I think everyone is well aware that people have always found new and exciting ways to annoy one another for quite some time now. Only recently however have people been able to not only bother total strangers but remain completely anonymous while doing it. The internet in recent years has seen the rise of a group of people known as internet trolls, basically someone who uses the anonymity available to them on the web to annoy, tease and harass others on the web. It’s an interesting phenomenon, which is exactly why I decided to look into the history of internet trolling, to see exactly where this favorite pass time of many all began.
Its important to note that trolling has existed long before public access to the internet was a common thing. The first form of what today we think of as trolling was in fact the prank phone call. Prank phone calls, popular before the introduction of caller-ID, share many of the same principles as online trolling, such as anonymity, teasing and tricking complete strangers, the continuous harassment of certain individuals, and seemingly being consequence free. Although prank phone calls were popular in the 70’s and 80’s, there have been many examples prior to this. In fact, the first known prank phone call took place in 1884, just eight years after the telephone was invented, and other instances took place in the 1930’s. The vast majority of internet trolls are people in their youth, and I think it’s safe to say that had these people grown up before the rise of the internet then they would be keeping themselves busy through the activity of prank phone
Although prank phone calls are the without a doubt the most popular form of pre-internet trolling, they are far from the only example. During my research into the evolution of trolling, I learned that another popular form of trolling even to this day is over a CB radio. For those of you that are unaware, a CB radio is a radio that is used to talk to other owners of the device through ever connected airwaves. The most powerful devices can communicate all over the world. CB radios are commonly used by truckers, and as a result has become a breeding ground for trolls. Like the internet and pre-caller id phones, users of CB radios have an extreme amount of anonymity, giving credence to the thought of consequence-free harassment. This type of trolling dates all the way back to 1969. Below is a compilation of some examples.
All of this brings us to the utility each and every one of use uses on a daily basis, the internet. More importantly, it brings us the one of the largest groups of people on the web, internet trolls. During my research, I came across an article discussing the history of trolls and discovered a very good point. When internet trolls first began to pop up on the internet, they were much more in line with what we had seen previously with prank calls and CB radios. The trolling was mostly harmless. Certainly annoying, and sometimes bordering on actual harassment, but mostly harmless. But as time went on, there was a shift in the attitude of many internet trolls. Certain trolls started to become more malicious in their intent. The internet provided information, services, and anonymity previously unheard of, and this opened the gate for all kinds of new ways to harass people. One of the most notable trends among the trolling community today is an act known as swatting. In this act, while a professional streamer is playing a game on twitch, the troll will call the police and tell them that the streamer in question has killed someone or has a bomb or has done something else worthy of sending in a swat team. Them, after the call has been placed and the swat team is on the way, the troll watches the arrest play out on the stream. Trolling such as this is extremely dangerous, and is becoming more and more popular everyday. Why trolling been taken to such an extreme level is still unclear. My research has wielded a wide variety of theories. The two I believe to be the most valid is 1. the role politics plays on the internet has caused people to use trolling as a way to take their frustrations out on those who’s political opinion does not align with their own, and 2. The anonymity of the internet has cause people to feel so disconnected from other people on the internet that when they take trolling to the extreme, they don’t even think of it as harming another human beings.