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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: The bell tolls

by Brenda Looper | September 1, 2021 at 3:24 a.m.
Brenda Looper

There's a lot I don't understand. How humans can be so cruel to each other. Why anyone would believe that their rights trump those of everyone else.

But I think one thing above all confounds me: trolling on the Internet.

As I wrote in a Facebook post last week: "Why troll? I mean, really, why? I'm not talking about the mostly lighthearted 'trolling' some might engage in to prank someone, but the mean-spirited (and often political) jackholery we see so much of. We all post memes at least once in a while, but some people seem to delight far too much in posting ones they know will provoke a response and ensure they get to (not "have to," but "get to") argue with anyone who dares to disagree."

I would remind you here, since generally people who are referred to as trolls tend to call anyone who disagrees a troll (wow, that's not only not self-aware, but childish), of the essential definition of an Internet troll, according to Merriam-Webster: "a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content."

Evita March wrote on The Conversation last September: "In scientific literature, Internet trolling is defined as a malicious online behavior, characterized by aggressive and deliberate provocation of others. 'Trolls' seek to provoke, upset and harm others via inflammatory messages and posts."

Malicious intention and aggression (not to mention attention-seeking) are huge red flags that apply to an awful lot of people on comment boards, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. The intent for some may be to amuse and entertain (like The Onion), but what so many of us see is darker. I have a pretty dark sense of humor, but the bulk of what I've seen posted by trolls "as a joke" was malicious, based on putting down groups or people they don't like.

I've fought my own battles against trolls, and have sometimes unwisely ignored the warning, "Don't feed the trolls." On my own blog I don't really have that problem since I have to approve comments by new commenters, and I've yet to rescind permission. One wannabe troll never reappeared after I approved his comment then answered with a full transcript of the radio-show segment featuring the quote in question in context.

Just this weekend, though, I finally pulled the plug on a Facebook friend from high school, and I have to say, it was a relief. It wasn't filled with the grief that accompanied an actual high school friend's blocking of me a few weeks ago after a post in which I urged the unvaccinated to get the shots. I still hope to speak to her again.

When I posed my question, I was hoping for an answer from him, but he ignored it, spending his time on other posts trolling me and my oldest brother. When I decided to troll him back on a couple of especially egregious posts (yes, I'm sorry), I didn't get any satisfaction from it, and it too ended up feeding the troll.

In one of the last messages from him before he was blocked (after he got more and more aggressive not just with me, but others commenting on a post about "snoozing" people), he said what so many before him have said: "If memes upset you, just scroll."

As I wrote in the previous post on trolls, "Yes, we can scroll on by, but some of us feel compelled, when misinformation is rife, especially as regards covid-19, to correct that misinformation. Of course, some scoff at that, claiming that 'fact-checkers' can't be trusted. How about reality? Can the reality that the bulk of us inhabit be trusted, or must it all be viewed through an ideological lens? When no amount of primary-source documentation will sway someone, what are those of us committed to facts to do, other than get more frustrated?

"Can we just agree that we can't continue as we have been, living in separate realities according to our political preferences, and deriding automatically anyone who doesn't fit our ideological construct? Can we stop assuming everyone who disagrees with you is a 'libtard' or 'rethuglicon'? Can we understand that a single person can hold beliefs that span the ideological spectrum?

"I won't ask why can't we just get along, but I will ask this: Can we just not be jerks to each other?"

What my former friend seems to believe is that everyone must happily accept bad behavior. Sure, it will always be with us, but in the real world, there are rules: Certain behaviors are crimes and thus outlawed; traffic laws and other rules are there for public safety; and private businesses such as Internet platforms can discipline or ban people who violate the terms of service, etc.

What got my friend tossed is exactly the sort of thing I was taught wasn't acceptable when I was a kid, as I'm sure most were taught. That's changed in recent years, with anyone who protests labeled a "snowflake" and harassed mercilessly. Most of us, I still believe, don't want to be dragged to that level.

So sorry that I'm still wedded to the idea of civil society and that my mental health is more important than someone getting to abuse me for giggles.

Wait, no, I'm not sorry. And I'm definitely not sorry for standing up for myself.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com.

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