Tracking down a troll.

In Advertising, anonymous comments are used primarily to defend or attack work. We’re all guilty of making one or two. I’ll admit for the first time that one of my all time classic blog comments was featured on an award show call for entries with the headline ‘silence anonymous.’ I won’t say which one, as I want to stay, you know, anonymous.

But we’re fucking amateurs when you read the sordid shit that gets posted on YouTube comments. Underneath almost any posted video you’ll find anything from racism, homophobia to religious extremism. Verbal battles are fought between users that get very nasty very quickly. Of course, the online community and Google are constantly fighting to remove them, but like teenage acne, they just pop up somewhere else.

I always wondered who these sick fucks were. So one night I tracked one down and knocked on his front door. Here’s how it happened.

Michelle Obama appeared on a Jimmy Fallon YouTube clip doing something called the ‘Mom Dance’ a while ago. I have no idea what the ‘Mum Dance’ was, but it was funny and she was one hell of a dancer for a First Lady.

The first few YouTube comments were relatively positive. But one guy started posting some really nasty stuff, I mean evil psycho ‘True Detective’ shit and it was way beyond anything I’d seen before. I won’t say what he wrote, but it described what he had planned for her and the President. So I decided to see if I could find him.

Being an occasional visitor to the infamous 4chan message boards I’d learned a few tricks from the various hacker detritus who met there. It was rumoured that Anonymous themselves stalked the boards causing trouble. They’d attack websites they didn’t like, rig online votes so Justin Bieber would have to perform in Pyongyang, oh, and find people.

The process is relatively rudimentary, but very powerful. You start with your target’s YouTube name, usually something unique like ‘SpudMan$87.’ His YouTube homepage was relatively empty, but being like most people, he was lazy and used the same handle all over the web, so a simple search located the same name making similar comments on other message boards.

His anonymity began to fade. Every new post peeled away the layers. He was relatively young, into bodybuilding, heavy metal and had serious difficulty with women. He was awkward. He was obscene.

After reluctantly becoming a member of some of the sites, I gained privileges such as the capacity to find out more about specific posters. He used many aliases and seemed to have multiple personas depending on the sites he frequented, but the trick was to find the site he’d been a member of the longest. On there his membership details would be the oldest, entered when he wasn’t quite so paranoid about his online presence.

On a heavy metal site I found an email address. From that, I had a surname and a pretty good idea of his birth date.

He was in his late twenties and angry as hell. But that might have something to do with the steroids I saw him asking about on a bodybuilding forum.

And then, in a lengthy exchange about exchanging mix tapes in an obscure corner of a ‘death metal’ site, the idiot gave away his phone number and his name.

Every click from there narrowed the search from the West Coast of the United States down to a small town on the fringes of Los Angeles.

From a hastily created one-off account, I sent him an email explaining that I’d managed to get his details in less than an hour, but the US Secret Service would probably be a touch faster as threatening the President of the United States is a federal offence. I think the attached image of the front door of his ramshackle house that I’d screen grabbed from Google street view nailed it as within twenty four hours he’d completely disappeared from the Internet. Even his YouTube account had been hastily closed.

It was like blowing up a troll’s cave. And it felt great.

So why do they do it? Why do they provoke with such vitriol and hate? Maybe it gives them a power they simply don’t have in their day-to-day lives. Maybe it’s just for the sheer rush of tossing a verbal grenade and watching the results.

Being anonymous can give you all those things. Ironically, a few tips from the real ‘Anonymous’ can take them all away.


This article originally appeared in Adnews

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