By masterfully playing the troll, Trump has placed himself within reach of the Oval Office

David Sax writes: According to Chuck Dueck, a senior vice-president at, a company that manages the online presence for hundreds of companies and organizations, trolls fall into four different categories: those who deliberately practice harassment, those who enjoy being outrageous and causing havoc, those who love to argue, and those too stupid to know they are trolls. Dueck believes Trump is most like the second and third. “He has a long career of making outrageous statements designed to get attention,” Dueck says. “He now has the biggest stage to do it from. I believe he enjoys tossing out a statement and watching the reaction.”

Back in July, Trump tweeted out an image of Hilary Clinton’s face in front of a pile of cash, with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” stamped on a red, six-pointed star. In response to the wave of accusations of anti-semitism, Trump didn’t apologize or attempt to put the event behind him. In true troll fashion, he chose to encourage the conflict instead of resolve it – first by saying it was a “sheriff’s star”, and then posting a photo of a six-sided star on a Frozen children’s book, asking whether this was also a Star of David.

Time and again, his outrageous comments and statements have seized the narrative away from his rivals, distracted the media with the antics of insults and bizarre statements, and steered the conversation away from substantive issues. Think back to the Republication primaries. Can you remember a single policy proposal debated by the candidates? Probably not. But who can forget Trump’s promise to build a giant wall with Mexico and block Muslim immigration, or his schoolyard nicknames for “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted”? By playing the troll, Trump has masterfully dominated the news cycle and placed himself within reach of the Oval Office.

Trolling works for Trump because it is fundamentally a manipulation of our emotions. “Trolling is crafted by people who believe it is their job to figure out exactly what people’s buttons are, then press those buttons,” says Jessamyn West, a veteran community manager who now works at the Internet Open Archives Library.

Trump’s trolling is a high-impact, low-output strategy. A single tweet or comment can generate days worth of free publicity, and keep him the central character in the race. Like all skilled trolls, Trump has proven masterful at inspiring his followers to do the bulk of his dirty work. According to West, the best trolls enter a conversation, make a comment or two, set off a fight, and step back as other trolls emerge to sling punches. Trolls aren’t warriors, they’re instigators. They know how to imply something racist, hateful or misogynistic, blowing rhetorical dog whistles that bring out more blatantly offensive supporters while allowing themselves deniability. “There’s an art to this,” West says. “It’s like a flaming bag of dog shit on someone’s doorstep.” Even if you know who likely put it there, it’s not like you can dust it for prints. [Continue reading…]

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