“Once upon a time, there lived three billy goats gruff…”
…and on the story goes, with mention of clippity clopping and a bridge belonging to a certain troll. I’ve seen a lot of versions of this story, and the troll ranges between creepy and craggly to downright hilarious. It’s a classic fairytale (Norwegian, the internet tells me) with the moral that greed will get you no-where. Or possibly that you should trick people until your big brother turns up to beat them up. One of those two morals, definitely.
Anyway, this is not the troll I am talking about. Oh no. Today my subject of discussion is the internet troll.
Earlier, one of my friends posted a link to this list and it popped up on my facebook. Can I urge you to not follow the link unless you cannot contain your curiosity, because of the point about increasing visibility I mention later. Anyway, onwards… What followed was a stream of frustrated comments from highly educated but irate women, and that is such a shame. This article is undoubtedly completely serious, and is definitely very incorrect, but the fact that an anonymous person spouting rubbish on the internet should provoke an outpouring of (often) ill-thought out comments from even the most educated of us, is the biggest issue with internet trolls. Any grown adult should feel able to see right through petty bigotry and inflamatory messages, and rise above it, but time and time again I see people taking the bait.
For me, the primary issue is that more often than not, discussing these types of articles or statements online is simply fueling the fire, and in a quite literal sense. The more hits their sites get, the more motivation to continue being inflammatory. On top of that, sharing this content widely has the potential side-effect (and I say potential because I like to believe no-one is this stupid, but hey) that some individuals might read it, agree, and consider themselves vindicated by the token that they’re not the only person who thinks that way. It amazes me daily to see tweets such as these, in a response to an article by the Queen Troll herself, Katie Hopkins.
We know this level of racism is still sadly rampant across the country, but the fact that such a high-profile social commentator gets away with it on a daily basis allows people like the respondents here to feel that they are in some way correct. Meanwhile the rest of us, on complaining, are either told we’re overreacting, called overbearing hippies (or worse), and our comments are pushed aside. The simple reason for this being that by engaging on a social media level we’re reducing ourselves and our well-thought out, cohesive, meaningful and balanced arguments to the same series of grunts we’re trying to combat. What’s worse, each time a sane voice is quashed it is seen as an additional symbol that the original stance is right. Banging one’s head against a brick wall doesn’t even come close.
So what do we do about the trolls? For me the simple answer is, not engage, at least not on a 140 character or other limited basis. If someone posts or makes reference to something I disagree with on Facebook now, I personal message them and try to engage in a meaningful discussion which isn’t marred by attention seeking to others, or interrupted by someone who feels they know better, but who is ultimately just devaluing the argument. Even better, I try to meet with them. It is amazing the difference a little tone of voice can make. Ultimately if someone references something I disagree with and I don’t have a proper platform to discuss it, I ignore it. I’d prefer to remain silent than resort to mud-throwing. Internet trolls can take it too far, and there are limits which should never be overstepped and cannot be ignored, but for the rest, just turn off your computer and go outside. Soon you’ll find their opinion doesn’t matter as much as you thought.