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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Under the bridge

by Brenda Looper | July 7, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.
Brenda Looper

It's hard sometimes not to be baffled by some reactions to one's own writing.

Honest criticism is welcomed, gladly. Glowing reviews are accepted, usually sheepishly. But when certain people consistently attack you for something they think you said (but didn't), well ...

I just don't understand trolls, sometimes quite literally. I thought it was just me on one comment, but other people piped up and said they didn't understand it either. Word salad had nothing on this one.

Trolling can be entertaining, such as when Greta Thunberg trolls her well-known critics, using their own words against them, essentially trolling the trolls. In more than one instance, she changed her Twitter bio to the description a certain president tweeted of her, showing that she wasn't bothered. A dry sense of humor and a thick skin have served her well.

But what so many of us see on comment boards are the non-entertaining variety of trolls. BBC Bitesize wrote of these: "In children's stories a troll is an angry, anti-social monster hiding under bridges ready to snatch up goats called Billy. Instead of under bridges, Internet trolls hide behind their computers or phones, and go out of their way to cause misery online."

This type of troll likes to be the center of attention, and will post inflammatory, often off-topic remarks just to get a reaction. They'll take something said in jest and swear it was serious. They'll take things out of context. They'll claim that if you wrote something, that's what you believe, even if you simply reported what someone else said. Sometimes they'll dox you; Oxford says that to dox means to "search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent."

All that is why I no longer respond to trolls.

Trolls are often insecure and lash out at others because it makes them feel less so. While someone may unintentionally troll someone else, or "troll" the trolls as Thunberg does, I would argue they're not a true troll unless it's a pattern of behavior. Constantly hanging out on message boards waiting to pounce with a quiver full of insults and incendiary comments ... yeah, that makes you a troll.

This type of behavior is unfortunately one more symptom of a society that needs serious help. As Glen Hooks so ably noted in his guest column on Monday, we've developed a distrust for expertise, which is causing us real harm (the fact that 99 percent of the covid-19 deaths since late January have been among the unvaccinated is one example).

"We have to do better," Hooks wrote. "We can start by admitting to ourselves two real truths. The first of these truths is that we, individually, do not and cannot know everything. The second of these truths is that 'not knowing' is nothing for which we should be ashamed. 'Not knowing' is not a weakness. The real weakness is in not knowing, pretending that you do know, and then refusing to change your position when presented with actual facts and evidence."

Many lately have pointed to what they see as a prescient bit of writing in late astrophysicist Carl Sagan's 1995 book "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" that seems to point to the situation in which we now find ourselves: "I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time--when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness."

We have people who can't tell the difference between news and opinion, or opinion and fact. We've always had them, but they seem more prevalent at the moment, I think, because they're louder and feel more empowered than before to flaunt their ignorance and disrespect for facts. I have to believe that those of us who care about facts and reality vastly outnumber them, though; we just have to stop letting them speak for us, lest we lose that right.

History's teachings are there for us to heed, as Sagan noted: "One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back."

Cognitive dissonance is a hard mistress. Those who support the actions of Jan. 6 may soon find that out.

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at

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