Do you think genetically engineered invasive parasites are scary? How about child kidnapping and mind control? Prehistoric spider swarms? Nefarious tunnels in near-pitch black darkness? Shape shifting murders?
Well, I can safely tell you that none of those terrifying topics compare to the content of the Troll Hunter.
The book, written by Australian investigative journalist Ginger Gorman, starts by setting the scene. In 2013, and she’s a reporter doing a lighthearted and feel-good story for her local media outlet about a same-sex couple and their adopted son. She identifies as a champion of queer rights and presents the story as it is presented to her: a loving couple and an adorable adopted son, given a chance at happiness together.
After the story airs (and attracts a vicious but contained reaction from viewers opposed to same-sex marriage), it transpires that the loving couple are in fact paedophiles, and their son is the victim of sustained abused and unforgivable exploitation.
When that news comes to light, Gorman’s story is resurrected as proof of a leftist conspiracy and she truly experiences a fully-fledged and organised trolling attack. She, and her family, are targeted relentlessly for failing to detect the horrid crimes being committed by the couple. Extremist groups locate her address via geo-location on her public Twitter account. A family portrait, showing the faces of her husband and two young children, appears on a Neo Nazi website. The attacks are relentless. She describes the personal impacts with attempted journalistic detachment: her job is put at risk. Her marriage tested. Her world turned upside down.
After the dust settles, she does what few would have the courage to do: she turns her investigative skills to uncover the world of online trolling. Who are these trolls? What makes them tick? What are they trying to achieve? How should people respond?
Throughout her book she interviews many trolls one-on-one and sometimes even face-to-face. She questions, she delves, she researches. In some cases, she even forges unlikely friendships. She presents numerous case studies of the lives ruined by trolls, who leave in their wake broken homes, reputational damage, and in some cases death. Though she covers the topic from a uniquely Australian perspective, her enquiries cross oceans and continents. Wherever trolls dwell, she ventures.
The fortitude needed to get deep into the world of online trolling takes a clear toll on Gorman throughout the book. In the final pages, she publishes a brutally honest and revealing interview with her husband about her online exploits and quest for clarity. It is clear that she as paid a high price by writing this book. But I’m grateful to Gorman for her curiosity and bravery. She has taken what, in my mind, was a rather nebulous online risk and brought it into the sunlight.
Online communities are interesting places. They can be a refuge, an addiction, or a cess pool of toxicity. To the trolls featured in Gorman’s book, they can be all three. Prior to reading this book, I had little understanding or appreciation of the inner workings and governance arrangements of the various Troll Armies spread across the world. I’d also not seriously engaged with the legal ramifications, constitutional arguments, and corporate responsibility (or lack thereof) issues that arise in cases of intense and targeted trolling. The problem cannot be underestimated:
Australia alone is somewhere between $330 million and $3.7 billion poorer because of predator trolling and online harassment.
If you’ve any interest in knowing more about this area, I can highly recommend this book. But a word of warning: it may increase your general sense of dread, hopelessness and paranoia. Proceed with caution.
4 tiki torches out of 5