Some will surely know that I edit a daily News digest, culled from the postings of the linux advocacy group popularly known as cola. I've been an inhabitant of cola for many years, have contributed to the FAQ, have contributed to the weekly stats package, and have made thousands of posts of my own.
I originally went to the cola group because it was debating many of the issues which were fundamental to my day job, essentially, the pros and cons of free software, Linux, the GPL, a new business paradigms around support, new development models built on the internet.
I've been all of positive, helpful, irritated, angry and even unreasonable at times, and have regularly taken part in political debate much wider than the politics of cola. Many of the people there I have the most respect for are the ones I most often disagree with. Except one group, these are the anti-charter, off-topic trolls; people who, in my view, should not post in this group at all.
In the main, I have them killfiled, a few at the leafnode level so they never enter my spool, but most in my slrn score file. I do it that way because I'm not the only user of my news server.
I watched again, today, as one of the regular trolls (usenet speak for people who knowingly present a false and provocative argument, frequently inappropriate for the group, in order to gain an audience. Well, today, I responded to the chap who had been trolled, with one of the most poetic pieces of prose I've ever written. Even I became sad on writing it, yet, I feel it is probably a reasonable summary of the character in question, so I've reproduced it here. Perhaps you'll resonate with it, perhaps not.
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> Crowing would be me PERSONALLY bragging about it at every opportunity,
> manually typing "Look tosser, I've got a degree in this, I know what I'm
> talking about".
One can only imagine that he's either jealous, or merely trying anything he can to troll a response from you. Personally, I suspect the latter, he's just trolling, because he knows that you'll respond to this, even if just to tell him he's wrong.
I have a mental image here of a sad and lonely man, in a bedsit or cramped flat, dishes stacking out of the sink, and the remains of the last take-away meal waiting to be put into the rubbish bin. The room is fairly dark, perhaps a single light bulb, but most illumination comes from a PC monitor, sat pride of place, on an untidy but obviously well-used desk. There are piles of old PCI cards nearby, and lots of "windows for dummys" books, and perhaps an MCSE certificate in a frame on the wall, in view of the computer user.
There is a phone, but it rarely rings, and a mobile he uses to take pictures of what he likes outside the room. He transfers them to the PC in his room, of course, and would like to share them with someone, but is lacking in sufficient social connections to do so. His email account is full of messages from contacts in Microsoft, people he once knew well, people he envies because they were employed when he was not. These, of course, are the ones with the Comp Sci degrees...
He is at once fascinated with and terrified of Linux and free software. His terror stems from his lack of relevant academic qualification, but his fascination, in equal measure, from awe of those who write the code, who can manage the machines, and who are not scared. Deep down, he knows that free software is on an unstoppable march to an inevitable victory. He knows that his flimsy certifications will become worthless, and that he'll have to change or find another career, but he hopes that if he rants for long enough, like those foolish courtiers of King Cnut,that he can wish the tide back out.
So, he fills his empty hours with busy minutes, convincing himself that there is some value to his interaction with the usenet community he came to harass. The busy minutes often feel like exciting seconds, as he trolls someone into a response, perhaps justifying a point, or disputing, yet again, the same argument he made last year and the year before, in those endless, lonely days of empty hours, stretching back as
far as he chooses to recall. When he was younger, he used to look down on the old men, sat on their parkbenches, but now, he avoids gazing at them, because he's terrified of seeing himself, in 20 years, looking
Don't feed the trolls - pity them.
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