Bloggers sometimes imagine that their commenters are basement dwellers with nothing better to do than write offensive missives on the Internet. We should know better, since that's what people imagine bloggers look like, and I put on pants in the morning. But I should also know better because I know a comment troll very well: my mom.
She doesn't use her full name or "Becca’s Mom" as her handle, but it's not too hard to figure out she's my mom. Under her pseudonym, which also happens to be her AOL screen name, she posts things like "best science round-up on line!" or "Great article!~" below my articles.
She also asks about my love life. "So when are you going to get married? Ooops. I guess that’s too personal,” she commented on an story I wrote about Google Chrome. Or: “And, btw, what guy is worthy of you?” she asked after another.
Normal non-mom commenters—even when positive—don’t cheer on writers, calling them the most beautiful, capable, talented, smart aggregator on the Internet. They don’t sneak in passive-aggressive remarks about my marriage plans. And they definitely don’t stand up for "Greenfield" when other commenters get nasty. My mom does all of that, though. Even the last part: "p.s. Charles, you are not smart enough to get Greenfield’s point. Give it up," Mom once wrote. (Mom!)
To the lay reader, those remarks wouldn't fall under the definition of trolling, an often argued about term that Urban Dictionary defines as: “The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue.” Coming from my mom, though, a passive-aggressive note asking about my marital status below a post about a web browser pisses me off, deliberately.
We expect irritating/borderline-endearing comments from moms offline, and maybe commenting is a manifestation of that tendency in a new medium. Even a mother like mine—Type A, with high standards for her kids— can’t help but boom around with mom pride bursting out of her seams. Trolls, on the other hand, skew negative, studies have shown. The worst trolls resort to rape threats. Mild ones are sexist, or just plain mean. That irritating, un-endearing behavior is not something we expect from most moms, at least not directed at their daughters on a public forum. My mom, it turns out, isn't most moms. She, like a troll, skews negative, too: “While I love the AtlanticWire.com, I think its bias is obvious and shameful,” she once wrote.
Dr. B, also known as Big B to my Little B, is practiced at speaking her mind, both in the digital and analog worlds. She has a blog and a website, and uses Twitter and Gmail. She has also fought and won a gender discrimination lawsuit.
For better or worse, she doesn't compartmentalize that aspect of her personality when it comes to her children. So, when her daughter writes a post about how DC cares too much about being cool to actually be cool, she comments: “What’s so cool about not caring?” Or, when those science round-ups don’t agree with her point-of-view, she can’t help but say: “Crazy stuff, mostly bad science (or not in-depth enough reporting?)"
I, for the record, am the reporter to which she is referring.
Those blatant attacks on my work still err on the endearing side of things. Once she starts commenting on politics, however, she gets the response from me that most trolls aim for from their victims. Even reading through her comments now, as she sits in the hospital unable to speak, my shoulders tense as I come across a comment defending the Romney campaign while simultaneously offending Michelle Obama.
Then I remember: Due to a freak accident that resulted in significant head trauma, she might never spew her abhorrent political beliefs beneath a blog post again, and I give her some slack. These are now artifacts from a previous phase in her life, and mine, and in our relationship—as tumultuous as that relationship was on and offline.
Only a month after the incident, we still don’t know what the prognosis will be—the neurosurgeon said getting to that stage could take a year. But one thing is clear: She will never be the same again. Even if her brain recovers enough for her to fully read and understand blog posts, she might never troll again.
Every year on Thanksgiving my mom gifts me a decorative pill box made by the same artist so that when she dies I will have a collection to remember her by. (That’s her logic, not mine.) As the enamel tsotchkes sit on a bookshelf in my childhood bedroom, I sit on my bed and scroll through these traces of my mother’s consciousness.