How Trolls Operate
Ever heard of a “bikini bridge?” If you have, then it is likely you’ve had first hand experience with a successful troll. I found out about the bikini bridge troll because of an article on Buzzfeed (where I also obtained the first and third images). The article does a great job of documenting how the troll was conceived on 4chan and then circulated throughout the internet. It provides a great opportunity to take a look at the intentions of the trolls behind the hoax as well as some of the techniques they use to cause chaos. So before reading further, it might be a good idea to check it out.
Notice the third image in this post? A clearer version of it can be found here. This is the 4chan post that started it all; it’s titled “Welcome to Operation Bikini Bridge.” The post outlines a sophisticated plan involving the circulation of propaganda and counter-propaganda surrounding the bikini bridge- all meant to create chaos among online communities, social critics, and the news media. But before going into too much detail about the techniques being used to create the fictional fad, let’s take a look at what social groups are targeted for nurturing the “buzz" and why.
Since everything concerning the bikini bridge is fictional, starting a fad about it means generating lots of controversy in order to get people’s attention. True, there are plenty of fads out there that don’t require this approach when getting started- but trolls don’t have access to air time on television, the influence of a famous celebrity, or any means of traditional marketing exposure. In this case, getting the bikini bridge off the ground means taking the idea to the two most vocal “for and against” groups regarding the female body so they can argue about it and draw other people in to the argument via the communications structures that exist in their respective communities (i.e. casual Facebook postings, blogs, online articles, comment threads, etc…).
The first community the trolls obviously targeted is the feminist one. Because of their passion, because of their highly organized communities, and because they already expect our society to spontaneously come up with things like the “bikini bridge,” feminists were a prime target for generating a widespread reaction. By playing on their desire to spread the word about the latest social evil affecting women, and by also playing off of divisions within feminism (like the above image that mentions “4th wave feminism”), the trolls used feminists to do their work of generating controversy for them.
The same is true for those communities likely to embrace the bikini bridge alluded to in the 4chan posting; communities that see nothing wrong with eating disorders and function as support groups for women who have them and wish to maintain them. Also, communities that focus on weight loss- that take pride in being thin and encourage each other in their dieting/fitness endeavors. These kinds of communities tend to be just as well organized and passionate as their feminist counterparts. They too are optimal targets for helping to generate a controversy surrounding a troll- in fact, it was likely the existence of these sorts of communities (feminist and fitness) that lead to the idea for this particular troll in the first place.
Which brings us to an important defining characteristic of trolls. At least for this ideal type I am describing, the “pure troll,” there is no underlying ideology surrounding the bikini bridge that they are trying to advocate. They do not hate feminists or feminist ideology- the same is true for the dieting and fitness communities. Trolls don’t favor one view point over the other- but they do understand both viewpoints. They understand which topics are likely to cause the maximum amount of friction between opposing viewpoints of this nature. Those initial pictures shown above, and in the Buzzfeed article, were calculated down to the font being used. Make no mistake, trolls can be very sophisticated, but don’t get caught up in their sophisticated use of other people’s beliefs. They don’t care about the same things you care about. They only want to see you get upset, frustrated, and confused because it is funny to them. In other words, “they do it for the lulz.”
Tune in next time as I continue this thread on trolls by taking a closer look at some of the methods they use and how far the bikini bridge got before being “exposed.”
* These images are not my own, they were found by doing a simple Google image search.