I thought I knew trolls.
With my Scandinavian heritage, I grew up playing with funny little troll dolls. They were originally created by Danish baker and woodworker, Thomas Dam. He carved the first troll out of wood as a gift for his children. The little dolls grew quickly in popularity and in the early sixties, Mr. Dam bought a factory where the small creatures were made of rubber and plastic. I had a whole collection of Dam’s Good Luck Trolls. I loved when my Danish cousins gifted me with new ones. They were so ugly they were cute, with their round bellies and wide noses. Some wore clothes and others were naked. Hair was usually bright and fuzzy. Their androgyny allowed them to be any character I chose in my imaginative play. While some Scandinavian folklore saw trolls as repulsive creatures that occasionally ate children, goats and Christians, Dam’s trolls were ambassadors for Denmark.
I loved them.
Trolls under bridges were discovered in Norwegian stories. A favourite book in my childhood was The Three Billy Goats Gruff. My dad read this story to me with great expression in his voice; a squeak for the tiniest goat, a moderate tone for the middle-sized goat, and a roar for the biggest billy goat, unmatched by the possessive troll’s angry threats of gobbling up trespassers. I listened in awe. The fight was face to face, troll versus goat. And in the end, the goats worked together to outsmart the troll. Bravo!
Though I always felt a little sorry for the troll as he floated away down the river.
Now there is a new kind of troll in this millennium. The Urban Dictionary defines an Internet troll as “one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption or argument.” These trolls recently attacked Leslie Jones. She stars in the newly released Ghostbusters movie and is well known for her work on Saturday Night Live. She is bold and loud and hilarious. And she was silenced on Twitter by horrific racist, misogynistic comments posted by these so-called provocateurs. She withdrew from her account until their accounts were disabled. In her words, “hate speech and freedom of speech – two different things.” (https://www.yahoo.com/movies/ghostbusters-star-leslie-jones-talks-1477533518135350.html?soc_src=mail&soc_trk=ma)
Leslie’s experience hit hard for me.
Because my own daughter has been a victim of these anonymous trolls.
They hide behind cartoon images and silly fake names. They attacked her when she posted a three minute video about feminism.
It was a video I encouraged her to make.
A contest was being held online asking people to submit a clip defining “the new F word – feminism” and explaining what it meant to them. Gloria Steinem was involved. It sounded exciting! My daughter submitted her light-hearted video and I made one too. We had different perspectives and it was fun to compare notes. But she warned me, “Mom, keep your Youtube settings private. Don’t let the trolls see it.” I followed her advice and received only warm comments from supportive friends. But she posted hers publicly.
And the hate began.
I was horrified.
“You are ugly.”
“Actually, I think you’re quite pretty.”
“No, you are ugly.”
“ I want to cum all over you.”
“Men have rights too.”
“You are ugly.”
And as the discussion of her appearance and her “fuckability” continued, I thought I would die.
She eventually disabled the comments. But the trolls found other videos she made over the years and continued the attacks there. One went so far as to download her feminism video, edit it with his own words and repost it on Youtube. “Don’t watch it, Mom,” she cautioned. “It will be too much for you.”
My heart broke.
I contacted Gloria Steinem’s office. They apologized and explained that Gloria received this kind of hate every day.
And so I know a new kind of troll. This troll is cowardly, hiding not under bridges, but behind the anonymity of the Internet. This troll can devastate even those as brash as Leslie Jones or as brave as my daughter. They do not promote healthy conversation or lively discussion. They incite hurt and hate.
I thought I knew trolls.
Now I wish I didn’t.
©️Conni Cartlidge July 2016