How to Be Obnoxious Online

03/12/2015 09:37 am ET | Updated May 12, 2015
Noel Hendrickson via Getty Images

Imgur was the Akkadian word for "agreed." Imgur-Enlil, name of the wall, appears untranslated in English versions of the Mesopotamian creation myth that the Judeo-Christian and Greek/Roman ones both seem to have evolved from. (Or shared common roots with.) It was also a Neo-Assyrian name for the city of Balawat in Iraq.

If you Google "Imgur," you will get pictures of kittens and boobs. That pretty much tells you the value of the Internet when it comes to acquiring information.

I've spent a lot of time online. An entire career, aside from a couple years of print when I was still in college and that was still a somewhat viable, if quickly fading, option. I've read a lot of news online, experienced a lot of great art, had a lot of great conversations. I love the Internet. I can no longer imagine life without it.

But, really, what have I learned that would actually have been impossible in other mediums? There must be something lasting to gain, other than a deep appreciation for the digital rot that will likely replace it all with a minor dark age.

Mostly, I've just learned myriad ways of behaving badly. From exposure, rather than practice. (Almost always, I swear.) And, honestly, I'm so very, very tired of seeing trolls make the same plays, use the same tricks, employ the same tedious, tiresome methods. It's like there's a rule book for behaving like an ass online. Why not crack it open?

Let's get the easiest out of the way: the first rule of looking like an idiot online is not to read, watch or even follow the link. Comment anyway. I mean, didn't the headline tell you everything you needed to make an informed, insightful comment? If it was so damned important, why wasn't it in the headline? Of course, people who took the time to inform themselves about the topic at hand will dismiss your thoughts as uninformed the moment they see them. But don't worry, the majority is right there with you. Anyone who doubts that this is the case should check out the comments on any given post over at CNN's Facebook page some time. When challenged by that small, informed minority, insist that you did read it. It's just that your understanding was hindered by your idiocy.

However, with convenience comes popularity. The above method is also by far the most common. It is a key component of online cretinism, but you probably won't stand out going that route alone.

When that fails to garner the attention you so desire, just say something racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, nationalist or even ageist. Hell, make up a new prejudice. The key is just taking your darkest personal issues out on total strangers. Do gay people make you uncomfortable? Do black people make you scared? Do atheists make you feel dumb? Does rising gender equality make you feel like less of a man or woman? Does the sight of an older person bring to mind the horrible reality of your own wasted years? You are not alone, my friend. (Also, you are horrible and probably gay.) They are comfortable with themselves and you are not. How fair is that! Also, it's by far the most sure-fire way to get attention, thus momentarily making you feel as though you actually matter .

If this isn't enough to quiet the demons inside, specifically seek out people you don't know and attempt to harm them emotionally. And if emotional damage isn't satisfying enough, you can even resort to physical threats. Still, I think it's best to stick with emotional abuse. If you're bullying strangers online, you're probably kind of a pussy and won't do too well in prison. Besides, if you pretend that a particular characteristic is a weakness long enough, sooner or later your target will start to believe it, too. And the best thing about immutable characteristics is that they're always there! Confidence, self-esteem and happiness, on the other hand, are pretty fragile. Particularly if your targets are children or minorities.

But if you want more than a hit-and-run and are going to go the common prejudice route, you're going to have to mask your insecurity-fueled bigotry in some sort of fake cause. But -- and this is key -- make sure that the cause is so absurd that one cannot engage it rationally. Like "ethical journalism" when it comes to the completely subjective and insanely unimportant recommendation of products gifted by the companies selling them and essential for doing the journalist's job. Or a father's nationality that has no bearing on whether or not someone is an American citizen. The important thing is to make sure it's so absurd that people will ignore it completely in favor of accusing you of harboring the disgusting prejudice you're desperately trying to rationalize. If you want to facilitate as much trolling as possible, you cannot wrap your bigotry up in something more substantial. Bashing something like marriage equality or equal pay will have you so bogged down in the horrible details of what you're actually advocating that you'll hardly have any opportunity to off-topic troll.

In doing all of this, be sure to dismiss as untrue anything that you have not personally experienced. This applies of course to any sort of prejudice or privilege people speak of, but be sure not to ignore those personal anecdotes. Did that writer really have a hard time finding a doctor who treated their condition, or are they just lying for attention? You can get super personal with this, and that is really where trolls shine.

Remember that tone is important. Mistaking your own smarm for wit has become the hallmark of today's Internet fool. Don't be clever; just be smug. And you can take that advice to the bank, because it's the only recommendation I've probably already used myself... dozens of times in this very piece.

