Nobody Is Trying to Troll You

Troll dolls
Troll dolls.

Photo by Cali4beach/flickr

As an enormous fan of trolling, I feel obliged to meta-troll everyone out there by pointing out that all this time you’re complaining about online media properties trolling you is a waste. Nobody is trolling you.

I mean this not just in Farhad Manjoo’s sense that not all disagreement is trolling but that the entire perception that there’s a vibrant Internet economy of hate-reading and garnering traffic through disapproving shares is a mistake. The media cognoscenti may love Twitter, where it’s possible that disagreement and hate-links are important, but traffic is dominated by Facebook. Twitter drives slightly less than half the traffic of Pinterest. And Pinterest drives well less than half the traffic of Facebook. Trolling does not get you traffic on Facebook. To share an item on Facebook is specifically called liking it and you get Facebook traffic through earnest peer-to-peer recommendations based on genuine agreement.

In certain circles of the Web this has generated the dread and infamous smarm content strategy where you just give people things to clap for.

But even articles that you may perceive as trolling are succeeding, if they are succeeding, via the mechanism of genuine approval. Take my infamous August trolling about the evils of eating lunch outside. This was a pretty successful post because it turns out that lots of people agree with me. In fact, I think nothing else I wrote all year generated as much positive email as that post. Some substantial minority of the American public dislikes pressure to eat lunch outside on nice days and was made really happy to see that view validated in the media.

This kind of content expressing an unpopular opinion in a strongly worded way is no more “trolling” than Chinese restaurants are trolling by staying open on Christmas Day. They’re deliberately serving a minority clientele that’s especially appreciative of the product precisely because it’s not targeted at the mainstream consumer.