Everyone is familiar with internet trolls; they are a nuisance most of the time and occasionally a real problem. Sometimes friends will joke around and troll one another, but this occasional online banter is not enough to properly categorize such people as trolls. Real trolls are relentless, obstructionist and power hungry.
In her Los Angeles Times article, Patt Morrison argues that trolls are typically men from privileged backgrounds as evidenced by their tendency to attack women and minorities. This in unsurprising because most of internet trolling revolves around power. Trolls make themselves feel powerful by deliberately taking power away from their targets. By calling people names, offering unfair critiques, spreading misinformation, arguing inflammatory viewpoints, et cetera, trolls assert their ability to distract, confuse and degrade their targets. While not necessarily a precursor to supremacism, there are undoubtedly similarities shared by those who troll strangers and those who simply proclaim that other people are lesser than they are. As society has progressed, many of those who are privileged and who used to have all of the power – namely white men – have done what they can to retain their former power. Such people have lost enough power that they now choose to hide their attacks on the less fortunate behind the mask of anonymity, making the internet the perfect medium for their attacks.
By allowing people to interact anonymously with people whose identities are known, the internet creates an information asymmetry. In chapter two of Freakonomics, authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore how information asymmetries are exploited by two very different groups: real estate agents and the KKK. While these are two groups arbitrarily chosen for analysis, information asymmetries exist everywhere and give groups that control the information a powerful advantage until the asymmetries are corrected. Following this analysis, internet trolls will continue to be a problem until the information asymmetry is corrected, and their ability to post anonymously is stripped away.