Last Wednesday, a friend (I call him Snek Man) DM’d me, quite concerned with what he was seeing on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s website.
“Wow, you got somewhat torched in the comments of your column today. Respond to them!” he wrote.
I told him I’d given up responding to comments for the most part, preferring to let readers discuss things among themselves (some are very adept at fact-checking the worst of them). Besides, I said, the usual gang of trolls just ignores whatever I say and pretends I said something else that more closely fits their image of me (who is a real drip). Answering them just encourages their abusive behavior, and won’t change their minds.
I’ll remind you here of the definition of a troll of the Internet variety, which is not, as one consistently insists, anyone who disagrees with me. (Seriously, dude? Yes, I usually disagree with you, but you’re a jerk who likes to spread misinformation and provoke people. That’s called being a troll.)
You’d be forgiven if your first thought when hearing the word “troll” is the fishing method or the Scandinavian ogre that hangs out in caves or hills or under bridges and might have a taste for humans or billy goats. (The trolls of the happy, helpful variety seen in “Frozen” and “Trolls” are a different matter entirely.)
On the Internet troll, Merriam-Webster defines that creature as “a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.” That may be someone who leaves outrageous comments on obituary sites, someone who creates a Twitter account for the sole purpose of baiting people (like “Rep. Steven Smith,” whose parody account claiming he’s the U.S. representative for the 15th District in Georgia, which doesn’t exist, has fooled Christiane Amanpour and Ezra Klein, among others), or someone who parks on comment boards for newspapers and other media just to pick fights.
There are way too many of those, which is part of the reason several of the Facebook groups I’m part of have taken the groups private to cut down on random trolls monopolizing the conversation.
My usual gang on the newspaper’s website is fond of misrepresenting things I’ve said; making up things about me, other columnists with whom they disagree, and other commenters on the site; and posting, with glee, things like “Lord give me the confidence of an uninformed white woman who knows nothing about the topic but feels like we should pay attention to her raving.”
Aw, shucks. At least now I know that the hours of research that go into most of my columns are for naught. Who cares what quoted experts say? Not trolls. I’d do better in their estimation if I just wrote: “Democrats evil incarnate, Republicans awesomesauce.”
Folks, no one is awesomesauce, and you know my views on political parties in general, especially when they spend too much of their time and energy catering to fringe elements. While neither is evil incarnate, they are a huge part of the problem we have with division. Hey, most people are in the middle, you guys! Remember us?
But back to trolls … Joel Stein wrote in Time in 2016 (Lord, if this had been written now …) in “How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet” of what psychologists call the online disinhibition effect “in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. And it’s seeping from our smartphones into every aspect of our lives.”
“The people who relish this online freedom are called trolls, a term that originally came from a fishing method online thieves use to find victims. It quickly morphed to refer to the monsters who hide in darkness and threaten people. Internet trolls have a manifesto of sorts, which states they are doing it for the ‘lulz,’ or laughs. What trolls do for the lulz ranges from clever pranks to harassment to violent threats. … When victims do not experience lulz, trolls tell them they have no sense of humor. Trolls are turning social media and comment boards into a giant locker room in a teen movie.”
Webroot has noted, “Trolls agitate to start fights between friends or strangers; they torment those struggling with illnesses or with the loss of a loved one, people unsure of their identity or their looks, or any other weakness a troll can find. They disrupt forums with off-topic comments, brag nonstop about themselves, ridicule the thoughts of others or insert controversial comments to disrupt conversations. Trolls spread lies, deceive and cause damage, and they enjoy every minute they can make someone else miserable.”
But wait … Stein reported that Milo Yiannopoulos said, “Human nature has a need for mischief. We want to thumb our nose at authority and be individuals … the space we’re making for others to be bolder in their speech is some of the most important work being done today. The trolls are the only people telling the truth.”
Yeah, he said that, but very often it’s not truth, but rather hyperpartisan opinion masquerading as truth. For instance, that space where Jan. 6, 2021, was peaceful protest (or alternatively was violent protest planned by antifa) is not reality, no matter how much one might believe it.
While there are people who troll under their own name (Greta Thunberg comes to mind, and she’s a master at trolling the idiots who underestimate her), they really aren’t the problem. It’s the anonymous trolls. If you really believe something, you should be willing to have your name associated with it. Allowances can be made for those whose job could be in danger, but if you’re retired or otherwise not working and you refuse to speak as yourself, it tells me that you aren’t interested in anything but disrupting and preventing reasoned debate.
You’ll notice there are no trolls in the comments here on the blog (maybe a lot of dad jokes and puns, but no trolls). When I set the blog up years ago, I made it so I had to OK new commenters, and I’ve never changed it. I’ve caught a few and didn’t approve their comments, but there was one I let through so I could answer his question in probably the most annoying way possible to him: I tracked down and posted the transcript of the radio show from which he was taking a quote from Barack Obama pre-presidency out of context. I never heard from him again.
How do you fight the more persistent trolls? You can stop responding to them, which is my usual tack, and is what a lot of the experts advise; however, that doesn’t mean I won’t address the issue in a general comment or, say, a column, and call out their behavior (I’m lookin’ at you, GenMac, Mozarky, WildFern, et al.). Above all, take care of yourself; most likely, you are not what the trolls portray you to be, so take their comments with a grain (heck, a cup … or two or three) of salt.
Snek Man also alerted me to KATV Channel 7’s Question of the Day posted Monday on its Facebook page: “Does it offend you when people call their pets … ‘furbabies’?”
I think I can answer for one of my trolls, who is offended by my referring to friends’ pets as my “fur-nephews” (I also have a few fur-nieces, but I don’t see them as often): Hell, yes! And something about bestiality. (He’ll probably also be offended by “Snek Man.”)
Honestly, kind of a weird flex, but OK.
Luke (Senor Pantalones, Lukey, Lucifer, etc.) was my fur-son, and Mama’s grandkitty; he was well-loved and almost human in many ways (I swear, dude was constantly rolling his eyes at my weirdness … usually after he did something weirder). I’m proud to count among my fur-kin Charlie (King Charles, Chucklebutt, Sweet Boy, etc.) Kinsey and Spike (Spikey-do, Spikezilla, Spikeroni-and-cheese, etc.) Phillips; they give a lot more unconditional love than some humans. What’s not to love about that?
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m going to be offended about things that actually matter, like mass shootings, wage gaps, the need for health care available and affordable to all, etc. What someone wants to call the critters in their lives, who are indeed like family for many people, wouldn’t even make the list.
As Snek Man said, some of these people need to get a life. But maybe not a pet. If they act toward animals the way they do toward people … yeesh.