Today I'm going to write about trolls in technology journalism. But first let me hold up my hands and admit it: it's a slow news day.
A technology story published on the Internet attracts trolls like a magnet hoovering up iron filings. Particular tech topics are all but guaranteed to beget the specially abusive, atrociously spelled ALL CAPS tribute of the troll -- or keyboard hero as he/= or she (oh who am I kidding? he) is sometimes known.
I'm not talking about the general reader -- or indeed anyone posting reasoned, constructive comments, whether they're positive or negative. Keep those comments coming, please!
Trolls are a distinct and separate breed. They're a very vocal minority of Internet commenters who can be likened to swimmers who, ignoring the accepted direction of travel, plough right up the middle of the lane -- forcing everyone around them to stop and splutter.
Generally speaking, a tech troll can be drawn forth by any article in which an Apple product such as the iPhone is praised (or even mentioned). Dare to compare an Apple product to an Android product and that really is a red rag to a troll.
Other present day tech troll triggers include pointing out BlackBerry needs to up its game, saying anything negative about any Sony product, and of course expressing any opinion in favour of one OS when alternatives exist -- although at present pro-Android opinions are probably the least controversial point of view from a troll's perspective, at least on this website.
Certainly the trolls that chase after select CNET stories like a pack of paparazzi determined to capture the perfect example of "car-crash journalism" -- as one of the more creative trollisms put it recently -- do tend to be pro-Android (or 'Android fanboys' in trollspeak). But it wasn't always so.
What happened to the Apple fanboys?
In years gone by, pro-Apple trolls were all the rage -- and Microsoft (or "Micro$oft" as it was tiresomely trolled) was the tech giant du jour that worked trolls into the biggest, slavering froth of all. As the French would say, plus ça change.
One thing that unites trolls across the digital ages (and maybe even before, when trolls penned hatemail in green biro) is their use of language. Trolls' terribly spelled arguments rarely stray from established rhetorical furrows, beaten out over years by the troll pack, just as their worldview rarely lifts off its monotheistic rails.
Particular pet phrases are regurgitated time and again -- tried and tested catchphrases intended to deflate a piece of journalism and devalue the journalist who's written it. The problem is, as with any cliché, these insults have lost their semantic sting. They've had one too many outings. They've become laughably predictable.
Just this week a particularly enterprising troll took the time and trouble to tweet at me with predictably trollish sentiment. Instead of collapsing in a heap clutching my emotional pain centres, I decided it would be fun to ask fellow tech journalists what are the most oft-repeated trollisms they encounter. Collectively, could we identify the most prolific keyboard hero catchphrases of the Internet?
Trolling Avengers: Assemble!
Several clear threads emerged in the resulting crowd-sourced document. So here, in a bid to encourage trolls to be more creative in their insults (tip: the Shakespearean insult generator is a great place to start) I present the 10 most oft-repeated trollisms in tech journalism.
1. U r bias!
Possibly the predominant sentiment of trolls everywhere -- also frequently expressed as, "I notice X advertise on your site. How much did X pay you for this story?" or more pithily: "Advert" -- it expresses a troll's sense of injustice at the journalist's opinion not being the same as their opinion. But that's merely scratching the surface of "u r bias". In truth this catchphrase communicates absolute outrage that the journalist has an opinion at all.
Which leads me to:
2. Report some NEWS, not your stupid opinion!
Ah, what a black and white world the troll inhabits. There are no truths here, no complex, layered realities. No sense that a blog post might legitimately convey opinion. Oh, no. There is right or there is wrong. And there is "NEWS" or there is "non-sense". Unfortunately for the troll, this is wishful thinking. Journalism is not limited to news -- even newspapers carry leaders, columns, analysis and features -- nor is news composed of absolute, binary truths. If it were, we would need no journalists, only mathematicians.
3. How is THIS news? Nobody cares about this!
A variant of 2, which critiques the news values of the journalist's publication because they do not directly mirror the troll's news values. This sentiment can also be expressed with less outrage and more sarcasm as the following classic deflator:
4. Slow news day?
Trolls really love a spot of sarcasm, don't they?
5. This is the worst review/article/analysis ever!
One of the most posted trollisms ever. Often found sitting as the cherry atop an angry screed that goes into minute, ordinal detail explaining exactly how the journalist has got it so very, superbly wrong. Sadly the frequency with which "this is the worst review/article/analysis ever" appears has undermined its absolutist sentiment -- creating a dynamic of extreme irony.
Which leads me to:
6. I didn't even need to read this to know what it would say!
Having critiqued the journalist's craft (as, at best, "sloppy journalism" or "not journalism at all" or simply "advert"), the troll graduates to cynicism. Standing in the cynic's canyon, he or she proclaims the journalist's writing as so absolutely predictable it need not be read -- thus continuing to mine the rich seam of irony previously opened up.
7. I can't believe you get paid to write this rubbish!
And from cynicism it's but a short hop to disgust -- typically fiscal in nature (which leads me to suspect trolls aren't as well paid as they'd like to be, and certainly unaware of journalism's limited pecuniary rewards). The companion catchphrase to 7 involves calling for the journalist to be sacked. Such as the tweet which sparked this article: "Your article was atrocious. Not journalism at all. Go queue yourself at the unemployment line. Thanks."
8. I won't be visiting [site name] ever again!
Finally we arrive at absolute rejection. However, the irony of the troll's rejection is that it is not, in fact, absolute. Trollisms such as, "Do you not get bored reporting this stuff?" and "this is now the last place I come for tech news" frequently fire forth from the same keyboard hero. Also consider the following refrain: "I'm so sick of these bias articles, I won't be visiting [site name] ever again!" -- which clearly requires repeat visits for the experienced sentiment to be expressed.
9. I HATE YOU. YOU'RE A ****/WORSE THAN HITLER!
Irrational abuse (typically written in ALL CAPS) is the natural child of rejection and highly abusive trollisms are, sadly, not as rare as you might hope. Obscene words and abusive sentiments are also often paired with extremely disproportionate comparisons that liken the journalist/article to the most inhuman people/events in history. Or call for the journalist to commit suicide. This troll really has hit bottom.
10. This is very interesting, I would like to take the opportunity to link to [my own utterly irrelevant site www]...
Spam is also a form of trolling -- possibly the lowest form of trolling there is. Discuss!
What are you favourite trollisms? Post the best keyboard hero catchphrases you've come across in the comments below or troll our Facebook page or Twitter account -- adding the hashtag #keyboardherocatchphrases so we'll know you for the witty faux troll you are.