“Amanda Chapel” is a man, and a troll: don’t be fooled, dear Twitterers (updated)

(And a big hello to anyone who came here from “Amanda Chapel”‘s twitter feed. Sit down, why don’t you?)

If there’s one thing that feels dafter, in retrospect, than engaging with a troll, then it’s engaging with one that’s been an open secret for not months but years.

For such is the “Amanda Chapel” fake character of the Strumpette blog. I’d vaguely heard of Strumpette, but thought it was one of those millions of sexblogs we’re all hearing so much about these days. (Turns out it’s not. It’s some “we hate PR, let’s be persnickety about it” blogs. Hey, like me! Except it’s being rude about American PR.)

Anyhow, I’d followed the Amanda Chapel character on Twitter without realising it’s a fake – in all likelihood gotten up by some guy called Brian Connolly, of whom I’ve never heard.

And so begins an illuminating tale of trollery. I’d stopped following @amandachapel ages before, concluding that this person was too mad, angry and otherwise disorganised to be worth listening to.

Someone who I follow said they were thinking of unfollowing “her” because “she” was so “angry”. (Him. Let’s be real. In retrospect, it’s gotta be a guy.) At the time @amandachapel was having a trollish go at some guy from Dell (including one tweet saying “As a Dell shareholder..” – yeah, right), new to Twitter who I’d thought was new to Twitter (corrected on comment below) and so an obvious target.

I said they should unfollow @amandachapel, and that I had, and called @amandachapel “dire”.

Now, he must have a Summize/Twitter search feed set up to watch for mentions of his altername: for quickly came the snipey reply: “You’re bottom feeding.”

To which – after mulling over things to say – I replied “Says the woman with a picture of her panties for a profile picture. Right.” (I’d only seen “her” – his – profile page on Twitter, and hadn’t bothered to follow the links to the equally fake profile and picture on Strumpette. That I did later. Even then the penny didn’t drop. Hey, it was production day. I was behind.)

At which the troll, ya see, leaps up from under the bridge. Fresh meat! Meat, what’s more, that doesn’t know that the “Amanda Chapel” character would, if you met her in a book, make you think “The guy who wrote this isn’t too good at characterisation, is he?”

But that’s the weakness of social media, and perhaps (especially) Twitter: while the 140-character limit is fantastically useful, it’s a terrible window on a person’s character. You can like someone on Twitter and find you struggle for conversation after a few minutes. You can find them blank but that doesn’t rule out that you’d get on famously with them if you had the time to actually talk.

Cue a quick email from the Troll, sent at 17.15 (-0400: Chicago time, maybe) to stir things up: Dire? Excuse me, fuck you Charles. Who asked ya and who cares what you think. Jesus. (Are emails private? Yes, except when they come from imaginary people. If it’s any help to people who like playing detective, it originated from 207-181-204-51.hnc-bsr1.chi-hnc.il.cable.rcn.com (HELO furthermore). That is, the IP is 207.181.204.51. Rogers Cable? The “Furthermore” bit will be Furthermore Publishing, Connolly’s toy.)

To which I replied – remember, I was still thinking this was a living, breathing person – “Patently evidently: you do”. End of. I thought.

But nah, overnight there was another tweet. And an email (40 minutes or so after I’d replied): No. Being annoyed by but another opinionated asshole is only that. You are legion. (The timing might be off. Possibly the first email preceded the second tweet. Which would be interesting – a way of seeding it, prodding people with the email – classic troll behaviour.)

I replied on Twitter. (People did advise against it. Could y’all not have mentioned the “fake” and “booted off Facebook for being fake” bits?) It all got silly. Knowing it was a troll, I finally left it alone. But I wondered.

So I looked up a little more, and found that Jeff Jarvis had waged a minor skirmish back in July 2006, for God’s sake (but Jeff’s smarter, and had figured out the fake much sooner – from the fact that “Amanda” left no Googletrail, “like a vampire who leaves no reflection in a mirror”; and Doc Searls had looked deep in March 2006.

The Jeff Jarvis thing would explain why the tweets tried to wind me up about @jeffjarvis: the troll probing for things that will continue the argument, so that they can snigger underneath the bridge: “It’s great! I’m pretending to be this woman, except – hee hee! – I’m not! And he’s taking it seriously!”

Let’s go back to that first email. In retrospect, come on: do you know any women who’d jump in like that? Stir and stir again? Pure trollery. Pure male trollery, moreover.

Conclusions? First one is: ignore the trolls. And in social media, it’s helpful to tell others who the trolls are. Perhaps explicitly? (Yeah, I could have listened harder.)

Second: for the benefit of Google and not-yet-informed readers, Amanda Chapel does not exist. “She” is a construct.

Third: I still don’t get the mindset of wilful trollers. To keep it up for years on end suggests to me a personality that I’d really not like to know: a bit lacking empathy, a la Blade Runner.

Fourth: social media makes it really hard to know anyone you haven’t met in the real world. A 140-character window is a tiny slit to see someone through. It’s trying to see the inside of a house by peering through a telescopic lens. Ditto for a Facebook page, which is a transient collection of what caught someone’s eye. It’s hard to judge character (and so veracity) through these media. Do you know me from this blog? But that’s only the aspect of my character that come out when I’m sitting down with some blogging software and enough time to compose something. (I write stuff in my head and save it up, sure, but my state of mind tends to be the same when I’m doing it; and that’s not even close to being the range of my character, when you consider all the stuff I do – family, play, work, each with its own confusions and stresses which can only be solved in particular ways. Hell, blogging is about the least stressed thing I do. Maybe that’s why “Amanda Chapel” likes it so much. And he gets to dress up his words as a woman’s.

