By Nwachukwu Egbunike
Early this year, I participated in a session that discussed Internet Trolling in the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit “The Open Internet: Local Perspectives, Global Rights” that held in Cebu, Philippines. It was fascinating that speaker after speaker derided trolls. It made sense considering the torture some have faced and continue to face from them.
Who Is A Troll?
Urban dictionary asserts that a troll is “one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” Wikipedia is more expressive:
In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments 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 deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
What is striking about the different renditions of trolling or trolls is that inherent intent to malign, disrupt and cause undue havoc. Thus it was only reasonable that expressions like ‘chock the trolls’ ‘don’t feed the trolls’, etc rolled out in that session in Cebu. However, can there be other portrayals of trolling that does not include this deliberate intention to destroy?
Nigeria’s Political Twitter, a Background
Anyone who follows Twitter Nigeria will agree that it is a pool of boiling conversations – from the good, to the bad and to the damn ugly. While Twitter remains a loose architecture that restricts with its 140 character limit, Nigerians have evolved ways of having a thriving discussion despite these constrains.
In the build up to the 2015 General Elections in my country, I highlighted the bi-focal disruptive political narrative that was inflicted on Nigeria’s Twitterati networked public sphere:
The streets of Nigeria’s Twitter are hot and harsh these days. The clash of the politico-twitterati on each side of the divide – opposition and the establishment – has been characterized with vile tweet-blood. Politico-Twitterati means those influential tweeps or overlords who are active partisan politicians. They differ from “political tweeps” (or political activists) who though they tweet on politics, owe no allegiance to any political party. The narrative as expounded by each side of the divide can be grouped into two: disruptive narration (by the opposition) and confutative narration (by the establishment).
Many of us saw beyond the façade then that this bifurcated narration was essentially political – either to keep hold on power or to take hold of power. It had nothing to do with love of country or the much trumpeted patriotism.
Besides, my ethnographic immersion as a participant-observer in Twitter Nigeria’s networked public sphere had made me more skeptical than ever. Truth is that nothing is what they seem, not only in Twitter but also in the country. Besides, social media in Nigeria is the public sphere for many whose only media is the social media. Unlike many digital immigrants, there is nothing ‘new’ in new media for digital natives.
We Are the #TrollCabal
Ikenna Okonkwo (@FailedRift), a geologist, university lecturer, blogger and social media aficionado is the founder and pioneer Convener of Twitter Nigeria #TrollCabal. Okonkwo resigned this year and passed on the baton of leadership to your sincerely, Nwachukwu Egbunike (@feathersproject).
This group’s aims are entirely non-confessional. #TrollCabal is made up of Nigerian tweeps from diverse ethnic nationalities, political leanings and cultural sympathies. The cabal has gradually swelled to admit so many tweeps who wanted a break from the bile that characterized conversations in TwitterNG. Later the group diversified into Sub Delivery Service (SDS) and Yardists.
Essentially the #TrollCabal makes mockery of the drama that characterizes Nigeria political space. We also mimic the Twitter Overlords and their conversations. This takes off the heat, which often bothers on pure hate, from the Twitter’s space. In addition, it provides a counter narrative that is non-violent and at the same time humorous.
Obviously the real impact of the #TrollCabal on the public conversation in Twitter will need a systematic unpacking by media scholars. However, the noon day clarity of the vibrancy of Nigerians on Twitter is one that needs no diviners peering. The #TrollCabal hopes to continue blazing the trail in this new conceptualization of Internet Trolling. For once these are trolls with no intention to disrupt, destroy or inflict undue pain.
Join us today. We are the #TrollCabal!