Today's New York Times spotlights a $6.1 million ad campaign by the Mormon Church aimed at bringing new converts to the faith. One group of followers they may not have expected to attract? Hordes of Internet trolls.
In the past few months, the ad campaign "I'm a Mormon" has been appearing on billboards, bus signs and YouTube videos. According to the Times, the campaign just extended its reach into 21 media markets with ad spots featuring personal stories of people you might not think of as Mormons (a fashion designer in New York City, a Haitian-American mayor in Utah and a Hawaiian longboad surfer). The Times measures the campaign's success by the uptick in visits to chat rooms on Mormon.org, which the campaign directs visitors to. "In the past 12 months, the Web site has had more than one million people initiate online chats with Mormons."
We hopped on one of these chat rooms to ask about the uptick in users and a friendly Mormon named Jimmy was more than happy to elaborate. "I have noticed an influx," he said. However, not all of the traffic is coming from curious seekers of a new faith. "Some humor sites, such as artoftrolling.com ... encourage people to frequent the chat service," he said.
"I would say most has been immature, or just obnoxious. But there are some pretty witty kids out there, and I appreciate good wit," he said. When asked about their trolling techniques, he ticked off a list of popular memes from Rickrolling to Lolcatz. "Those on artoftrolling have certain memes, or inside jokes, that they like to slip into a conversation. The more creative they are in incorporating those memes, the more successful the 'troll' is."
Indeed, a quick scan of meme and trolling sites reveals a veritable subculture surrounding trolling Mormon chat rooms, which seems to have begun this summer.
One of the more popular memes related to Mormon trolling is the phenomenon surrounding the mind-bogglingly dumb lyrics of an Insane Clown Posse song wondering how magnets work. For instance, here's a troll chat posted to the site EatLiver.com:
The magnet theme is quite popular! Pictured to the right is another Mormon troll chat from this June hosted on ArtofTrolling.com. You can see the entire catalog of Mormon troll chats here, which dates from August to April 2011. There are also much more crude examples of trolling on sites such as FunnyJunk.com.
Does all this tomfoolery bother our Mormon chat friend Jimmy, who's merely trying to evangelize and dispel misconceptions about his faith?
"It really isn't too menacing," he said. "It's kind of like with my younger brother. Sometimes he has his moments where he is a real pill. It doesn't really offend me, but it can be a bit obnoxious. But I still love him and I'm there for him. I can just ignore his teenage mentality and be a good friend for him."
He also said it's not always a waste of time. In fact, it's an opportunity. "A good number of those who start out trolling have asked sincere questions about our faith after joking around for a while," he said. "I'm grateful for that."