I am not a believer in labeling people trolls, no matter what I see them doing on the Internet. I learned that one the hard way, and only decided it recently, but I think it is a sound policy. I do see a bit of trollery, though, especially on Feminist discussion threads that I frequent and on Facebook. It comes in many forms and it’s difficult to deal with at times, for a few of reasons.
- It sometimes pushes emotional buttons.
- It often comes in a polite, sincere-seeming package, which makes it hard to tell whether the person leaving the trollish comment is looking for a discussion and just saying boneheaded things, or whether they are up to something more malicious.
- It is sometimes unintentional, and a matter of a lack of either misunderstanding Internet etiquette or just having a strong reaction and feeling the need to respond. That is, the person doing it isn’t meaning to be disruptive nor doing it for the attention — they’re just sounding off.
- Some people use the internet to actively seek out folks who have strong differences with them and engage in civil-but-intense debates. This is emphatically not trolling as long as the debate is honest and everyone makes an effort to separate their opinions from their facts and to back up claims with evidence. It can be a productive way to refine your own opinions if you have the temperament for it and you have that kind of time (I am not blessed with either).
But if a person who’s just looking for an honest debate drops a first comment on one of your threads and gets right to the debating, it can look like trolling. So it isn’t a good idea to assume that a person is trolling without something to go on. That means you need ways to make informed decisions.
It’s actually a thing, though!
There are people on the internet who practice trolling as an art form. I am sure there are many reasons a person might consciously decide engage in habitual trolling, but I personally do not understand it. To the extent that I am doing anything on the internet other than amusing myself and my friends, I am trying to have productive discussions with people and make more friends. And make some little bit of difference, of course!
I’m doing all that while seeing how mighty a network I can build and encouraging the formation of online communities. I’m just assuming I have enough cred to be straight about the networking without getting laughed out of the room at this point. I’m done beating around the bush about that.
I don’t take kindly to the intentional disruption of legitimate online social activities. It’s mean-spirited and narcissistic. It erodes the natural inclination to give others the benefit of the doubt that people must have to make new friends on the Internet. It just plain offends me.
Since blogs are public, and I can’t control what other people do, there’s no way to stop folks from trolling the blogs I frequent. The bigger our network grows, the more connected we become, and the better we get at spreading ideas all over the Internet, the more trolling we are going to see.
So, tomorrow I will have thoughts on how to recognize trolling behavior. It doesn’t do any good to rail against trolling. Educating people about the behavioral and rhetorical clues, and teaching them how to be smart when moderating their own threads, is the way to go.
I am inclined to just go ahead and run this whole thing without art, except for that YouTube at the top. This one is all about the words, people.
Part Two: Eight Trolling Indicators
Part Three: Here is How I Handle It
Part Four: How Vulnerable Are You, and Can You Spot It?