A Weekend Trolling

A Weekend Trolling

Ines Shennan attempted to teach herself in a day how to become an Internet troll. Employing techniques from the utterly pretentious to the obviously ignorant, what follows is an account of what happens when someone tries to abuse Internet anonymity.

It all started with Tunnel Bear. An application available across various operating systems, Tunnel Bear allows you to fictitiously alter the location of your web presence. This was going to be an all-or-nothing experiment. Armed with the mental security that I would appear to be trolling from the majestic United States of America, land of absolute Internet freedoms and total privacy, I was ready. I hope you’ve noticed the sarcasm; PRISM is kind of a big deal right now, and on the personal front I couldn’t be less ready. I had no idea how to troll the Internet. I use Facebook primarily for its private messaging as an alternative to conventional emails and would consider myself an occasional poster who doesn’t particularly care for public commenting. Internet forums are a foreign concept to me.

I needed a persona. Seemingly out of nowhere came the name “Cody Grey.” Okay, that’s a lie. I Googled baby names, because every name that popped into my head would be that of friends or family, whom I didn’t want to bring into this unfortunate collection of affairs by way of innocent association. I scanned through the first page I clicked on, and quickly had a name. Arming myself with this and a false birthdate, I created a Google account for forwarding all confirmation sign-up messages to. This was becoming quite a finicky process. Now to embark on the actual experiment: posting inflammatory or extraneous messages to disrupt the otherwise peaceful World Wide Web.

So I took a cheap shot, and slinked along to Stuff.co.nz’s “Life and Style” section. After some browsing, I found an article about a Danish singles dating site pitched at those who wanted to be inseminated, or inseminate another, and soon. Long walks on the beach, a GSOH and romantic getaways might be favourable for the users, but having children is certainly the core purpose of the site. I hated it immediately. Relief washed over me; surely I would be able to troll this quite easily. Yet I was stumped. Do I criticise the site? The article? The scourge that is toddlers, in their vegemite-smeared-faces glory? I opted for a crude criticism of a quotation from the article, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I had not done enough to unleash the trolls. Seven hours later and there were only three comments on the page, including mine, which had not appeared to have even mildly insulted anyone. I was distraught. Particularly upsetting was the fact that I had deliberately forgone proper grammar (including a missing apostrophe), for the sake of authenticity. I felt dirty without having caused any drama. I needed to step up my game.


Next on the agenda was Yahoo! Answers. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s probably best you stay clear of this cacophony of questions and answers that span the mundane and the outrageous. I attempted a funny retort. “Cody Grey” proffered the following advice about a first date: “hi i find the best thing is to only ask questions and if she asks you a question just respond with a question it gives a very international man of mystery aspect to yourself and you find out lots about her [sic].” Turns out it was just lame; no cutesy “thumbs up” for me, let alone the healthy collection of “thumbs down” I desperately craved. Later, I realised that I had actually responded to a question from the Yahoo! Answers Team. I could have at least picked a real person, with real feelings to be squashed. By the way, the highly rated responses on here were rubbish. I did learn that apparently you’re not meant to talk about politics on the first date. Or your pets. Or the weather, your parents, religion, “prior sexual conquests,” finances, even “Mario vs. Sonic.” The list goes on.


It was lunchtime and my trolling was so far unsuccessful. I slurped up a bowl of soup and a cup of Lady Grey. I hoped the sustenance would provide me with a new lease of life and renew my keyboard warrior energies. Seeing as the dating scene was slow in providing responses, I mooched along to some parenting forums.
My rationale was simple: parenting is stressful. There are a ton of emotions caught up in the life lesson of bringing offspring into the world. Perhaps I would finally get some angry replies. Unfortunately, most of these forums were largely deserted. I needed the numbers so I moved on to the next forum.

Next I tried my luck with the “Virtual Teen Forum.” With a design aesthetic hailing
from the mid-to-late 90s, one might expect a touch of nostalgia. Not a drop. I was nothing less than bamboozled as to how to navigate the site, eventually signing up as a 16-year-old from the East Coast of the United States. The threads did not appear to have a lot of recent activity, with only a handful of users browsing each at any one time. I kept telling myself that I was doing legitimate feature research but I couldn’t help feeling creepy as a university student browsing forums designed for those in a much younger age bracket.

Thankfully the chat room required a plug-in that my computer didn’t have. I don’t believe I could have handled that. I commented on a forum someone had posted about sitting their driver’s licence and waited for the abuse after commenting: “If you didn’t drive the whole test in reverse its probably nothing to brag about tbh [sic].” Yeah, I know, incredibly lame. Yet again. By the way, I didn’t choose that profile picture. It was automatically selected, though it does echo the uneasiness I felt as I clicked my way around the forums, looking for someone to bait with some provocative comments. I decided to leave the site altogether, and return later to see if I had stirred up any controversy.


By this time I was feeling quite mentally drained and unsure where to make my way next. I started wondering just how deep I would need to go. Maybe the crucial ingredient I was missing was not extra wit, or a larger helping of inflammatory content, but some other keyboard warriors who would be eager to start a battle. The epiphany soon came. I needed a tech forum.

Eventually I stumbled upon Geek Zone, and this is where the magic started. Within minutes of posting a thread premised on computer illiteracy, I had several replies. They continued to flood in, stretching the limits of my trolling to the extreme.

