Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Troll Supporter: A Worse Kind of Hate?

Trolling is part of a larger trend of people feeling more at ease saying things online that they would not say in person.  There are various reasons given for this "disinhibition effect."  This effect can be fairly harmless, with people simply sharing more about themselves than they normally would, but it can also be taken to an extreme: No one knows me here, so I can say anything.  Anything at all. Even if it is mean, false, rude, or crazy.  It'll be fun!  

"Dance, puppets, dance!"

In my opinion, for trolls, the internet is like an invisible shield between them and consequences.  I've gotten to the point that I no longer want to smash my computer to bits when reading trolls' comments, because I've accepted that such behavior is often a plea for attention or a manifestation of personal problems on the part of the person and therefore should be ignored. Remember, if you respond, the troll wins.  Not responding can be difficult, though, and I think I've realized why.


"Whatever you think or believe should be able to stand up to mockery if you truly believe in it."

"You do not have the inalienable right not to be offended."

"The fact that you are getting so worked up about this only means that you are insecure."

What these three statements have in common: while they might have a grain of truth in them, they are almost always used by people trying to justify their or others' mean-spirited remarks, bullying, or prejudice.  I do think that we have become too politically correct and a bit too sensitive about many things; for example, if someone cheerfully wishes me a happy Chanukah, I am not going to get angry because they didn't use the generic "Happy Holidays" instead to include my own holiday.  I think that the truthful part of these statements would be best summed up: carefully try to ascertain if what was said was meant to offend before taking offense, otherwise you might indeed seem overly sensitive. When it gets ridiculous, though, is when someone says something that is obviously not meant kindly- often far from it- and then tries to blame everyone else for getting upset.

Think of this scenario: Jimmy is crying on the playground because Tommy broke his nose.  Jimmy is the elder, bigger and taller of the two, but he also has a mental handicap.  Jimmy's mother tells Tommy's father about it.  Tommy's father says that it was her son's fault for being "too slow to stand up for himself and use his own physical advantage."  She gets angry at the father's lack of compassion.  He tells her that she has no right to be angry at him for telling her "the truth."

"I don't know why I was fired.  I only told HR the truth when
 I said that our boss is dumb because she's blonde."

Is this fair?  Of course not.  It's horrible (and I would not want to see how Tommy turns out).  But it's a similar situation to one that we see played out in online conversations every day.  A troll will say something cruel or ridiculous and get tons of angry responses, but then the troll supporters will come out of the woodwork with the sentences listed above.  I have much less patience with troll supporters than trolls and dislike their comments more, because they truly seem to want their arguments validated more than they desire reactions, even though, when examined closely, their arguments are utterly narcissistic.  Translations of the the three sentences:

"I enjoy making fun of people, so I'm going to do my best to make it seem OK."

"My ability to say anything I want is more important than your little 'feelings.'"

"Obviously, because I am the one staying calm during this conversation on a hot-button issue, my thoughts are right and yours are wrong."

Inevitably, the 1st amendment will be referenced when the second argument is used in the first rendition's prettier language. Yes, we get it; we have freedom of speech.  And yes, nowhere in the Constitution or its amendments does it specifically give us the "inalienable right not to be offended."  But when did it become anything other than common human decency to at least try not to offend?  I truly want to know; when did the Golden Rule go out of fashion?

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