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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Trolls

You've seen them. Indeed, you can't avoid them. You step into an online discussion that interests you, and ... there he is. (It might be a she, but not usually.)

I'm talking about trolls.

So what do I mean? A troll is not:

  • Someone who expresses a contrary view or argument. That's interesting and an occasion for learning.
  • Someone who is socially dim or clueless. Let's face it: at some point, that's all of us. We offend people. Usually, it's unintentional, and when it's pointed out, we realize we've overstepped. If we're mindful, then we try to mend bridges. Sometimes, our offensive comments are totally intended (we are snarky, sarcastic, and/or condemnatory), and we shouldn't be surprised by the response. But, call me old-fashioned, I think we should try to be polite.

A troll is:

  • Someone who obsesses about a viewpoint. And here I mean not just sounding a recurrent theme, but demonstrating an unwillingness to let go of a particular event. Trolls expand that circumstance to a general indictment, and ignore any contrary evidence or context.
  • Someone who demands that anyone holding a contrary view weigh in, every single time, to any statement the troll declares is important. And the failure to respond proves the conspiracy of suppression.
  • Someone who must be noticed, who calls persistently for acknowledgement even when such an acknowledgement would be decidedly odd and irrelevant.

Ultimately, trolling is a kind of mental illness, a desperate and narcissistic attempt to seize collective attention and refocus it on the troll.

The problem, of course, is that it isn't always clear or obvious when someone moves from being just irritating to mentally disturbed.

But I will say that trolls are corrosive to public debate. I once thought that the Internet and the ability of the public to respond instantly to the news could usher in a new round of civic engagement and enlightened discourse. Instead, the race to the bottom - turning every single posting into (pick one) an anti-Obama, anti-immigrant, anti-business, anti-whatever rant - makes people turn away from comments altogether. It's free speech, and that's swell. But all too often it's not free speech worth listening to. Instead, it's a loop of nasty self-references. In the end, it's boring.

As an inveterate letter-to-the-editor-writer, I used to chafe at the rejection of my missives. But, in retrospect, a system that moderates, edits, and confirms the identity of contributors seems smart. The sad truth is that even I need to be moderated sometimes.

Here's the core issue: what do you do about a troll, especially one that stalks you? On the one hand, you want to be polite. On the other, you don't want to grant this person the right to dictate how you spend your time. You have your own life. Yet trolls keep tossing their thoughts into the public forum, responding to your every action.

So sometimes, you just ... ignore them. It's not that you think they're subhuman. It's just that you've learned interacting with them winds up being a "striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14). You get what they mean, you don't agree, and continued engagement with them is just pointless.

So we wind up with the Internet meme: don't feed the trolls. Don't give them air, don't give them time, don't give them a blank check on the bank account of your attention.

Have you ever dealt with a troll? What worked for you?

4 comments:

Douglas Kretzmann said...

I like John Scalzi's Mallet of Loving Correction, particularly on the kitten setting..

http://whatever.scalzi.com/about/site-disclaimer-and-comment-policy/

Jamie said...

Scalzi is one of my favorite writers, and I am delighted by this, too. Brilliant.

Dan Kleinman said...

"Here's the core issue: what do you do about a troll, especially one that stalks you?" What do you mean by "stalking" in the context of what you are saying, and please provide an example.

Your definition of trolling seems to merely set up a means to make an excuse for issue avoidance, in part by casting the messenger as having a mental illness. I have criticized ALA OIF for years and based that criticism on reliable sources. In all that time not a single person has ever addressed any issue, other than to cast me as having a mental illness.

For example, your own OIF used a trainer who made homophobic remarks then, even while knowing that, ALA rehired that person. The trainer who ALA rehired asked why would a women let her small children around a gay man. That sounds homophobic to me. Your own OIF rehired that homophobic trainer. That sounds homophobic to me too. Then, your own deputy director, seeing that the gay man about whom the training was targeted was filing FOIA requests to get a copy of the training where he was attacked for being gay, sent an email using her personal email address (in a tacit admission she was attempting to hide her efforts and hide what ALA itself did) ordering librarians to defy local records retention laws to destroy the evidence of that training containing the homophobia.

Mind you, this is training that your OIF warned people that if I, Dan Kleinman, try to attend, they need to know so they can change the training. I was targeted and defamed by ALA in that letter. Any efforts by me to expose the homophobia at that training that I was defamed for has absolutely nothing to do with trolling. It has to do with uncovering injustice.

This hiding of your own OIF's homophobia has been going on well over two years now and it is never addressed, other than obliquely to get people to use any means possible to attack the messenger and convince librarians to turn a deaf ear. About 100 have. Yesterday or so I simply retweeted a librarian’s tweet and she instantly blocked me as a result of the effort to silence me for speaking out on this very issue of OIF’s homophobia.

At some point you as leader of OIF will need to address the homophobia issue. I realize the issue did not start with you as you are new this year. Still, you will need to release the evidence and come clean. The longer you delay, the worse it will get for ALA.

I said I use reliable sources. I do. Claims of mental illness do not eliminate the reliable sources. I have the actual email your deputy director wrote that caused many librarians to destroy evidence of homophobia used in ALA trainings on how to thwart child p 0 r n whistleblowers (another topic for another time). Here it is:

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James LaRue said...

Mr. Kleinman, any librarian who has ever had anything to do with either ALA (whose support for LGBT people and issues stretches back many years), or the OIF (whose defense of diverse voices of all kinds is an explicit part of our mission) knows that your characterization of a homophobic ALA or OIF is wildly overwrought. It is not only false, it isn't even credible. Moreover, I've come to know the good people of my office, and have daily evidence of their profound integrity. Even if what you say about this trainer were true, about which I'm skeptical given the above mischaracterizations, one person's alleged comments wouldn't justify such a sweeping judgement about that contractor's employers. So, you have your own platforms on which you can make such absurd claims, and more power to you. But I am under no obligation to provide an additional forum for them. So knock it off on my personal site. Any further comments from you on this topic will be deleted, or, in the magnificent example from John Scalzi's site, "kittened."