While the term ‘troll’ is often used to refer to individuals on the internet who engage in unnecessary contentious behavior for enjoyment, the concept of trolling goes back to ye olde days before the internet where it was often employed as a means of social activism. Operation Mindfuck was a term used by Discordians as far back as the 1960s to describe methods of activism that employed nonsense, confrontation, surrealism and other forms of schadenfreude to disseminate a message or fulfill an agenda. Nowadays the preferred nomenclature for activist trolling is culture jamming, while I prefer the term ‘guerilla pedagoguery’.
Recently a Facebook user employed culture jamming as a response to the blatant murder of Walter Scott by officer Michael T. Slager. He did this by building a Facebook page called the ‘Michael T. Slager Support Fund’ which was connected to a GoFundMe account. The honorable troll who did this never explicitly stated that the funds would go directly to the murderous Slager. His intention was to use the funds himself to pay off his car while giving 5% of proceeds to Slager’s family in accordance with GoFundMe rules and regulations. Yet his real intent was to draw out the misguided individuals who support cops like Slager and to erode their ability to trust the internet to practice their blind obedience.
“To everyone who scorned, sent me a bag of dicks, or threatened my life, I want to say I am very proud of each and every one of you. I created this monster to attract monsters and you took up arms together to destroy it. You are the people that make our world great, and society livable. To the misguided, the racist and bigots that donated, sorry but not sorry, please try to get your heads out of your asses it’s 2015. There is no good reason to support this man financially unless you are someone in his family or his friend. If you’re neither of those I’m sure you’re overlooking someone in your own life or community that could use the help much more. Let’s face it he’s a fuck up, and he’s destroyed his life, taken Walter L. Scott’s life and devastated both of their families in the process.”
In doing so the troll was able to build an audience which he was then later able to present a message of accountability to. It was a brilliant way of gathering the other side together for a nice discussion of the issues. His efforts have also weakened the credibility of real groups that use social media and crowd-funding to support police who have acted immorally and illegally. By planting this uncertainty he has undermined the position of those who support the police no matter what. His actions will force people to think twice about whether their support will be used in some unintended way.
“I want to keep this up to let them all know that their next racist/homophobic/bigoted agenda crowdfunding campaign could just be me.”
This is just one example of how trolling has been used to create positive social change. The potential for it to do much more is only limited by the imaginations of those who employ the method. While our typical discussions of ‘trolling’ often have all sorts of negative connotations, we forget that it is not the tool which defines its value, but its usage, efficiency and ability. Used by activists to reach greater audiences and destabilize harmful paradigms, trolling can be a positive, effective and fun method of influencing societies towards more peaceful and harmonious futures. Every tool or skill is of value and every individual has several. The question is whether we decide to employ them out of mere greed and/or boredom or if we employ them for the benefit of others besides ourselves while personally gaining meaning, value and community in the process.
Troll on, activists! The future depends on it.