Playing Truth or Troll

by Karoli on December 23, 2007 · 9 comments

or “Fooled me Twice, Shame on Me”

Repeat after me: “Surprise, Karoli! Fake Steve Jobs is…..dare I say it? FAKE.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know he is, but given that I’ve been sucked in by blogger hoaxes twice in the past two weeks, it seems to me like it’s worth deconstructing the reasons that I believed words on a screen without anything solid behind them, especially since crow isn’t a really nice holiday treat like Rice Krispy treats or Christmas cookies. So how does a person who is reasonably intelligent, perhaps not a monster genius but a thinker nevertheless get sucked in by a troll?

Enough Reality to be Credible

Adolf Hitler said, “… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility…” It’s that force of credibility that lays the foundation for deception. In the Fake Steve Jobs postings, which I wrote about when the last post was the one about being threatened, there were two characteristics which raised the credibility bar, even on a post from someone who admits being “fake”. The first was that the voice in the post was not FSJ. The voice was much closer to Dan Lyons’, the Forbes writer who invented, created, and now profits from the FSJ blog. The second was personal experience with lawyers and lawsuits, which are nothing to joke about whatsoever. If you do not think they can do what he described, you have never been sued. In California, it is the norm to have a lawyer do a public records search and let you know exactly what is at stake if you do not play by their rules. The combination of the two sucked me right in.

This is the heart of the Charlie Brown video I posted yesterday. Lucy invites Charlie to kick the ball and when he scoffs at the idea, knowing she’ll yank it away just in time to land flat on his back, she gives him the “It’s Thanksgiving” line, injecting just enough of a reason for him to believe there, so he’ll bite. Charlie, still skeptical but always optimistic, believes her one more time, and lands flat on his back once again.

On the Internet, it’s easier, even, because a writer with a decent knowledge of human nature and a sharp sense of cynicism can succeed in turning reality on its head, which is what the writer of the Lori Drew blog posts and FSJ have in common. They know exactly where to place the hooks and dangle the bait so that there is enough reality to pull readers in.

However, the best satirists let their audiences in on the joke, because they don’t get to play their audiences as fools too many times before the audience tires of the game. In the FSJ case, the only other time he broke voice was to tell the truth — that he was Dan Lyons, and that Dan Lyons was the writer of a book which was to be published soon, and Dan Lyons wrote for Forbes magazine and the FSJ blog was to become part of the Forbes website. Other than that, he’s stayed in the FSJ voice in his blog posts until this most recent series. Although the majority of commenters are applauding him for his brilliance and wit, there are a few who feel foolish and stupid, like me.

I’m not a tech blogger; I’m a tech blog reader. In fact, there are times where I ask myself why I bother to write about some of this stuff because for the most part, it’s pretty well covered by the ones who are tech bloggers, and there are times where I feel like an interloper in a fairly exclusive circle. After all, it was pointed out to me in the comments to this post that I’m not a developer, or a designer or a web visionary or a member of those clubs. But I am a geek and a user, and when I write about tech or the internet it’s written from a user’s perspective. My voice is worth using in situations where I can either offer some perspective to others who don’t want to spend time reading or staying up to date, or to the creators of applications who might want some feedback on what I think of it, or when I just want to say something because it’s my weblog and I get to say it. However, I don’t try to fool you. What you read here is what I would say to you face-to-face, it’s real and it’s not intended to be linkbait or get a hook on Techmeme.

I truly don’t understand the fun in being a troll. I just don’t. I understood the FSJ fun, but not the Fake Dan Lyons fun. That just felt like manipulative troll droppings when I realized it was all for play (and linkbait?). It’s all just a little too twisted for me, and more than a waste of time. There’s a lot of talk about transparency in blogging, but it’s really just that – talk. As long as acts of deception and trollery are applauded, there’s no transparency and there’s no trust for the group applauding.

As for prevention in the future, I can only look to the examples set by some others, like Steven Hodson at WinExtra and Mathew Ingram, who had their skeptical radar up and beaming at the beginning. That, and maybe just sticking to what I know best for a bit while I figure out my new trust scores.

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