and infiltrated a Ku Klux Klan group that was on Facebook. Phillips’ troll friend set out to troll the Klan, but according to his account, “All they did was play Farmville and send each other hugs,” Phillips says.
Other trolls set out to bother commenters who make sexist or racist remarks in public sites. But it’s not a straightforward attack by any means. “It’s a weird troll-by-parrot thing,” Phillips explains, “You trick misogynists into saying really ridiculous obnoxious things about women and you pretend to be agreeing with them, and you turn suddenly. And the person you’re trolling has no idea what just happened, but he knows he’s really mad about it.”
Whitney Phillips got her PhD from the University of Oregon in English with a Folklore structured emphasis. But the subject of her dissertation was Internet trolls. Here’s some of what she learned about the species. Read more->