The New York Times has posted a preview of a story by Mattathias Schwartz from this week’s Magazine about trolls, people (mostly young men, it seems), who enjoy wreaking havoc on the Internet by mocking the dead, hacking into MySpace accounts, harassing message boards, and in one case, allegedly trying to induce seizures in epileptics via flashing images.
Why do they do it? As Mr. Schwartz (who we hope has good security on his personal Web site), writes:
Tracking down anonymous pranksters and provocateurs appears to have posed a unique journalistic challenge to Mr. Schwartz, who writes, “While reporting this article, I did everything I could to verify the trolls’ stories and identities, but I could never be certain. After all, I was examining a subculture that is built on deception and delights in playing with the media.”
The Magazine‘s ‘Medium’ columnist, Virginia Heffernan, also took a look at these internet creepy crawlies, seeing in their search for ‘lulz’ an update of an earlier generation’s anarchic thrills:
One commenter named ‘Janie’ responded to Ms. Heffernan’s post with a possible answer: “Everyone in this entire country needs therapy.”
A Times commenter named ‘Michael’ also drew a connection to another recent, highly controversial Times Magazine article about life online: “There’s no story here. This is even more embarrassing for The Times Magazine than ‘Blog Post Confidential.'”