There's been a lot written about blog commenters lately, but not as much about "trolls," the sociopathic Internet users who wreak actual havoc in online communities. That's probably because they are scary as all hell. This weekend in the Times Magazine , writer Matt Schwartz* introduces us to a handful of the country's most prolific trolls, such as Jason Fortuny, a Seattle programmer who started a Website called "Megan Had It Coming" about Megan Meier, the 13-year-old that hung herself after being taunted on MySpace, and who approved when his comrades hacked into Epilepsy Foundation’s Website, replacing it with flashing images and animated colors. Good times.
The story won't be online until later today, but the Times has kindly given us a preview: After the jump, read all about Schwartz's encounter with a "legendary" troll who goes by the name of Weev.
I first met Weev in an online chat room that I visited while staying at Fortuny’s house. "I hack, I ruin, I make piles of money," he boasted. "I make people afraid for their lives." On the phone that night, Weev displayed a misanthropy far harsher than Fortuny’s. "Trolling is basically Internet eugenics," he said, his voice pitching up like a jet engine on the runway. "I want everyone off the Internet. Bloggers are filth. They need to be destroyed. Blogging gives the illusion of participation to a bunch of retards … We need to put these people in the oven!"
I listened for a few more minutes as Weev held forth on the Federal Reserve and about Jews. Unlike Fortuny, he made no attempt to reconcile his trolling with conventional social norms. Two days later, I flew to Los Angeles and met Weev at a train station in Fullerton, a sleepy bungalow town folded into the vast Orange County grid. He is in his early 20s with full lips, darting eyes and a nest of hair falling back from his temples. He has a way of leaning in as he makes a point, inviting you to share what might or might not be a joke.
As we walked through Fullerton’s downtown, Weev told me about his day — he’d lost $10,000 on the commodities market, he claimed — and summarized his philosophy of "global ruin." "We are headed for a Malthusian crisis," he said, with professorial confidence. "Plankton levels are dropping. Bees are dying. There are tortilla riots in Mexico, the highest wheat prices in 30-odd years." He paused. "The question we have to answer is: How do we kill four of the world’s six billion people in the most just way possible?" He seemed excited to have said this aloud.
Ideas like these bring trouble. Almost a year ago, while in the midst of an LSD-and-methamphetamine bender, a longer-haired, wilder-eyed Weev gave a talk called "Internet Crime" at a San Diego hacker convention. He expounded on diverse topics like hacking the Firefox browser, online trade in illegal weaponry and assassination markets — untraceable online betting pools that pay whoever predicts the exact date of a political leader’s demise. The talk led to two uncomfortable interviews with federal agents and the decision to shed his legal identity altogether. Weev now espouses "the ruin lifestyle" — moving from condo to condo, living out of three bags, no name, no possessions, all assets held offshore. As a member of a group of hackers called "the organization," which, he says, bring in upward of $10 million annually, he says he can wreak ruin from anywhere.
We arrived at a strip mall. Out of the darkness, the coffinlike snout of a new Rolls Royce Phantom materialized. A flying lady winked on the hood. "Your bag, sir?" said the driver, a blond kid in a suit and tie.
"This is my car," Weev said. "Get in."
And it was, for that night and the next, at least. The car’s plush chamber accentuated the boyishness of Weev, who wore sneakers and jeans and hung from a leather strap like a subway rider. In the front seat sat Claudia, a pretty college-age girl.
I asked about the status of Weev’s campaign against humanity. Things seemed rather stable, I said, even with all this talk of trolling and hacking.
"We’re waiting," Weev said. "We need someone to show us the way. The messiah."
"How do you know it’s not you?" I asked.
"If it were me, I would know," he said. "I would receive a sign."
Zeno of Elea, Socrates and Jesus, Weev said, are his all-time favorite trolls. He also identifies with Coyote and Loki, the trickster gods, and especially with Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. "Loki was a hacker. The other gods feared him, but they needed his tools."
"I was just thinking of Kali!" Claudia said with a giggle.
Over a candlelit dinner of tuna sashimi, Weev asked if I would attribute his comments to Memphis Two, the handle he used to troll Kathy Sierra, a blogger. Inspired by her touchy response to online commenters, Weev said he "dropped docs" on Sierra, posting a fabricated narrative of her career alongside her real Social Security number and address. This was part of a larger trolling campaign against Sierra, one that culminated in death threats. Weev says he has access to hundreds of thousands of Social Security numbers. About a month later, he sent me mine.
Weev, Claudia and I hung out in Fullerton for two more nights, always meeting and saying goodbye at the train station. I met their friend Kate, who has been repeatedly banned from playing XBox Live for racist slurs, which she also enjoys screaming at white pedestrians. Kate checked my head for lice and kept calling me "Jew." Relations have since warmed. She now e-mails me puppy pictures and wants the names of fun places for her coming visit to New York.
The rest will be online a few hours from now here.
UPDATE: It's online in full now. Mawebolence [NYT]
*Full disclosure: Matt Schwartz is our friend from back in the sixth borough, and once we threw a bottle of Sriracha chile sauce at him while drunk in a bar. But that's a story for another time!