Trolls. Love ’em or hate ‘em, they’re a constant feature of online communication. But those people who just love to stir up trouble in Facebook comment sections or discussion forums? They’re barely rank amateurs. Real trolls, like Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, are several cuts above the rest, turning trolling into an art form. In fact, Troll Inc., a documentary released on May 22, 2018, focuses on exactly what it was that put Aurnheimer behind bars.
In 2011, the FBI arrested Auernheimer for his part in one of the biggest data breaches of the time. In short, he exploited a bug in AT&T’s security measures that unwittingly revealed the email addresses of some 114,000 iPad early-adopters. Many of these were high-profile CEOs, military members, and celebrities. The kicker, though, is that all of this information was public knowledge and no actual hacking took place. Really, all Auernheimer did was expose a major security flaw for no other reason than he found was funny and, well, he could. Even the head of AT&T stated in an internal letter that no crime had been committed. Still, Auernheimer ended up serving a little over a year of a four-year prison sentence before his case was appealed and overturned in 2013.
Troll, Inc. brings up some very valid social questions, especially in light of the recent “Battle for Net Neutrality” and the issues its loss could potentially raise. Many of those issues run parallel to those in this film. One of the key messages in Troll Inc. was the idea that we, the public, are being fed nonsense about the reality of our society. We believe that we are in control of our own lives, that we make our decisions and no one tells us what to do. But is that really the case? Auernheimer and the other interviewees on the documentary would say no and, to be honest, I’d have to agree.
Auernheimer himself states:
[…]people are influenced by rhetoric every day. They turn on their televisions and see these talking heads. They are inundated with advertising…The idea is that there’s a message. The establishment is delivering. Trolling is about disrupting that message. It’s about culture jamming and taking people outside of their comfort zones so they can realize just how bullshit that message is.
Let’s face it, he makes a good point. Who really controls our perceptions? Dr. Whitney Phillips of Humboldt State University says that it’s the media. While this has long been the case, more recently the problem has intensified thanks to the monetization of the internet. Clicks equal revenue so the media does the same thing that Auernheimer did—they sensationalize headlines to get the most views, a practice that is called “click-bait”. Neetzan Zimmerman of Gawker echoed this same sentiment, saying that the only difference is in the presentation.
In the end, what Auernheimer is guilty of is making us examine ourselves. Trolls like him simply take a rather absurd aspect of our culture, like our focus on consumerism for example, and amplify it. They hold up a mirror and laugh as we squirm at our reflected flaws.
In addition, Troll Inc. brings up some serious questions regarding freedom of speech and whether or not it really exists. When your opinions or any other form of peaceful communication on the internet can potentially get you flagged by the FBI as a person of interest, one has to wonder if that freedom really exists at all.
And really, those topics are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more that this movie touches.
Auernheimer has, of course, been vilified by the media. He’s been associated with neo-Nazis and various other hate groups and it would be very easy to dismiss him as an alt-right nut-job. My take on him, though, is that he’s a brilliant satirist. He’s not malicious or racist or hateful. In part, he’s a prankster doing it for the lulz. On another level, he’s…well, he’s a squeaky wheel. And it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, or so they say. Sometimes, that’s going to piss people off.
Dr. Gabriella Coleman and Dr. Whitney Phillips provided excellent authoritative insight into troll culture and its role in culture-jamming and raising awareness about various societal issues. The interviews with Adrian Chen and others, many of whom knew him personally or professionally, gave what I thought was a well-rounded view of the man behind the “Weev” moniker.
The cinematography was well done. Being an interview-based documentary, there’s not a lot to say about camera movement but the framing and angles for the interviews were great. As for editing, it seemed to me that the editors put a lot of thought into this. The inclusion of news footage, still shots, and other evidence was timely and appropriate, supporting the topic at hand. I suppose this should really go without saying but it did help to demonstrate that maybe the popular portrayal of Auernheimer as a villain is not entirely accurate.
The soundtrack was typical for a documentary. The overall volume of Troll Inc. was good. The voice tracks were at the right level and the music was subtle. The music really helped move the narrative along.
Honestly, Troll Inc. was a fascinating look at a man who has quite literally trolled the world. Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admire that. In the end, I highly recommend you check out this film. It’s well worth the hour and 20 minutes or so of your time.