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Internet and Blogging by
RT recently posted an article on his blog with a piece of advice which is fairly common on the internet: do not feed the trolls. But day after day, month after month, year after year, trolls continue to enjoy the same level of success that they have done since the beginning of human debate and discussion. Why? I think what is fundamentally missing from such advice (anywhere) is how trolls operate and why they succeed and how they hit you where it hurts the most (metaphorically).
So the next time you read something on the internet which makes your blood boil to such an extent that you are dying to respond with a stirring, stinging reply, stop just a moment and ask yourself the question: Am I a reasonable person?
If the answer is: yes, then ask again, Is the person who wrote this article a reasonable person?
The question should be asked not because you were at boiling point. In fact, chances are you are a very reasonable person and you are open-minded enough to participate in debates and discussions without losing your cool. You are wise enough to know where to draw the line and when to withdraw decently from an argument. At the same time, everybody in their senses gets upset at issues around them from time to time. No normal person can remain perfectly unaffected by everything written or said about certain issues. The key here is whether the piece of writing which affected you was deliberately written in a manner which would emotionally affect any reasonable person. Because, once emotion takes over, logic goes out of the window. It always happens.
Internet trolls operate on this principle - they don't care for factual accuracy of anything they write about so long as it sounds reasonally logical or intellectual and is superficially subtle. I say "superficially" because closer, dispassionate inspection would definitely reveal their true colours. But for that you need to remain unaffected by emotion while reading such provocative content.
Those of us who have been online for any length of period have experienced trolls in one form or the other, knowingly or unknowingly. We also know how immensely frustrating such trolls are because we are dying to prove that they are absolutely wrong and misguided in their writing. But at this precise moment, consider for a moment whether the person who wrote that article was honestly misguided and if so, whether your efforts at "correction" will actually be received in an open-minded manner. At some stage, I realized that it doesn't matter whether a person is deliberately intellectually dishonest or honestly misguided. It works to the same thing. Very few people will admit to making a mistake in real life and even fewer will do so online. The very open nature of the internet makes it nearly impossible to admit an error without losing face. And most people, right or wrong, don't want to lose face.
So rather than analyze why somebody would write such a provocative, misguided and factually incorrect article, you would be better off asking whether anything you add to the discussion (if it is a public forum) or communicate to the author (privately) would really be of any use. At best your response will either remain ignored or get buried under a huge pile of other responses. At worst, you would get rude replies which drag you further into personal conflict with the parties involved.
It's better to be cynical about such things rather than implicitly believe in the honesty of such people or try to beat our heads trying to expose their dishonesty. I think a problem is that too many people are tricked into thinking that it's their duty or obligation to respond to every argument with counter-points to show that they are not afraid of discussion or debate and so find it extremely hard to get out of a debate once they get in. Well, so what if you are afraid of debate? Does it matter when a nameless, faceless stranger thinks you are a sissy? So what if people think you're rude by not responding? Are they related to you in any manner that their opinion about you will affect you in any way? Is the stranger who wrote that crap really going to have the last word on the issue under discussion? Isn't it better to leave rather than make emotional outbursts and give them the pleasure of seeing you dance to their tunes? If you focus on the person rather than the debate, you would realize how stupid it is to even converse with a stranger on an issue that you feel so strongly about.
Getting drawn into argument with such people can get dangerously addictive and emotionally sapping. There's nothing constructive in debate, genuine or not, beyond a point. Really.
The best response is to clear out and never return to that website to read it again. It can be hard for a while, but it is the only thing that works effectively in the end. Everytime I stumble across something disgustingly objectionable online, I make it a point to completely forget the URL by wiping out the browser history.
Posted on Thu, Jun 7, 2007 at 17:30 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:11 IST)