Well, whatever turns you on.

Update: here’s an interesting one: a linguistic analysis of comments made by Connolly, and “Amanda Chapel”. I love how you just can’t quite hide online; your mind gives you away eventually. Though one thing that I also find interesting is that the tweets seem to be written by more than one person. Linguistic errors will out. One prefers “U” (as in “U’ll” for “you’ll”) and mixes up “you’re” and “your”; another spells them out and gets them right. But the rhetorical style is all male; they don’t know how women fight with words. Women don’t use an insult as an invite to a fight; they simply have a putdown, and that’s that. Men, on the other hand, can’t resist coming back to it: they want the fight, the clash of egos, and so they egg on the insult, again and again, because they can’t be satisfied until it’s resolved in some physical way.

The differences in how the sexes use words to try to hurt are the sort of thing you have to listen carefully to, and you can’t fake it unless you’re a skilled writer.

This guy – or these guys – don’t have that by a long, long chalk.

13 Comments

  1. Oo-er, I hope people don’t think I’m a troll. I mean, I bait the bunnies occasionally although not as vitriolically as Amanda Chapel (who I don’t follow on Twitter but was enjoying reading people’s tweets about her today) and I am a real person. Hmm, I don’t see much point in engaging with the trolling Chapels of this world – you can’t ever win against them. OTOH, I’m happy to get into a feisty debate with people on the issues that do matter…

  2. Nice follow up, especially as I’ve been following this on twitter this afternoon.

    I was followed by “Amanda Chapel” some time ago but immediately banned them based on:

    a. the picture.
    b. the long long list of posts.
    c. the very long list of people they’re following.

    Cheers
    Chris

  3. Trolls are a waste of time.

    I receive an email when someone follows me on twitter. I then check their posts. If this Twitter account shows only a few uninteresting posts + many twitters being followed + a link either to a cryptic (short url) site or to a sex/shopping site, then I will block them.

    If the account posts are mainly angry or slandering tweets, or contain too many shortened “SMS-style” words or sentences then I don’t bother to follow them. Twitterers mainly posting that they are presently eating, drinking, waking up or going to sleep are uninteresting.

    People who give to the community interest me. I will follow them.

  4. Damn you like to wank it Charles. And this is certainly testament to the old saw that it would one day render you blind.

    – Amanda

  5. Charles

    Wednesday 27 August 2008 at 4:18 pm

    @Chris Fleming: yeah, good points. Should have figured it from that. Then again, every social network is subtly different in the things that would clue you into trollery, don’t you think? Even blogs, to some extent.

  6. I’m drinking a coffee as I write, but I normally don’t worry about “trophy” bloggers/Facebookers as they are doomed to a life of solitude and loneliness … kinda sad,really.

  7. Charles

    Wednesday 27 August 2008 at 4:38 pm

    @darrin: I can’t figure out if you’re telling me I was dim, or shouldn’t have wasted my time, or what. Here’s to the first coffee of your day.

  8. Hi Charles,

    Im not new to twitter and understand what was going on. Interesting post for sure

  9. Thanks for that… I just unfollowed AC becase, well, life’s too short. Even if it was interesting to watch for a while.

    Cheers, Jon

  10. I think you have to see AC for what he/she is: an amusingly disturbed, very sad person or persons who can only get their kicks by throwing rage around on the web – the kind they wouldn’t dare come out with in person.

    Personally I find the whole AC thing funny. Like I said on twitter, it’s like talking to Ian Paisley ca. 1975. I can almost hear the feet stamping from across the atlantic and the incoherent howls of nerd rage being bellowed into the void: ‘LOOKY ME! LOOKY ME!’.

    Only solution is to see it for what it is: a highly amusing, deeply damaged person deserving of serious pity and who is probably in need of a couple of weeks in a rage-treatment facility with nice doctors and kindly nurses who can mop up the spittle when the screaming starts.

    Anyway – best laugh I’ve had since listening to Fred Phelps.

  11. There. Did that make you feel more powerful?

    Is Mark Twain a “vampire in the mirror”? Do you geeks ever read literature?

    Amanda Chapel is a wonder. There isn’t anything wrong whatsoever with taking a female avatar if you are a male, or having a collective avatar — if this is actually the case, I don’t know. It’s a perfect devise for reflecting the idiocy of social media.

    I repudiate the notion of “troll”. It’s a hangover from the Well days and it’s merely about mainly geek males trying to keep control of the Web. But, the rest of us are here now, get used to it.

  12. Why is an avatar “the perfect device for reflecting the idiocy of social media”? That’s completely un-evident to me. Social media, it seems to me, work best when you’re confident about the person you’re communicating with; and the problem with an avatar is that it erodss that confidence. To suggest that because an avatar doesn’t work perfectly in social media, that therefore social media are “broken” or similar is flawed.

    As for trolls being about “mainly geek males trying to keep control of the web” – you sound like someone who’s never encountered a troll. They exist everywhere online. But they’re less or more successful depending on the context. Twitter is quite effective at letting you ignore them – rather as the best newsreaders used to do in Usenet days.

  13. Charles: Prokofy’s statement of “avatars being a perfect device” stems from his/her/it’s affection for SecondLife – which speaks volumes in itself. SL is nothing BUT avatars, and I find it exasperating that someone who is such a proponent of SL (a social media engine in its own right) would be so hypocritical in saying avatars reflect idiocy.

    The notion of a troll is lost on Prokofy for obvious reasons, one would think.

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