Trolls Among Us: From Phreaking to Trolling

March 5, 2010
6:30 pmto8:30 pm


Trolls Among Us: From Phreaking to Trolling

Why have geeks been compelled to protest the Church of
Scientology vehemently for nearly two decades? This talk starts with
this question to  present a cultural history and political analysis of
one of the oldest Internet wars, often referred to as “Internet vs
Scientology.” During the 1990s, this war was waged largely on USENET (a
large scale messaging board system), while in recent times it has taken
the form of “Project Chanology.” This project is orchestrated by a
loosely defined group called “Anonymous” who has led a series of online
attacks and real world protests, often using a variety of media, against
Scientology. I argue that to understand the significance of these
battles and protests, we must examine how the two groups stand in a
culturally antipodal relation to each other. Through this analysis of
cultural inversion, I will consider how long-standing liberal ideals
take cultural root in the context of these battles, use these two cases
to reveal important political transformations in Internet/hacker culture
between the mid 1990s and today and finally will map the tension between
pleasure/freedom (the “lulz”) and moral good (“free speech”) found among
Anonymous in terms of the tension between liberal freedom and trollish trickery.


Gabriella Coleman is an anthropologist who examines ethics and online
collaboration as well as the role of the law and new media
technologies in extending and critiquing liberal values and sustaining
new forms of political activism. Between 2001-2003 she conducted
ethnographic research on computer hackers primarily in San Francisco,
the Netherlands, as well as those hackers who work on the largest free
software project, Debian. She is completing a book manuscript “Coding
Freedom: Hacker Pleasure and the Ethics of Free and Open Source
Software” (under contract with Princeton University Press) and is
starting a new project on peer to peer patient activism on the
Internet. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards,
including ones from the National Science Foundation, the Woodrow
Wilson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Social Science
Research Council.

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