It is a world that proves to be more intricate, more fascinating and even more disturbing than it appears on the surface.
The film focuses on Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, one of the most accomplished and notorious trolls in the history of the net. The prodigious provocateur has, to date, publicly revealed a flaw in AT&T’s programming that allowed him to leak thousands of iPad users’ email addresses, hacked into the Amazon database to reclassify all of their LGBT-related books as pornography, and cemented the word “Goatse” (a word that, if searched online, links you to a photograph of a man prying open his rectum) as a permanent part of the American lexicon.
Weev isn’t exactly a likable character, and the film doesn’t try to paint him as such. In fact, as a troll, he actively seeks out negative attention, and uses offensive language to paint himself as the most hatable person conceivable. Neo-Nazi rhetoric and symbolism are a particularly large part of his modus operandi, leading several publications to classify him as a white supremacist and alt-right activist.
But in his interviews with Russell, Weev insists that he uses that rhetoric to provoke, claiming that antisemitism is “the ultimate transgression” in our society – thus, the easiest way to incite a strong reaction. But even this must be taken with a grain of salt; when he speaks, it’s never entirely clear whether he’s being sincere or facetious. He’s an enigma.
But that’s a big part of the film’s appeal. Russell’s objective is to neither deify or vilify Weev and his ilk, but rather to examine them. The film doesn’t try to hide the ugliness within the world of trolling, but at the same time, you can’t help but admire how complex – even artful – the trolling process can be.
And by the end of its runtime, one can’t help but wonder who’s truly to blame for the trolling phenomenon. Is it the trolls themselves, or the existence of an environment that enabled them to broadcast their miscreancy to such a massive audience?