Trolls of The Internet Species

By Kevin Dooley [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Kevin Dooley [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I have been meaning to write an essay about Trolls for a long time. The notion started rolling around in my head a few years ago, then dropped off the table of my attention for some time. It was recently reawakened when I read some of the comments on many sites and is something I think is important.

I’ve had my encounters with Internet trolls any number of times. My most recent was a Facebook cross-posting of a tweet in which the poster indicated they intended to assault the first person they saw with an (legally) openly-carried sidearm. Their declared MO would be to pepper-spray the offending individual, then do a gun grab and hold them at gunpoint awaiting the police to arrive.

I cross-posted to my FB feed the offensive tweet (which contained the poster’s Twitter handle) and made a comment about the proposal being both illegal (it’s assault to a degree of deadly force) and idiotic (it’s a great way to be shot — being a deadly force assault). I went so far as to track down the poster’s Twitter feed and read some of the traffic there as well as the feed of responses, many from gun owners.

I was appalled by what I read. Yes, appalled!

I am positive the poster had no intention of assaulting an individual who was observed openly-carrying a sidearm. I’m also confident that the poster knew they would either be shot, arrested, or perhaps both if they attempted such an action. I asked myself, then, what could possibly be the motivation for such an asinine statement?

“Troll!” was my internal response. The poster’s motivation was to stir up gun owners and those who believe in the Constitution (the 2nd Amendment in particular). There was no other purpose.

The Twitter comments and retweets were rife with vitriol (another topic for an essay) on both sides. I read through a fair number of postings, then paused to shake my head in disgust. Too many individuals I would identify with spewed venomous responses, many to a degree that was unacceptable. What I mean by that was the “try that with me and see what happens” macho bullshit.

It does not matter what side of this (or any other issue) one takes. The nature of the “discussion” was not a discussion of the points of the issue. It rapidly became a series of ad hominem attacks that serve no purpose other than to 1) hurt individuals on the other side and 2) make the poster feel better about themselves and their position. This is completely unacceptable. It is illogical (at the least), it is unethical, and it is immoral. To threaten someone’s life because of what the believe is unacceptable.

Those people who are ardent supporters of gun-rights and carry-rights have to reign it in. The “Gun-Nut” moniker can be justifiably applied to those individuals who responded to the OP’s tweet. Perhaps the respondents were being honest (I doubt it). But the responses do nothing to demonstrate that those of us who strongly support the 2nd Amendment rights are reasonable and thoughtful. Those rights are being put into danger by the very supporters who responded to the OP’s tweet. It is the wrong thing to do. I don’t care which side one takes, such responses are still the wrong thing to do.

I think that reasonable dialogue is an important part of freedom. It’s a requirement for self-governance, which is the basis for our political system (through “representation”). That we have descended to such a state that meaningful dialogue is no longer the norm but the exception speaks to me that we are in grave danger of losing our ability to self-govern.

This is unacceptable. I expect that I am in the minority. I expect that the probability that our interaction with those we disagree with will not improve, in general. I wonder what happened to the idea that we are all Americans and that it is normal for us to disagree on many topics, but that we can still treat each other with respect and kindness, even in that disagreement. I fear that we are entering (or already in) a downward cultural spiral that will not end well. I want someone to prove me wrong.

N.B. I found an excellent article on dealing with Trolls on Hacking Christianity entitled Disarming Internet Trolls. It’s worth the time to read.

2 thoughts on “Trolls of The Internet Species”

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how the illusion of “anonymity” on the Internet reduces all human discourse to the least common denominator. I believe, unfortunately, that the human race has, in a mob, always been this way. The Internet didn’t create the problem(s), it’s just given rise to a global forum when previously these conversations were relegated to private conversation or local displays. The outcome is both good and bad: good that our nature is on display so we may work toward improvement, and bad that there are clearly some individuals beyond improvement in the world and may cross my families’ path at some point. Nice thoughts Dave. I always appreciate thoughtfulness like this – it’s evidence that we don’t all have a need to reduce discourse to the least common denominator.

    1. I agree, Ty. There is a similarity to “talking behind someone’s back” in a very real sense. There seems to be no filter like there might be if the speaker were facing his/her conversant. It is clear to me that the things said would be considered “fighting words” in my culture.

      I have another essay to write along similar lines concerning commentary I often come across on public sites. I need to get that written. 🙂

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