Tortoise Soup

A wordy kind of blog

Month: August, 2014

How To Go Online Hunting – Part I

I was having breakfast this morning and decided to watch some short YouTube videos. Harmless, right? Now by trying to avoid the television, by limiting myself to some short clips, I ended up doing essentially the same thing. This is a slippery slope with YouTube, you go to watch one video and then the all-knowing side bar recommends other videos. Before you know it, four hours have passed. Whether it be DIY style videos, music video clips, or adorable animals, this morning YouTube seduced me with Jenna Marbles’ whimsical vlog on life.

The first time I was introduced to Marbles was through a shared Facebook link a few years ago to a video called “How to trick people into thinking that you’re good looking”. But today I went past just watching a short shared video and instead I sat and watched her channel much like regular television (although with less advertisements). And whilst watching this, I broke the golden rule of the Internet, and scrolled down to the comments (see: Greg Jericho’s “Never Read the Comments”), and read some of the extensive battles between viewers.

What’s interesting in the comments above is how the first is something unnecessarily offensive against Marbles, either her appearance or her content, and then there’s a stream of “fights between commenters on who is the more incompetent person” (Jericho) which veers away from the initial comment. Marbles herself does not engage with this commentary but she doesn’t seem to moderate it either. Most of these comments are potentially defamatory, and this style of online communication has most recently been categorised as trolling.

Now, I’m going to go off into a linguistic spin-off into what exactly is a troll? If we take the morpheme ‘troll-’, then we see quite an interesting evolution. Mark Forsyth, on his blog Inky Fool, explains that:

The verb troller first appears in Medieval French. It meant going out hunting without having any specific animal in mind. 

From then on the OED provides more than 20 definitions of ‘troll-’: to walk in the streets in search of a sexual encounter as a homosexual; to move around; to turn over in one’s mind; to move the tongue incessantly (of speech); and, the list goes on. Our Scandinavian understanding of the mythical, mindless, giant only became adopted into English (from Norse) in the mid-19th century.

Ancient troll funny junk

But what about Internet trolls? Troll in modern computer language came around in the 1990s as posts that deliberately try to provoke an angry response (see Jason Wilson’s “Same as it ever was”). Our 21st century understanding has evolved into anybody that publishes abusive or offensive commentary online. And that’s very broad. To some, Jenna Marbles’ videos are offensive, as they ridicule a plethora of personalities and tastes in the name of comedy and entertainment. For example, “How To Dance Like A White Girl” can be deemed as sexist and racist and Marbles even includes a small disclaimer at the start: “I’m making fun of me as much as I’m making fun of you”, which acknowledges that some people may find this offensive. Does this make Marbles a troll or a comedian? And then there’s the barrage of comments about the video being racist, as well as offensive claims targeted at Marbles — such as Marbles is “dumbing down America” — followed with a barrage of fights between commentators.

Are the initial offensive commentators being trolls or sharing their opinion in a public forum? Are the responders to these comments trolls or active participants in a democratic discussion, simply using unpleasant jargon? Is offense in the eye of the beholder? Maybe we need to return trolls to the Scandinavians to understand a troll as someone who uses their anonymity (mythical) to be mindless? Or better yet combine it with Medieval France:

Troll: a person that anonymously offends or insults without a specific target in mind. In other words, online hunting.

And on top of this if the content that the troll publishes is problematic and potentially defamatory, who is truly responsible for it? The commentator (i.e. Full Natty Brah), the channel owner (Jenna Marbles), or the platform owner (YouTube/Google)?

Let me know where you think the responsibility lies in the poll or comments below. And I’ll come back with Part II as my next post to discuss this. 


Officially Friends?

Recently, a colleague and I began to form a friendship, and slowly this friendship started to grow outside of the work arena. However, rather than exchanging phone numbers and maintaining communication through this network, the relationship was officiated through very different platforms. First we followed each other on Instagram; then became Facebook Friends; then SnapChat; and after this we decided to exchange phone numbers. This evolution of our friendship was a type of ‘social grooming’, a modern day ‘social etiquette’ of revealing yourself in an ordered manner. It is a type of courtship amongst the younger generation; a slow unveiling of introducing your social media identity before allowing another entry into your private space.


Is this the new 21st century friendship formation? boyd and Ellison (2008) differentiate between everyday “friends” and Friends, which is capitalised, as Friends on social network systems. The latter Friends requires a formal “bi-directional confirmation for Friendship”, as an intent to be connected via a specific network. This connection could mean a way to see inside your “online representation of self”. For example, once my colleague and I confirmed our Instagram and Facebook Friendship we agreed to allow each other to see what visual way we filter / represent our day-to-day life, what content we share or like and opened a direct messaging portal.

boyd and Ellison’s essay focuses on the ‘showcasing’ abilities of social networks, rather than the content that is shared across these networks. Whilst this may have been the case during publication in 2008, this visibility element has shifted to being more focused on the content that you share, such as images, videos, articles, statuses…etc. While the organisation of the online community has shifted, the creation and formulation of the ‘online representation of self’ has grown stronger, with growing pressures tomeme i love me appear a certain way, to filter a perception of the self. boyd and Ellison discussed how social network sites were constructed as ‘egocentric’ networks, with the “individual at the centre of the community”. We create a social media space to represent a desired perception of ourselves, through a selective and filtered online identity.

Which leads me to ask if there is any semantic shift in the way we understand the term ‘friend’ since social network sites became a norm in our everyday lives? If there is a need to differentiate friend and Friend, and the line between online and offline blurs, what happens to our understanding of friendship? In 2011, Sherry Turkle argued a cultural tolerance for being ‘alone together’, where the intimacy of friendship is managed on a friendship-on-demand model. There is an illusion of companionship, an illusion of a two-way social dynamic relationship. When observing the emotional validation and importance of the ‘Like it’ button when a status is put up, we can see how we are managing this friendship model through a validation of impressions, and of how many likes. Take for instance the concept of specific hashtags that exist to get you more ‘friends’ (followers), for example #followback on Twitter or #tagsforlikes on Instagram. These are some of the most popular hashtags, which brings us back to Turkle’s ideas that the dynamic on social networks are an illusion. Our performance is managed through the number of likes or followers in order to make us feel validated, but instead we are ‘alone together’.

meme friend

As my colleague and I add each other on Facebook, we joke that we are now officiated, because we are ‘Facebook official’. A common joke poking at the farcical level of meaning placed into relationships on social media. It is important to differentiate between the values and relations we expect from a friend and those of an acquaintance sustained via the social media channel as a Friend. Academics and social scientists have gone into depth into the ethical concerns of ‘virtual’ friendships and the loss of necessary emotional intimacy, which is partially summarised by Joseph Kahn here. But perhaps it’s a semantic shift that needs to be appropriated. Many friendships are commonly supplemented via an online element, such as emails or social media, some (such as long distance) are maintained with greater ease this way; and others are those who are acquaintances or former friends, such as old school friends, who are retained here, perhaps for nostalgic reasons or prying curiosity.

What do you think, is there a difference between Friend and friend? Let me know in your comments below.