Do Not Feed the Trolls

Above: Do Not Feed the Trolls. Credit: Sam Fentress/Asbestos.

Artist Troll

State sanctioned disinformation or propaganda campaigns (so-called "information warfare") are often carried out by paid Internet trolls. ("In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community--such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog--with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll's amusement." WP: 27-3-2018) Such activities can never really be "traced" definitively and determined to be State propaganda in that a State-troll has mission or campaign instructions which may be only verbal. The troll in every other way is an ordinary person who has, as such, every right to their extreme views and their endless poisonous posts and Tweets, etc. At a news-conference in 2017, Russian President Putin was asked about the status of Internet trolls in Russia who seem to be organized in their continuous streams of anti-Western posts and comments. His reply was memorable: "Trolls are free people, like artists."

Putin's point is that anyone has the right to express their political views under freedom of speech--a cornerstone of Western liberal democracy. But I am more taken by the reference to artists. The actual contemporary artist today has been largely sidelined and rendered somehow irrelevant by the Internet (and the move to trophy collecting). But equally, the role of artist on the Internet is still unformed and unknown--the Internet is so far used by artists only for their feeble websites.

So, in this way, Putin is maybe more right then he knows: perhaps the Internet troll is indeed a form of truly contemporary artist--and by extension the hacker, the leaker, the data dumper. The artists of today are trolls, hackers, leakers and data-dumpers.

The coda here is the status of performance art, or live art--as some insist on calling it. In the present era, the problem for live art (and satire also, as Stewart Lee has noted) is that it has been utterly upstaged by reality. A press-conference or a speech by Trump, or Putin, or Kim Jong-un, for example (but not limited to these characters) can often appear as if a piece of absurdist-inspired performance art.

(28 March 2018)