20 Aug Confessions of a Twitter Troll
One of my favorite remnants from philosophy 101 is that a person can’t knowingly do something they believe to be wrong. The short version of this argument is that when we commit an illicit act, we have a special rationale. From cutting off a person in traffic to murder, when we do something we “know” is wrong, we do it because we have a good reason.
With that in mind, I feel I must begin my confession by stating that I know trolling on the Internet is wrong. What follows are the special reasons I give myself that allow me to engage in what some would consider trolling.
In case you’re not familiar, “trolling” is the name applied to people who post Internet comments (on blogs, mostly) intended to elicit a negative response among the community. Trolling evokes ugliness lurking just below the Internet’s surface, spreading malevolence.
Blog trolling, which I’m going to separate from Twitter Trolling, is unconscionable for several reasons. There is no point in ruining a blog post for everyone. Just as the prudish and the moronic can change a television channel they don’t like, so too can trolls ignore blog posts. Comments are for fostering conversation, not destroying it. It is a terrible person who blindly lashes out at a writer or a topic they don’t like to quell honest discussion.
There is plenty of room for dissent on a blog. We need to have more conversations about things we don’t agree on, and a well-moderated comments section is an excellent place to do that. But dissent is not derision. People, unlike trolls, are capable of disagreeing, even passionately, without destroying a conversation.
Another thing that makes traditional trolling unconscionable is anonymity. Although it is fading, the Internet anonymity still provides insulation between a person and their claims. I am all the way against this. If you want to say something, put your name on it and live with the consequences. (Not applicable in times of death squads.)
I have never trolled a blog, which is probably what makes me so confident in saying it’s something only subhumans do. And, to be fair, I only nominally troll Twitter. Unlike many Twitter trolls, I do not follow people I dislike or distain. There are no professional politicians on my feed, nor are there professional faces. There are some famous people, writers primarily, but, for the most part, I follow news reporters and regular people who use twitter well. I like to be informed without being over-informed, I accomplish this by following just a few clever people.
For me, trolling is a secondary aspect of twitter. I’ll pile on a public official if someone retweets one of their stupid claims. Also, I’ll snipe at a reporter if they’re obviously regurgitating an official press release. By these (conveniently stated) lights, I really engage in kind of reverse trolling. If I’m minding my business and one of the informed, clever people I follow tweets something beneath both of us, I point it out.
What makes me a troll is, compelled by my personality and 140 characters, I am incapable of responding in a measured way. Sometimes I edit my response to make it less aggressive, but, more often than not, I elect to delete the less-aggressive tweet and send nothing at all instead. This gives me a little insight into how trolling really works.
There are some issues, claims or processes so offensive I don’t want to rebut them. I don’t want to have a conversation. I just want the idea to have a face I can punch. I know this is the wrong way to go about things, but I don’t believe it. That is, I have special reasons my trolling is acceptable (and even necessary and heroic), while all other trolling is juvenile.
This is commentary on this week’s Happy Hour Todcast.