Thanks, @ComfortablySmug: Trolling Is Now So Mainstream It’s “Over”

Another week, another influential troll publicly shamed.

This week’s most famous troll is Twitter user @ComfortablySmug, the “villainous” spreader of fake news during the height of Hurricane Sandy.

Unlike the unmasking of Violentacrez, which exposed a man anyone would guess was an Internet troll anyway, the big reveal of 29-year-old Shashank Tripathi as a digital prankster was downright unsettling.

Take note: Even hedge fund analysts and former political consultants for GOP candidates troll. And even non-digital outlets now write about trolling. If it’s this popular, as they say in the IFC hit show Portlandia, trolling is now “over.”

Tripathi is currently being “pilloried on the Internet,” all because his tweet about the floor of the NYSE being flooded was picked up by Reuters, along with other journalists who didn’t bother fact-checking the false tidbit before broadcasting it on national television.

New York City Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr. was so upset by Tripathi’s bad and inappropriate jokes during the height of Hurricane Sandy that the politican publicly threatened the troll with prosecution. Tripathi, perhaps learning damage mitigation tactics from Violentacrez, publicly apologized via Twitter almost immediately and resigned from his GOP consulting position before he could be fired.

Tripathi’s trolling has been described as the digital equivalent of screaming “fire!” in a crowded movie theater, an offense that in the real world is against the law. Critics make this comparison by writing “Con Ed, the MTA, and Wall Street sources had to take time out of the crisis situation to refute” Tripanthi’s false claims.

But was Tripanthi really diverting resources during a natural disaster or leading people to their deaths with false information?

Heidi Moore over at The Guardian doesn’t think so, mainly because social media managers of Twitter accounts are there precisely to debunk rumors. Said social media managers are not trained or paid to “spend their time pulling bodies out of the wreckage.” (She also doubts if people left their homes in a panic due to Tripathi’s tweets.)

Rather, if anyone should be blamed, Moore writes, it’s journalists for being bad at the Internet: A simple Google search reveals immediately that the account is a well known troll. Even reading additional tweets on @ComfortablySmug’s stream reveal he is not to be taken seriously.

The mainstream media being bad at the Internet isn’t a new thing, but its sudden interest in unmasking trolls is. The days when trolling referred to an online activity exclusive to 4chan, Reddit and Anonymous are long gone. Academics are now studying this form of digital hazing and writing dissertations on it.

What’s the point in being a troll if everyone is doing it, or at least writing about it?

I hereby declare the digital shenanigans known as “Trolling” officially over.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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