All the Internet’s a game, and all the men and women merely players.
If that’s largely true, it raises the question: What do you get points for?
The metaphor of the Internet as a game ran rather nakedly through a couple of interviews with trolls—users who post inflammatory and insensitive comments in online spaces to create controversy and emotional reactions. Each troll was speaking at the moment after the princess proffered her kiss and turned him into a real boy, that moment when the Web’s veil of anonymity had been lifted forcing the bully to have to directly confront his victim.
The mechanics of the Internet are as much about scoring points as they are about protocols and fiber optics—and those points are scored in the same ways that mankind has been scoring points since he walked out of the jungle
One 17-year-old in Ireland. started a campaign of vicious online attacks with a simple Direct Message on Twitter, calling the recipient, Leo Traynor, a “Dirty f*cking Jewish scumbag.”
The troll hacked Traynor’s Facebook, spammed his blog, and email bombed him with gut-churning images of concentration camps’ crimes against humanity.
But this particular troll was not satisfied with online abuse. Traynor wrote:
“I received a parcel at my home address. Nothing unusual there - I get a lots of post. I ripped it open and there was a tupperware lunchbox inside full of ashes. There was a note included 'Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz' I was physically sick. . . .
“Two days later I opened my front door and there was a bunch of dead flowers with my wife's old Twitter username on it. Then that night I recieved a DM. 'You'll get home some day & ur b**ches throat will be cut & ur son will be gone.'”
Why? Why would one human being do this to another?
“It was like a game thing,” the troll said.
While it’s not nearly as elaborate or offensive, an equally unpleasant episode recently occurred on Reddit. European_douchebag posted a picture of a young woman with a beard, under the caption “I’m not sure what to conclude from this,” in r/funny.
Of course, european_douchebag got lots of comments supporting his impulse to make fun of the girl, but many that took him to task, including one user who called him a “douche.”
Why would he do such a thing?
“I made that post for stupid internet points,” he later wrote, “and I was ignorant.”
Of course, Reddit’s upvotes are literally Internet points, but they’re also much more than that. They’re the same points, in this case, that a bully gets every time he scores one off the class nerd or that any of us get showing up at our class reunion in the most expensive car.
There’s nothing all that unique about a couple trolls on the Internet. What was surprising here is how their victims turned the tables on them.
Traynor used his troll’s IP address to track down his abuser. It was the son of a friend of his.
Traynor confronted his troll with the evidence, and the boy’s parents wanted to involve the authorities. Traynor refused, asking only that he enter counseling. He told the young man:
“I'm a middle aged man with a limp and a wheeze and a son and a wife that I love. I'm not just a little avatar of an eye. You're better than this. You have a name of your own. Be proud of it. Don't hide it again, and I won't ruin it if you play ball with your parents. Now shake hands."
Some friends let the young woman with the beard, Balpreet Kaur, know that her picture was on Reddit, and she jumped into the thread, saying, “If the [original poster] wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled.”
She wrote that she was not embarrassed or humiliated by the attention, because she, as a Sikh, believes in the sacredness of the body:
“It is a gift that has been give to us by the Divine Being and, [we] must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will.... By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a separateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions.”
European_douchebag wrote the following in response:
“Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of. It was an incredibly, rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post. I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like.”
If the Internet (and life itself) is a big game of Super Mario Bros., then each of these trolls was the little, squashed Mario, smashing mushroom caps for a hundred points a go.
Traynor and Kaur, however, were the great big Mario, resplendent with fireballs, leaping to the tippy top of the flag pole for 5,000 points and getting the big fireworks.
What’s even better, is that in the moment each of them confronted their trolls, each troll himself became a kind of Luigi, getting to share the high score.
Photo by Mooshuu