Once upon a time, there was a far away land called Tenretni. Tenretni was an interesting place, full of interesting things to see. There were the usual supermarkets and restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas and even a Red Light District.1 But, there were also zoos full of baby animals doing cute things and libraries dedicated to old television shows and museums just for cat videos. There were gigantic department stores that sold clothes and furniture and toys. There were also other places that sold things that were much weirder, like this or this or this.2
But, aside from all the fun things to see, Tenretni was particularly special because of the different neighborhoods where people went to spend time together. They would talk about themselves and their families and, sometimes, about things that were affecting other people too. One part of Tenretni was just devoted to pictures. Some people would share pictures of themselves doing silly things or pictures they found meaningful, but people mostly just used it to share pictures of their food. Another section was where people could say things along with whatever else they wanted to share, but there was a limit to how much people could say at a time. Sometimes that meant that more people got to speak but sometimes it just meant that so many people were speaking all at once that it was hard to hear anyone. (That area was usually just filled with people who thought they were funny, even if they weren’t.)
The last neighborhood was the biggest one. It was sort of a combination of the first two places and it had been around longer than either of them. People went there to share pictures, videos, information and jokes all at the same time. Sometimes people went there to ask questions; sometimes people went there to tell all of their friends how they felt about something; and sometimes people just went there to spoil television shows for everyone else. The nicest thing about this neighborhood was that no matter where someone lived, his neighborhood was really easy to reach, so people could share pictures and updates about their families with relatives and friends who lived far away.
Most of the people who went to these neighborhoods did so to enjoy themselves and to enjoy sharing ideas with other people. But, as one might expect, there were some who did not play so well with others. They were not interested in sharing information and they didn’t care about people’s feelings. If someone expressed an opinion that they thought was wrong, rather than disagreeing and offering a different point of view, they would insult the person. They would make fun of the person’s looks or their gender or their ethnicity. They would latch onto any characteristic that they could find to demean the person who spoke first. It wasn’t about a difference of opinion; it was about humiliating the person into keeping their mouth shut.
These people were called Trolls.
The scariest part about the Trolls is that they weren’t the same huge, lumbering oafs from typical fairy tales.3 Many of them looked just like you or me. They went to work and they went to school. Some Trolls had families that they came home to at night. Some Trolls were adults and some Trolls were college students and some Trolls were just teenagers. Some Trolls were teaching their children how to be Trolls when they got older.
Trolls would find a person living with depression and make obscene comments about a picture of him playing with his young daughter. Trolls would read about a woman accusing a professional athlete of rape and immediately blame her for trying to ruin the athlete’s career before getting all of the facts. Trolls would hear a female sports media personality offer an opinion and would tell her to “get back in the kitchen.” (Because, really, Trolls weren’t usually very creative and that was the best they could come up with.) Sometimes, when Trolls got really bold, they would even make obscene comments about the things they would do to a person’s daughter or say that a person deserved to be physically harmed because of their comments.
Sometimes they would even make threats to inflict that harm themselves.
No one really knew the best way to handle the Trolls. Some said that people should not feed the Trolls and that would make them stop being so mean. You see, the Trolls fed on attention and power. If Trolls could affect a person’s thoughts or emotions, they felt like they became more important and that they had gained an element of control over someone else. So, if a Troll came out and started making their terrible comments about other people, but nobody paid attention to him, the Troll would be forced to look for food elsewhere. Unfortunately, the problem with this tactic was that the Trolls would keep looking until they found someone to feed on.
The real issue was that the Trolls felt like they could get away with saying anything they wanted. When they spoke in those neighborhoods in Tenretni, they didn’t have to be face to face with the person they were feeding on. It was easier to be hurtful because there weren’t any real consequences.
But then some people in Tenretni started telling the Trolls’ employers, their teachers and coaches and, sometimes, even their families, about what the Trolls had been saying. They showed everyone what the Trolls had said and some of the Trolls got punished. They lost their spots on sports teams, they lost their jobs and some even got arrested. Even though many of the Trolls continued to spread their hateful words and look for attention, some of them realized that they would be held accountable for their words and decided to change their ways.
This story may not have a happy ending, but it is not necessarily sad, either. There were still very many Trolls left and they continued to hurt other people without thinking twice. That being said, the people of Tenretni supported each other more and more and shot down the Trolls’ attempts to get attention. They continued to keep their conversations going and shut out the Trolls whenever they turned up. It was not always easy, but the people of Tenretni became hopeful again that, one day, they would be able to share their ideas and their information in peace.
1. A huge Red Light District.↩
2. These were pretty tame examples, believe it or not. Do yourself a favor and Google “weird things you can buy on the internet.”↩
3. That’s not entirely true. Some of them were exactly that.↩