It's Troll Week on Mashable. Join us as we explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of internet trolling.
The thought of asking anyone on the internet to hurl vicious insults at me is inconceivable. But for Redditors posting in r/RoastMe, asking to be insulted is the name of the game.
As RoastMe's name suggests, the subreddit is devoted entirely to the not-so-subtle art of welcomed verbal abuse. Members of the group are invited to offer themselves up for extensive roasting, or they can do the roasting themselves—slinging jokes that range from gentle jabs to vicious insults.
Created in July of 2015, the subreddit currently has 897,000 subscribers, and according to SwagmasterEDP, the group's founder, it has an average of 200,000 daily page views.
So, what is it that makes this subreddit so popular? What makes people want to be roasted? Is it a form of self-flagellation? A thirst for pain? Or, is it something else? And who are the people that do the roasting?
What makes someone seek out a good roasting?
People asking to be roasted do so for a number of reasons. Some want to test their confidence, others appear to have conned their friends into being roasted, some have lost bets, and of course there are those who just find being roasted hilarious.
"It's funny," RoastMe moderator said in a private message. "I have no inflated sense of self esteem. There is a lot about me that's easy to make fun of, and it's fun to laugh with people laughing at me, especially in an environment when I know they aren't (usually) serious."
In a group roasting of RoastMe's moderators two years ago insults were slung at the moderators with abandon.
So far, arseniccrazy has been roasted a total of three times and says that they'd happily volunteer to get roasted again.
Another alluring aspect of being roasted that many might not consider, SwagmasterEDP explained to me over the phone, is the overwhelming amount of attention one receives from being roasted.
"For a single moment you are the center of attention and you even get a feeling of satisfaction. If you get a top roast then that means even if you have 2,000 comments insulting you, those are 2,000 comments that are about you and focused on you," SwagmasterEDP said. "You can read every one of those comments and know that they're about you."
Amy Malloy described this same exact sense of pride when she wrote about her experience of being roasted on the subreddit for the Telegraph in 2015, shortly after the group had been created.
"Yet, even though every comment was scathing, I finally understood why so many roastees were doing this when I felt a strange sense of pride at noting my picture had been viewed 2,326 times," wrote Malloy.
What's the appeal of roasting?
For many, roasting offers an opportunity to ignore political correctness, and provides people with a chance to stretch their creative legs.
"The thing I like most about is that it's a completely consensual environment in which people can freely steer away from the PC culture, and get creative with their witty responses and comments," wrote in a private message.
But, for the majority of people clamoring to the group, they're just looking for a good laugh.
Is roasting just bullying disguised as humor?
Just last year, ABC News alerted parents to a new form of online bullying that they should be aware of: internet roasting. They suggested that kids in middle school or high school seeking out roasts online might be suffering from depression and that being roasted could severely harm their psyche.
Despite concerns expressed by the news outlet, members of the subreddit strongly disagree with the notion that any of the group's collective roasting could be equated to bullying. They insist that anyone who agrees to be roasted on the subreddit is fully aware of what's in store for them.
"Remember people asked for this," ProperPicks told me in a private Reddit message. "People have given their consent for us all to get a laugh at their expense. We are all in this to have a good time."
Redditor ProperPicks suggests that people who might be sensitive to rude or mean comments should steer clear of the group. "RoastMe is for those of us that are OK with laughing at ourselves," they said.
And when asked, members of the group told me that they have no regrets about any of their past roasts.
"It's not my fault, nor will I feel bad if someone got their feelings hurt from an internet stranger on the subreddit made for saying hurtful things," Optimus_nug said via private message.
Though members of the group don't deny that bullies do sneak into the comments every now and again, they claim they're typically very easy to identify.
"There are people who use the subreddit to just get out frustrations at people who fit some description they don't like," arseniccrazy said. "The good news is, those people are really easy to spot, since their roasts are not even close to humorous. Those get removed when we see them."
SwagmasterEDP said that while most of the heinous comments are typically left up, the group's 28 moderators spend a significant amount of time policing the comments. And if something does go over the line they remove the comments and members. Rules are outlined on the right hand side of the subreddit to remind people what is and is not acceptable in the group.
"There is a clear and definitive line between humor and abuse," r/RoastMe's rules stipulate. "If your comment cannot be reasonably expected to make an audience laugh, and is instead meant to intimidate or threaten another user, your posted comment will be removed."
SwagmasterEDP only cited one incident in which insults slung at someone asked to be roasted went severely awry: a relatively Instagram famous woman—whose name was not divulged—asked to be roasted on the subreddit in an attempt to gain more followers, but ended up deleting her post and Instagram after being unable to take the heat.
A very brief history of roasts
Roasts are something of a time-honored American tradition. Ever since the Friar's Club opened in 1904, people have flocked to see "roastees" get decimated by humorous, yet highly insulting comments in the name of good-natured fun.
From 1974 to 1984, Dean Martin hosted celebrity roasts on NBC. In the 1990s, Comedy Central began airing Friar's Club Roasts until eventually they moved to doing their own raunchy roasts in 2003, and in 2018 Comedy Central aired its roast-inspired series, Roast Battle.
Still, feelings on roasting can be split. Some consider roasts a transgressive expression of freedom of speech, while others find them to be cruel and boorish.
In 2009, an op-ed for Reason praised the roast and said it was beneficial for Americans to embrace their comedic baseness.
In 2011, Vulture's Hallie Cantor argued that while roasts at their best have the ability to celebrate community and showcase comedic creativity, when they're at their worst they're mainly a collection of "lazy and offensive punchlines about other, less well-liked celebrities."
More recently, in 2016, the New Yorker called for the end of the celebrity roast, citing lack of humor and use of boring, predictable jokes that lean heavily on old roast tropes, like fat jokes, ugly jokes, and all-around offensive language, after The Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe aired.
Image: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
RoastMe is an internet troll's paradise
Despite everything I'm told about people consenting to barbarous comments, I have a hard time accepting that the roasts are totally kosher. Insult comedy, and comments of the sexist and racist variety can be difficult to stomach when you're not used to a healthy diet of roasts.
However, I can see the merits of engaging in a group like r/RoastMe. It's far kinder to let out all of your Joan Rivers-esque comedic stylings on a group of willing victims, rather than a friend or stranger online who won't take kindly to them. Plus, people genuinely seem to enjoy the roasts and being roasted.
People will forever be divided over roasts, as they have been since their inception. I personally believe that roasters spewing hateful comments should reflect on why they find those kinds of remarks humorous. As long as people feel the urge to troll and there's a group of people willing and ready to be roasted, why not roast away?