PRESS PAGE  -  TROLL

Stefani Byrd + Wes Eastin

TROLL, 2012

Installed at FLUX NIGHT 2012, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, October 6th, 8pm - Midnight (more info on the festival at fluxprojects.org)

Live interactive installation (digital traffic message board, hidden performers)

If you read through enough chat forums, message boards and blogs, it is likely that you have come across the occasional incendiary form of commenting that is now recognized to be the handiwork of Internet trolls. These comments appear to provoke inflamed responses and to disrupt normal discourse, and to have been put forth by those who get off on the incredible power that the anonymity of the web can offer. Combine that anonymity with an expansive audience and you have the perfect conditions for drawing out a person’s worst impulses and desires to act out. Sometimes, these trolls intentionally push a hate-filled agenda on specific current event news postings, and other times, you find trolls peddling random, mindless pranks for laughs. 

These pranksters have not limited themselves to the realm of online comment sections, but have also started targeting the digital traffic message boards that you see on the sides of the road.  As soon as instructions on how to “hack” into these signs were posted online to sharing forums like 4Chan, this type of hacking spread across the country like wildfire.  The hacked messages have appeared in the form racial jokes, misleading traffic information and in some cases just plain foul language. Images of these altered messages began appearing online and on the nightly news and are being attributed to infamous hacker groups like Anonymous. 

TROLL is an installation consisting of one of these roadside message boards that will be remotely controlled by hidden performers or “hackers” directing messages at the passing audience in real time.  As viewers enter the board’s field of vision, they may find themselves the target of funny, hurtful or snarky remarks.  The piece itself comments on the psychological concept called the online disinhibition effect that allows everyday people to express otherwise inhibited behaviors in cyberspace.  What does it say about us, that given the opportunities the web provides of a perceived audience and anonymity that we can so easily and readily transform into these altered and ill-mannered versions of ourselves? Why are so many of us engaging in and enjoying this form of identity deception and how do these actions affect the online space we all share? How will we ever begin to tow the line between free speech and unprovoked harassment?

The installation follows in the body of previous installation works by Byrd + Eastin, and continues their exploration into different aspects of language, subcultures and subversive communication methods while creating an interactive experience for viewers. The intended effect, as in past works, is a little “empathy training” for the FLUX audience. Being unwittingly put on the receiving end of a staged social practice (in this instance “trolling”), may help us in actually acknowledging how  biting and inappropriate this behavior can feel when taken out of the context of the Internet and directed at us while we are in public.

This is a common phrase seen on the internet.  It means "tits or get the fuck out" which is typically directed at women on forums.

This is a common phrase seen on the internet.  It means "tits or get the fuck out" which is typically directed at women on forums.

Spoiler alert for the movie Looper.  This is not in fact the ending to the movie.  Spreading misinformation is a common form of trolling.

Spoiler alert for the movie Looper.  This is not in fact the ending to the movie.  Spreading misinformation is a common form of trolling.

Bicyclists being trolled

Bicyclists being trolled

After a prompt from the sign, the audience took turns hugging one of the police officers working during the festival.

After a prompt from the sign, the audience took turns hugging one of the police officers working during the festival.

Transient
A play on the famous phrase "ceci n'est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe)" from a painting by surrealist Rene Magritte

A play on the famous phrase "ceci n'est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe)" from a painting by surrealist Rene Magritte

ANONYMOUS masked performer; One of the "trolls" in disguise visiting the installation on the street

ANONYMOUS masked performer; One of the "trolls" in disguise visiting the installation on the street

Transient
This phrase turned out to be the most controversial of the evening, though "IMPEACH OBAMA" was also used.  This message was such a successful bit of trolling, that the local business that had agreed to host the "hack station" or control center of the installation threatened to end the performance if any similar messages were displayed.  In effect, the sign was so successful at trolling that it was almost forcibly shut down as a result.

This phrase turned out to be the most controversial of the evening, though "IMPEACH OBAMA" was also used.  This message was such a successful bit of trolling, that the local business that had agreed to host the "hack station" or control center of the installation threatened to end the performance if any similar messages were displayed.  In effect, the sign was so successful at trolling that it was almost forcibly shut down as a result.

Photo Credits: Stefani Byrd

Project Credit: Stefani Byrd + Wes Eastin

Hidden Performers: Wes Eastin, Jon Carr and Rueben Medina

For additional information, larger sized images or zip file of images, contact stefanimbyrd@gmail.com