Last Wednesday, a friend (I call him Snek Man) DM'd me, quite concerned with what he was seeing on the newspaper's website.
"Wow, you got somewhat torched in the comments of your column today. Respond to them!" he wrote. I told him I'd given up responding to comments for the most part, preferring to let readers discuss things among themselves (some are very adept at fact-checking the worst of them). Besides, I said, the usual gang of trolls just ignores whatever I say and pretends I said something else that more closely fits their image of me (who is a real drip). Answering them just encourages their abusive behavior.
I'll remind you here of the definition of a troll of the Internet variety, which is not, as one consistently insists, anyone who disagrees with me. (Seriously, dude?)
Merriam-Webster defines that creature as "a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content." That may be someone who leaves outrageous comments on obituary sites, someone who creates a Twitter account for the sole purpose of baiting people (like "Rep. Steven Smith," whose parody account has fooled Christiane Amanpour and Ezra Klein, among others), or someone who parks on comment boards for newspapers and other media just to pick fights.
My usual gang is fond of misrepresenting things I've said, making up things about me and other commenters on the site, and posting, with glee, things like "Lord give me the confidence of an uninformed white woman who knows nothing about the topic but feels like we should pay attention to her raving."
Aw, shucks. At least now I know that the hours of research that go into most of my columns are for naught. Who cares what quoted experts say? Not trolls.
Joel Stein wrote in Time in 2016 (Lord, if this had been written now ...) in "How Trolls Are Ruining the Internet" of what psychologists call the online disinhibition effect "in which factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building. And it's seeping from our smartphones into every aspect of our lives."
"The people who relish this online freedom are called trolls, a term that originally came from a fishing method online thieves use to find victims. It quickly morphed to refer to the monsters who hide in darkness and threaten people. Internet trolls have a manifesto of sorts, which states they are doing it for the 'lulz,' or laughs. What trolls do for the lulz ranges from clever pranks to harassment to violent threats. ... When victims do not experience lulz, trolls tell them they have no sense of humor. Trolls are turning social media and comment boards into a giant locker room in a teen movie."
Webroot has noted, "Trolls agitate to start fights between friends or strangers; they torment those struggling with illnesses or with the loss of a loved one, people unsure of their identity or their looks, or any other weakness a troll can find. They disrupt forums with off-topic comments, brag nonstop about themselves, ridicule the thoughts of others or insert controversial comments to disrupt conversations. Trolls spread lies, deceive and cause damage, and they enjoy every minute they can make someone else miserable."
But wait ... Milo Yiannopoulos said, "Human nature has a need for mischief. We want to thumb our nose at authority and be individuals ... the space we're making for others to be bolder in their speech is some of the most important work being done today. The trolls are the only people telling the truth."
Yeah, he said that, but very often it's not truth, but rather hyperpartisan opinion masquerading as truth. For instance, that space where Jan. 6, 2021, was peaceful protest (or alternatively was violent protest planned by antifa) is not reality, no matter how much one might believe it.
How do you fight trolls? You can stop responding to them, which is my usual tack; however, that doesn't mean I won't address the issue in a general comment or, say, a column, and call out their behavior. Above all, take care of yourself; most likely, you are not what the trolls portray you to be, so take their comments with a grain (heck, a cup) of salt.
Snek Man also alerted me to KATV Channel 7's Question of the Day posted Monday on its Facebook page: "Does it offend you when people call their pets ... 'furbabies'?"
I think I can answer for one of my trolls, who is offended by my referring to friends' pets as my "fur-nephews" (I also have a few fur-nieces, but I don't see them as often): Hell, yes! And something about bestiality. (He'll probably also be offended by "Snek Man.")
Honestly, kind of a weird flex.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm going to be offended about things that actually matter, like wage gaps, the need for health care available and affordable to all, etc. What someone wants to call the critters in their lives, who are indeed like family for many people, wouldn't even make the list.
As Snek Man said, some of these people need to get a life.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at email@example.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.