As this list will demonstrate people have been trolling since the dawn of time, but the origins and identities of the first online trolls is shrouded in some mystery. The term is understood to have first gained currency on internet forums circa the late ‘80s or early ‘90s and came from a practice known as “trolling for newbies” – the word itself perhaps a deviation of trawling. As opposed to the violently abusive practice of “flaming” trolling was a fairly benign tactic designed to prevent discussions becoming repetitive. The troll in question would post a topic that had already been discussed, debunked or debated to death: only new users would respond and thus be identified as such to the group’s old-hands.
One of the most notorious of these trolls on the Usenet forums was David Mikkelson who posted under the username Snopes. If that name sounds familiar it is because he, along with partner Barbara Mikkelson, went on to found the myth busting website Snopes.com. Both are professional researchers with a keen interest in folklore and urban legends and their site has, since its inception in 1995, been attempting to find the truth behind the kind of stories that get forwarded around the internet to raise awareness of distinctly dubious stories. Has the US government been mass-purchasing guillotines? Are gang members killing people who don’t flash at them? Is Barack Obama a radical Muslim? These are the kind of stories that Snopes routinely blows to bits.
In a way Mikkelson is still trolling as hard as he ever did on Usenet. In uncovering the truth behind rabble-rousingly wrong email forwards he is still exposing and undermining the illusions of the ignorant and telling people what they don’t want to hear. Sounds tenuous? Next time a friend or relative posts a Facebook update about some clearly contrived controversy try leaving a comment with a link to a debunking article from Snopes.com and see what happens…
That said, these days David Mikkelson is less troll more trill:
Follow The Empty Page on Twitter to keep posted on the countdown: @theemptypage_