Perhaps I'm getting too specific. In the big picture, the important thing is to just score one for the team. Don't be a slave to logical consistency or even common human decency. It doesn't matter if five minutes ago you were lambasting the very same fallacies or rhetorical techniques you are now employing. It doesn't matter if you happily ignore the same issue when someone else is the bad guy. The main thing to keep in mind is that some people are like you and others are not. The ones who are not are bad and always wrong. The ones who are need you to defend them in every possible situation.

Given that framework, it seems difficult to accept that sometimes, you will get bored with finding fault with the other side. But you will. Or maybe you will just need to do a little preening--show that you are more on your team than other people who share the same goals and beliefs. After all, who is more progressive or conservative than thou?

If you ever find yourself in this position, just seek out a person or group that is doing something wonderful. Then ask yourself: Are they doing this exactly the same way I would? If not, destroy them personally. I mean, really tear them down. It's the enlightened thing to do! As window dressing, misuse a couple of academic terms. Don't put too much thought into them; the people who are most persuaded by them won't. You'll be struttin' around like a peacock in no time.

Really, I cannot stress this part enough: A key component of villain creation is assuming that everyone else's value is based on the worst thing you know about them. Have they ever misspoken? Been angry? Said something misguided? Done something in public that you've only ever done in private? Then that person is trash. After all, if they're racist, then you're not. If they're an irresponsible parent, then you're not. If they're anything, you're not. Conserve your ability to see humans as whole people for family and community gatherings and burn off that pent-up hostility in a good ol' public shaming. Above all, do not think of the person you are interacting with as human.

The easiest way to make this work is to deliberately misinterpret something. It sounds risky, I know, but it totally isn't. Virtually no one will question your misinterpretation, no matter how deliberate or desperate it might sound. Your go-to defense is a sort of lazy post-structuralism. Then, blame the subject for your reaction. (That's the extra step that justifies actually destroying someone's life, after all.) Your defense for that is an even more lazy sort of structuralism. Jokes and ironic statements are very fertile ground, here. You can get entire listicles out of ironic Twitter posts about virtually any topic. Even this post is begging for that treatment! "Blogger trains others to troll." It writes itself.

You should, however, realize that some of these tactics will lead you to places in which you could be publicly shamed. Navigate around this perception with a bit of clever rhetoric. Announce that you are not saying something horrible. Then, unprompted, list nineteen reasons why that horrible thing might be true. Reiterate, again, that you are not saying that horrible thing. It's a get out of jail free card, really.

I know what you're thinking. This stuff is all so done to death. We all see it every single day. Everyone sees right through it and, still, it continues. How can today's truly obnoxious Internet user stand out in this sea of invective and contempt?

Well, there are a few ways to make a name for yourself as an exceptional troll. Most of them are illegal and, again, since you're probably a giant wimp, I'm going to skip them. But there are a few easy options that won't lead to you literally crying for your mother in a holding cell.

You could promote an insane conspiracy theory. Sure, most people will think that you're a lunatic, but you and your dozens of guaranteed followers will have that sweet satisfaction that only comes from knowing you are privy to a reality that the rest of those sheeple just aren't smart enough to get. And, hey, eventually, one has to be right. That's just playing the odds. Here, I'll give you one: the government is pushing environmentally friendly lightbulbs to make humans more complacent and thus more open to the deal they have already struck to allow aliens to feast on each family's firstborn in exchange for a formula for cheap, plentiful synthetic petroleum. You're welcome.

Or, you could also develop a deep, powerful, negative fixation on a celebrity. Remember: the more successful someone is, the more resentment they deserve. Set a Google News alert, create a Disqus account and go! Or an unhinged positive one. They both end the same way.

Finally, you could make up a fake persona. Hoax the hell out of it. Pretend you have a dying child. Or that you're a 14-year-old girl from Utah who is confused about strange feelings that have suddenly awakened deep within her. A lot of people will know from the start that you're lying, but will be so fascinated by the mystery of who you really are that they'll actually be more intrigued by you. And when they figure it out, maybe you can go on a reality show, or Court TV. That's 100 percent real attention, all for you.

Above all, the truly committed, heinous online asshat must believe that he or she is really speaking for the secret, silent, cowardly majority. That each like really represents one percent of the American public. That, deep down, they are not being awful.

Of course, if someone really wanted to stand out, they could always try behaving with some degree of decency. It comes without the thrill of false superiority, but is, at least, uncommon.