Jaw wagging commenced and lengthy think pieces were published. Was he a fool, a fighter, a fascist, or a troll?
He was known throughout his life for his playfulness and disregard for authority. He had an interesting philosophical justification for this misbehavior: social irresponsibility.
Trolling was not invented on the internet. It is interesting, a bit sad (sad!) that people have not looked deeper into history to study this phenomenon. Journalists have attempted to define the phenomenon and have come up short.
Some have deemed it anonymous harassment, but the point is that it is harassment with a goal. Urban dictionary goes a bit further but still fails to get the point, saying that it is harassment with the goal of inciting anger.
I would like to expand Richard Feynman’s definition: “Socially conscious provocation with goal of exposing weakness and hypocrisy.”
Stephen Colbert, before his recent incarnation, was a classic troll. His character, an obscenely patriotic fool who saw the world in black and white, was able to lampoon the right wing during George W. Bush’s presidency. He exposed the hypocrisy: the selective Christianity, the fake bravado, and the doublespeak.
Hugh Troy was an illustrator and "practical joker” that served during WWII. One of his most famous pranks was to create a “flypaper report” that he would submit to Washington, reporting on the number of flies caught in the mess hall. The practice immediately spread to bases around the world; it remains a fantastic comment on bureaucracy.
OK, but how are trolls “socially conscious?”
Tech companies and the military use “white hat hackers” and “red teams” to test their security. A system is not really secure until these skilled “enemies” have attempted to break in.
Better would be, “do not be a hypocrite.” Expose your ideas to debate, fix their weaknesses, and emerge with a more robust synthesis. In fact, a strong argument for free speech is that it makes you troll-proof. Look at how easily dictators are mocked outside their fiefdoms.
Unfortunately, with the sifting of American society and the formation of echo chambers on social media, trolling is probably in its infancy.