Fair warning, this post is me doing a bit of soap boxing and some thinking out loud. If you're here for writing type stuff, go on and skip this one and I'll see you next time.
I don't like the word troll. Specifically, the way we use the term for 'internet trolls.'
I've been on this here internets for a long time now and, as the man said, "I've seen shit that will turn you white."
Way back when, around the time the term "troll" started being used, a troll was a kind of prankster. They were the people who spent their internet time dicking with others on whatever forum they happened to be a part of. To call them "devil's advocate" is too be far too generous, but they got their jollies winding people up and fanning the flames of controversy. A troll would drop into a conversation, leave a short inflamatory comment about something, and duck out again.
If I had gone onto a Lord of The Rings fan forum in 2001 and said "This movie is basically a rip off of the Dungeons and Dragons movie that came out last year." and then sat back and watched the fans go nuts trying to prove me wrong and give me an enraged historical lesson on Lord of The Rings, we'd call me a troll.
There's an old joke on 4chan known as "The day /b/ went too far." Google this at your own peril. You'll probably be offended. But the idea is that one person posts a specific picture and asks if anybody has seen it. Everybody who is in on the joke responds with messages like "Too soon, OP." and "Oh god, why did you have to remind me?" and everybody who hasn't been around starts asking what the picture is and why everybody is so upset and nobody tells them exactly why, but keeps on making a fuss about how heart broken they are. It's all done to mess with the newbies.
This is trolling. You could call it juvinile, you could call it a lame way to get your kicks. You can criticise it in all kinds of ways but what you could not call it is damaging or illegal.
Somewhere along the way, the word has changed. I'm tempted to blame news media. The word got picked up by some reporter who didn't understand it but used it anyway. It could also be just plain old evolution of language. How it happened doesn't matter.
But I don't like it.
Because lately there has been a lot of talk about trolls, especially in regards to things like Gamers Gate and similar internet controversy. And now, when we hear reports of people getting threatened with rape and murder, when people's home addresses are shared online against their will, when private data and photographs are hacked and spread around, when people are verbally abused and stalked online or campaigns of hate and character assassination are launched against them, we call it trolling. These are internet trolls.
I can think of some better terms. Scum of the earth, assholes and criminals all come to mind.
Make no mistake, many of these things we call "trolling" are actual crimes. If you did this shit offline, you would be arrested.
I can see no reason why troll should become a euphemism. I see no reason why we shouldn't call a stalker a stalker or why the asshole in the YouTube comments is described as "trolling" when what he is doing is "threatening to break into your house and violently rape you." If you said this to somebody in a bar or on the street, nobody would call you a troll, they'd just call the police.
I don't like the way we use the word troll. It's not because I am resistant to the way language changes out of principal and not because trolling used to be something so harmless. It's because when we call this "trolling" we are hiding what it really is and making it sound a lot less damaging than it really is. These kinds of serious and aggressive actions don't need euphemisms, they need stopping.