This week I had a minor (but annoying) run-in with some internet trolls. This wouldn’t usually be something to blog about, but I figured some people might be wondering about the incident if they watched it, and other people who didn’t watch it may learn something valuable from my post-chaos reflections. So here we go.
Note: this is a long post. If you’re not that interested, NO PROBLEM. I encourage you to look through some of the classics on the blog today. I’ll have a new topic tomorrow.
For those of you who stay to read: note that I am removing the specifics of the argument from this post: no names, no affiliations, not even the meme in question. This is a general retrospective on the issue of bullying, trolls, and decision-making. Enjoy.
JORDAN'S TIPS TO SPOTTING AND DEALING WITH TROLLS
Sometime early in the week, I reshared a meme (an shareable internet picture) on the Capital Geek Girls page that I'd seen somewhere else. It was based on shock value humour, and I posted it because:
a) It’s not the first time we’ve shared a tongue-in-cheek meme,
b) It was edgy enough that it caught my mind's eye and made me think about certain aspects of our culture. I appreciate that.
It sat on the page for a day or two with very little complaint. Most people seem to ‘like’ it, understanding that it should not be read literally, but as a commentary on stereotyping and profiling.
What the audience saw a few days later was a suddenly flurry of activity as a number of people suddenly jumped on this meme, now a ways down the Geek page, and attacked it. What I failed to do at the moment of crisis was slow down and recognize a troll when I had one.
HINT NUMBER ONE THAT YOU’RE DEALING WITH A TROLL: THEY ARE ALREADY MAD AT YOU.
What the audience didn’t see was that the ringleader of this flame war had just had a private message discussion with me where she was angry I couldn’t provide her with something she wanted. That discussion lapsed quickly into an attack on the edgy meme, and thus began the battle. Maybe it has nothing to do with anything…but the timing was awfully coincidental.
HINT NUMBER TWO THAT YOU’RE DEALING WITH A TROLL: THEY BRING FRIENDS WHO BASICALLY SHOUT, ‘YEAH!’
Of the dozens of comments launched against the meme, there were really only about five authors. Interestingly, most of them were not members of the page, and remarkably, all of them were friends of the ringleader. I watched carefully as debate broke out and saw that no one jumped into the shouting that wasn’t already related to the little mob.
HINT NUMBER THREE: THEY’RE INFAMOUS.
As the shouting and belligerent activity unfurled, I received messages from admins from other sites, letting me know that this ringleader and her troll posse routinely cry outrage on various walls. Like a pack of hyenas, this was not the first attack they’d launched. Trolls can become quite infamous, and it’s helpful to know other people who can warn you about what you’re dealing with.
HINT NUMBER THREE: THEY BULLY.
‘Bully’ is a word that is thrown around a lot lately. Let’s look at the definition (Wikipedia for ease of access):
Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively to impose domination over others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. …[They use] an imbalance of social or physical power. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets. Justifications and rationalizations for such behavior sometimes include differences of class, race, religion, gender, sexuality, appearance, behavior, strength, size or ability. If bullying is done by a group, it is called mobbing. "Targets" of bullying are also sometimes referred to as "victims" of bullying.
This ringleader and her group:
-intimidated and aggressively dominated any discussion that attempted to happen
-employed an imbalance of power by bringing along her team of trolls to the party
-repeatedly justified their aggressive behaviour towards people based on the race, gender, and sexuality of those that disagreed with them.
NB: What was confusing for those watching this foray was that this particular group would attack people based on their lack of minority status, which seems like a humanitarian effort…but it’s not. Attacking someone based on your perception of their race, class, gender, or sexuality for any reason makes you a bully. What was doubly confusing was that they were rationalizing their aggressive behaviour because of their own inclusion in various minority groups (note: ironically I am also a member of the same minorities), which somehow meant that they could be nasty to people to get their point across. I’d argue it made it impossible for anyone to hear the point.
HINT NUMBER FOUR: THEY GO AFTER THE WEAK
I started to get seriously concerned when people started informing me that they had been private messaged by members of the trolling group to further argue/fight in private. Bullies (and trolls) like to pick on the weak; singling out a person in a private message and causing him to communicate with you away from the public forum is much like waiting ‘til a kid walks down a dark alley before you beat him up.
HINT NUMBER FIVE: THEY RESORT TO PERSONAL ATTACKS
The number of times that one of the trolling people told someone else they couldn’t have a valid opinion based on their colour/creed/crotch was absolutely absurd, but sadly it was expected and people just rolled with it. Where things got mighty dicey from my side of things was when I discovered, on a different wall, that one of the trolls had begun discussing my personal relationship in public. I’m not talking about her just saying, “She’s dating so-and-so, so her opinion is skewed” (which DID happen and is incredibly anti-feminist: minimizing a woman’s opinion based on her relationship status is appalling), but she actually went so far as to start sharing personal information about the intimacy levels between myself and my partner. For someone who had just been arguing some pretty big moral points, this troll seemed to have no trouble behaving against her values as long as she was doing it where she thought I couldn’t see it. Gross.
WHY WE DIDN’T TAKE DOWN THE MEME (RIGHT AWAY)
There are two big things in life I hate: bullies, and mass hysteria. I refuse to abide by either of these things. As a child, I was a constant schoolyard scrapper—not because I started fights, but because my school was notorious for bullies with big fists, and the teachers at the time took very little notice. I was the kid who waded into the foray and took that bully out so that the little guy could get away. I wasn’t afraid of pain; I was always taught that the moral victory was the one to win.
In this same way, I refused to back down to the demands of a bully and its mob, even on Facebook. If reasonable concerns brought up in a logical manner were presented, we could look at the issue further…but using name-calling, swearing, yelling, isolation tactics, personal slander, and outright shouting? These things will not elicit a response from me. Nor will I bow down to mass hysteria caused by such behaviours.
WHY I DID TAKE DOWN THE MEME:
I’m a fool, that’s why. Because various members of this trolling group were people I had some knowledge of before the foray, I stupidly found myself assuming they couldn’t be trolls, and I STUPIDLY responded in the first place. Page admins, if you learn one thing here today, let it be this: don’t respond to trolls. But I waded into the trap before I knew it was set, and that was the start of the end. I didn’t take down the meme because a handful of aggressive people started shouting. I took down the meme when I started getting reports that individuals were being further pestered and attacked via private message. I couldn’t think of a way to defend those virtual ‘back alleys’, so I took down the meme in the hopes of getting those kids out of those dark spots.
It worked. But I don’t like the thought that, for even one minute, one of these trolls thinks that the key to getting its way is to be a bully.
I will be better prepared next time. This isn’t a big deal nor is it the end of the world. But it was a major part of the week, and whenever someone might be able to learn from something I get myself into, I like to share it.
That’s why I post all the funny stories about pantyhose mishaps and falling down my basement stairs: so you’ll learn from these things. You are learning from them, right? Good lord, please tell me it’s not all in vain.