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'Earthquake Video Woman' Tamtampamela Shakes Up the World of Internet Trolls

Mar 21, 2011 – 4:30 PM
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David Moye

David Moye Contributor

One of the biggest aftershocks of the deadly earthquake in Japan didn't show up on the Richter scale, but it sure rattled the Internet.

It was a video of a young woman who enraged the world by claiming the quake was the answer to prayers to God that he shake up atheists.

The woman, a YouTube regular under the name "Tamtampamela," has made other provocative videos where she pretended to be a radical, far-right Christian who routinely claimed that non-believers would "burn in hell" and that President Barack Obama was the "anti-Christ."

The previous videos may have annoyed thousands, but none of them shook things up like her earthquake video, where she said things such as, "God is such an amazing God. ... We have been praying specifically for God to open the eyes of atheists all over the world. ... And just a few days, not even a few days later, God shook the country of Japan. He literally grabbed the country by the shoulders and said, 'Hey look, I'm here.'"

The video has since been removed and her YouTube account has been closed. Although Tamtampamela hasn't revealed her real name, she did tell The Atlantic her reasoning behind the controversial video.

"This is going to make me sound like a really bad person," she began, "but I was kind of excited that all these people were angry because I am a troll and I enjoy getting a reaction out of people."

Before the late 1990s, trolls were hairy creatures known for terrifying fairy tale characters like the Three Billy Goats Gruff. But the rise of the Internet has also marked the ascension of a different kind of troll: a strange creature who gets his/her kicks raising a ruckus on website chat forums.

According to Chris Dendy, an expert of search engine optimization, trolls started out when the World Wide Web was more like the "World Wild Web."

"They were called bomb throwers in the late 1990s," he told AOL News. "They would say inflammatory things trying to elicit responses from people -- like that girl or guy in high school who would do anything to get attention."

Tamtampamela
YouTube
Tamtampamela, a self-proclaimed Internet troll, created a worldwide controversy with a satirical video suggesting that God was personally responsible for last week's earthquake in Japan. Although she has since closed her YouTube account, she admits she enjoyed getting people riled up.
Sometimes, that means going off topic. Other times that means saying something inflammatory, like comparing another poster to Hitler. Other times, it's just misspelling words -- on purpose.

That's a technique used by Colleen Hanes, a self-proclaimed troll on Yelp.com, a popular social network where users review their favorite businesses. She prides herself on having been kicked off that website numerous times.

"There are some people who get really angry when you use 'they're,' 'their' and 'there' incorrectly," Hanes said. "I do it just to bug them. The site is supposed to be light and fun, but there are some people who get very serious and correct your spelling."

So what makes people like Hanes purposely misspell words just for the sole intent of bugging people? Or just turn into trolls?

Dendy thinks he has the answer. "A lot of them are sad, lonely people," he said. "But trolls would not exist without people gullible enough to fall for their outrageous statements.

"Sometimes, people try to engage the trolls in conversation, but there's a saying: Don't feed the trolls," Dendy said. "That's what they want -- attention."

He says political and religious blogs and websites are fertile ground for trolls because the visitors have strong opinions.

But while political websites are home to many trolls, Dick Black, a writer and occasional troll, believes liberal websites are more likely to fall victim to troll attacks than conservative ones.

"Conservative websites tend to be authoritarian and put the kibosh on trollish comments," he said. "It's easier to troll liberal sites because liberals in general want to be seen as tolerant and open-minded."

Black, who is politically liberal, says left-leaning people also want to understand trolls, in hopes that by showing compassion, they will help the objects of their detest come to the error of their ways.

Fat chance. "A true attention whore wants sympathy and will claim they're trying to commit suicide or something. Trolls aren't like that." However, human behavior expert Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. suggests they really are.

"There has been no in-depth psychological profile of Internet trolls, but the reason behind why trolls are trolls pertains to a lack of power in their lives and never being able to be heard as children," he said. "Provoking emotions in others gives trolls a sense of power or control."

Perhaps it's not surprising that Black, a self-admitted troll, doesn't agree.

"A lot of the people who fall victim to trolls try and say the trolls had a bad childhood or weren't breast-fed as a child," he said. "However, comments like that miss the point. A troll just wants amusement. C'mon, some people are just smart asses!"

That's the main reason one New York woman likes to troll under the name "Sarcastic Meow." "I like commenting about a post on Libya and making it funny, like talking about my nails or something," she said. "Plus, I like calling people on their s--t. I mean, everything is open to interpretation, but you can't lie about it."

Meow refers to trolling as "high-tech bragging" and says that comments referring to racism and sexism are where she draws the line.

Although some trolls consider agitation the greatest reward, Meow says there is something even greater on the websites she favors.

"The highest compliment a troll can get is when you're reblogged or retweeted," she said. "Or if your comment gets 'starred' or chosen as an 'editor's pick.' "

Black sees his trolling, and that of Tamtampamela, not as a character flaw, but a form of social commentary.

"There is a satirical point being made," he said. "For instance, there was this one website where you had these people railing against the machine, complaining about how we waste energy, but these same people are sitting in a heated home using up energy using their computer.

"Basically, earnestness and self-importance are like bacon to a troll," he said.

Although some people saw Tamtampamela's anti-atheist comments as a very extreme form of satire similar to "A Modest Proposal," Jonathan Swift's 1729 essay in which he suggested poor people solve their economic strife by selling children as food to the wealthy, the fact that many others didn't get the joke is, well, part of the joke.

"When I used to troll this one message board, there would be users who accused us of being spies for the NSA -- seriously!" Black said. "Other people were serious about the issue, but would see the satire and have to explain that to the others."

Black acknowledges that simple trolling, where you merely say the opposite of everyone else, is annoying, but says, at its best, it's a truly intellectual art form.

"You can learn a lot by affecting a position you don't necessarily believe and taking it to the extreme," he said. "Take Stephen Colbert. He's kind of a troll and they've done surveys on people suggesting that conservatives are more likely to take him seriously.

However, Wanis says timing is everything -- especially in Tamtampamela's case.

"Timing is the difference between a satirist and a sociopath," he said. "She made those comments a few days after the quake. It's one thing to be a rebel or a troublemaker, but the fact she did it then shows she has no sense of compassion."

But Tamtampamela takes the other viewpoint, saying that, for all the attacks she's faced, the ends justified the means.

"In my defense, if I am able to show people that this is how some people think and it's wrong, I think it's a pretty effective way of doing that," she said.

Dendy doesn't agree and, in fact, just spent a few days installing anti-troll measures on a new political forum he's creating.

Still, even he can see a positive side of trolling.

"I hate to say it, but inflammatory disagreements can elicit more comments and traffic to a website."

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