WHAT PRICE BALTHAZAR?
Some aspects of Internet based social interaction trouble me. They can and often do bring out the worst in those participating.
In my last posting many of you were kind enough to discuss the concept of “cyber bullying.” I am hoping your enthusiasm extends to explaining to me what is and what is not a “troll” and how best to respond to one.
I never heard the term “troll” until it was applied to Sweet Jane Says, a regular contributor at Cheeseburger Gothic/, Blunt Instrument and The Geek . I looked into it and eventually learned that a “troll” is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or otherwise disrupts the discussion/conversation. I’ve seen Jane do this, but I don’t consider her a troll because even her disruptive, off-topic comments that are clearly designed to provoke an emotional response are nevertheless backed up by a keen and penetrating mind.
I believe that, in addition to posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages designed to provoke others into an emotional response, for a person to be a troll their comments must lack any value, which means the troll – to be a troll – must be fairly stupid.
I don’t use the term as an insult. I am using it to describe a lack of native intelligence that is a necessary condition to say and do things that are meaningful. There are plenty of fine people in this world who aren’t very smart and they contribute in important ways. But their lack of intelligence bars them from places where those who live beyond their fingertips congregate and socialize. For example, tonight my wife is hosting a group of ladies who meet once a week to discuss films and books. Stupid people are not invited to these events.
The world is full of barriers that discriminate against the stupid and exclude them. The internet has no such barriers. The single greatest irony arising from the Internet is that millions of people who have nothing of any value to say have nevertheless found a place to say it.
Which leads me to balthazar. Balthazar is a troll who haunts Blunt Instrument. Either he is a genius performance artist – which is how I view Jane – or he is just some dumb guy who likes to argue and uses the internet to make himself feel smarter, more powerful and more important than he can possibly reflect in the real world.
My question is whether balthazar is, nevertheless, useful. It seems that others who post at Blunt Instrument enjoy engaging balthazar – even though they surely know he is an idiot who cannot possibly understand what is really going on. I admit doing it and enjoying it.
But this engagement also encourages him. Balthazar has created a second persona – called treeman – that is clearly the same person. Everyone craves attention, especially the stupid. (Q: What are a bogan’s most common last words? A: “Hey, mates! Watch this!”)
So what I think I am getting at is my concern over how Internet communities deal with the equivalent of the village idiot. Do they engage until some higher power simply gets rid of them? Or is there some other self-regulating mechanism at work?
I am interested in knowing what you think.