Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why do we feed the trolls?

I remember when I first got into the internet. I was on two mailing lists. One was for my favorite football team (Go Skins) and the other was for Lincoln Douglas Debate which I did a long long time ago. I remember how much I enjoyed the "chat room" type atmosphere of those things. But every once in a while, a conversation could get out of hand - a racist slur, or a sexist comment, or a sequence of images that just didn't belong there. I can't remember, but I imagine that initially I was probably upset by these types of things trying to get in the way of my Zen and the relaxation that I was seeking by going to these message boards.But I know that somewhere along the lines, the fact that I was more of a reader than a commenter helped me to understand that by commenting on these "internet trolls", all I was doing was giving them more ammunition to come back and get more attention. So ultimately, as my presence in these (and similar) forums grew, I learned to not get bent out of hand about stuff like this.

There's been a lot of talking going on lately about two things in my circle of friends. The first is Fox News reporting about Common as if he's the one who put a target over a congressman's head or something (wait, thats what MSNBC and many liberals said about Sarah Palin in response to the shooting which 6 people were killed and 19 people were shot). The other was an article that was put up on Psychology Today (which was later taken down, but from what I understand the text of the article is available at All Hip Hop: Psycho Today headline: "Why black women are rated less attractive"). Both of these seemed to initiate "riots" on facebook and twitter talking about how bad the journalism was, or the racism, or the sexism, etc. Me personally, I saw these two headlines and just kinda dismissed them as stuff thats trying to bring me down and since I've got enough things that are trying to do that in my own personal life, figured that I didn't need to worry about the articles themselves.

One thing about the Common story is the source of it. It was coming from Fox News. This isn't the first time they've said something thats been taken as racist, and I'm sure it will not be the last. Thats part of their "thing". They like to rile up their base, particularly by making up lies to convince their base that the opposing side is evil, in which case they can get their base to do whatever it is Fox News is promoting (is this what Malcolm meant when he said "By Any Means Necessary"?). Like Jon Stewart said about a year ago in an interview with Rachel Maddow, the thing about Fox News isn't the lies they tell, its more about the fact that they're a well oiled machine at doing it.

The other story about Black women, well thats one that (IMO) is rooted in a lot of racist beliefs and trying to use "science" to back up those beliefs. I find it funny (what else can I do but laugh) that they basically had a survey and called it objective. Yeah, cause I'm sure that if you change the set of people you're interviewing the results won't differ. And I'm sure that if you change the definition of 'beauty' the results won't differ. But this is the type of pseudo-science that is driven for tabloids. Maybe I should be mad that it could be published in Psychology Today, but even that doesn't get me mad. Nothing surprises me any more.

While I still hope for the best in my fellow human beings (and myself), the fact that they (we) don't measure up to the ideal standards we set for ourselves doesn't mean I'll get bent out of shape about it. If I meet somebody who holds these beliefs, I'll probably try to talk to them about it and if it leads to a good dialog, then I'd be happy about that. If not, then at least I tried, but I won't beat myself up about it either way.

This is not meant to discourage others who acted differently. I have a friend who sent a letter to Psychology Today. Jon Stewart went on Bill O'Reilly to talk about the Common issue. I think those are both constructive ways to address this problem. Other friends have written their own blogs about these different issues, and I'm sure that helped diffuse some of the tension (both internally and externally). And this post, in itself, is in some measure inspired by these trolls themselves. But I feel like the more time we spend feeding the trolls, the more ammunition they will have to upset you (us) the next time. I guess its the principle that there's no such thing as bad publicity. I think this is especially true in the case of trolls. Publicity for a troll establishes that they've gotten into your life, into your stream of thought, and thats, is a success for them.

Like I said, there may be other, more constructive ways to defeat a troll, but if nothing else comes to you, I say just ignore them and don't let them bring you down.

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