“This happened last night for the second time in 5 days so I took a screenshot and worried it’s going to happen again,” I commented beneath an indecipherable, pixelated screenshot of a Mac OS in a Microsoft Windows forum.


“Yes the error means you need to up the resolution on your camera.” Thanks Klipspringer for the astute observation.

“Do you realise that you can use Alt + Print Screen to get a screen capture? What you’ve uploaded seems to be a very blurry picture you took with your mobile phone and it’s impossible to read,” ubergeeknz suggests.

“I can’t read it but have you done a Google search on the error message?”

Me: “Sorry my webcam isn’t very good.”


“LOL. You have just made my day!!!!” Well you know what, you’re welcome.

However, johnr continues to fall for the madness: “Would you not just do a screen grab??”


The smart ubergeeknz picks up on the fact that this malarkey has been posted in a Windows forum and points this out.


I upload a screenshot of the thread itself, with the comments “hope this helps ... i only have bing [sic].”


Everybody’s favourite hero, ubergeeknz, suggests the thread is closed, so naturally I battle on, with my cloak of stupidity firmly tied around myself: “yes i have a mountain lion [sic].”


And offer further information: “i called my nephew and he said it could be my hard drive but i have a laptop??? [sic]”


Ta da! The thread has been revived. Thanks Klipspringer for your suggestion to check the floppy drive.


ubergeeknz changes tack and offers some helpful advice: “yes, blow all of the dust out of it, that might help.”


Either I’ve been caught, or johnr is delighting in my apparent ignorance, quoting my post “yes i have a mountain lion [sic]” and responding with “does it cost much to feed per day and is it house trained?” I am being ridiculed by anonymous people on the internet when all I wanted to know was what was wrong with my computer.


Minutes later I suffer further teasing from johnr: “you took a screen shot of this Geekzone thread, I am just about to wet myself at my desk please stop it!!” I hope you didn’t do that johnr because your fellow employees would probably be highly unimpressed.

Moments later the thread is wiped except for my original post, most likely by a moderator who could see through the whole facade. Paradoxically, they continue to offer assistance. The suave looking xpd, a moderator and self-proclaimed “Minecraft n00b” asks that I take a “decent screenshot that we can read,” with a link to an about.com tutorial. (Which gets me thinking - perhaps I should troll them next week.)

Then an administrator jumps on the bandwagon. “What xpd means is that it’s impossible to read anything on that photo. You can follow these instructions to get a screenshot (not a photo) of your computer’s screen. Make sure you take just of the area on the screen you need, not the whole thing. Then upload here on Geekzone and post the link so we can see the error message.” Thanks freitasm – now I’m feeling guilty about the effort people are going to in order to rescue me from my apparent inability to take a screenshot. With such morality shining through, I glumly realise that my days as a troll are probably short-numbered.

However, by this time my dating advice on the Yahoo! Answers page had picked up a positive response:


With five thumbs up, maybe there’s something I’m doing right. But for now, I am mentally drained and have realised the room I’m sitting in is now dark. It’s been a long time trolling, with mixed success.

In the days that followed, I returned to my laptop, switched on Tunnel Bear, on and resumed the trolling. Laying bait is a process that requires a lot of digging around. It’s not as simple as just delving into the first thread listed in a forum and posting an inflammatory comment. Finding the right topic and posting a comment that is the right blend of eloquence and utter stupidity is a learned skill.

With only a day’s practice under my belt, posting “being high is not a victory” on a subreddit about partial marijuana decriminalisation was admittedly naïve. I tried spearheading political debate with the admittedly contentious “sometimes you need to trust the state to protect you, when you clearly can’t protect yourself.” This provoked some responses, but nothing as dramatic as I had hoped for. Trying to spark further controversy, I claimed that the great grass is “scientifically proven to make you shrink.” The response was quick and smart: clearly this is “a cure for obesity” then! Unprepared to let this one get away so quickly, I retorted with: “you will shrink vertically but your mass stays the same so you will just become wider.”

I was unable to keep up with the vitriol that followed, and my comment clearly veered too close to moronic, with AmKonSkunk stating “Has to be a troll, no one is that stupid.” Congratulations AmKonSkunk, I trust your perceptiveness will carry you to great heights. I was also dubbed Buzz Killington, the out-of-touch character from Family Guy.


I also attempted to rouse the bigots on Stormfront, a white nationalist forum. Surprisingly, those whom I assumed would be most likely to succumb to my troublemaking remained largely quiet. Posting on threads, starting threads, sending private messages and even adding other users as friends was entirely fruitless. I yearned for them to hate me, but I didn’t get as much as a single reply. Though anti-climatic, it was admittedly a relief to extricate myself from the myriad of narrow-minded opinions that formed the fabric of the site.

With this, I had come full circle. Beginning with a Stuff article and receiving no direct responses, and ending with suspiciously quiet bigots, I doubted my longevity as a successful Internet troll. The deep-rooted desire not to deeply offend anyone probably had something to do with it, though perhaps my technique just needs refining. What I have learnt, however, is that it’s much harder than it would seem. So give the trolls some credit. They’ve got their work cut out for them.
This article first appeared in Issue 14, 2013.
Posted 6:05pm Sunday 7th July 2013 by Ines Shennan.