These days, I interact with a lot of people on the Internet. I am active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and I occasionally respond to articles posted on newspaper websites, or to people who have responded to articles on newspaper websites. In the years that I have been active on social media, and have been opining about news articles, the political environment in the United States has become increasingly polarized. Many, many people are content to spew hate and misinformation from the relative safety and comfort of their homes. I’m not talking about websites that overtly promote hate and/or bullshit. I’m talking about the average Joe, you know, the guy who reads a newspaper article, decides that his “readers” await, that people deserve to hear his version of the truth, and puts fingers to keyboard, typing his response to the article, or to the person whose response to the article he takes exception to. Average Joe can engage in intelligent dialogue, at least for a while. Then, at some point during the dialogue, something in average Joe snaps, and he responds, I assume, without engaging his brain, because what he writes is usually just plain ignorant or uninformed, and, less often blatantly homophobic or racist. At this point, average Joe becomes your run-of-the-mill Internet troll, which is, according to the Urban Dictionary, “one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”
I am an ardent supporter of the First Amendment. However, there are times when average Joe is factually so far off base that I feel compelled to add my two cents. These are the times when average Joe’s lack of intellect truly shines through. Recently, I dared to disagree with average Joe about a highly controversial issue, providing a fact-based rebuttal to his heavily-biased bullshit. Instead of offering anything of substance to support his view, he gained troll status, saying I was wrong, and wondered if I “had folks over to the double wide for a game of Jarts.” Come on dude, do some research. Don’t you know that Jarts were banned in the 1980s? I responded to this by asking him if that was the best he could do, and again asked him for a reliable source to support his biased contention. I gave him a chance at redemption, a chance to hit the reset button on his newly acquired troll status. He offered no response.
On issues of morality and opinion, I’ll happily debate someone as long as the conversation remains civil, but often, average Joe goes from zero to troll in less than one sentence. I once questioned one of these average Joes, this one a self-proclaimed “Christian,” about his hate-filled, homophobic, gay-bashing posts, which were about as far from Christian as you can get. Aren’t Christians supposed to love their neighbors as they love themselves? His response? He said that he had looked at my Facebook page, and that it was obvious I was living the gay lifestyle. Oh, you mean my private Facebook page, the one that can only be viewed by my friends? The one filled with pictures of me, my wife, my children, and my grandchild? Troll.
To combat trolling, many news websites now require users to link to the “Comments” sections of articles via their Facebook pages. True Internet trolls, gutless wankers that they are, responded by creating fake Facebook pages, using fake names, often with muscular superhero profile pictures. Maybe they’re trying to compensate for something?
I combat Internet trolls by taking them to task. Initially, I ask them to provide concrete proof of the “facts” they are asserting. It is usually at this point when the personal insults begin. When they move into the area of personal insults, I usually don’t respond. The baseless, classless insults usually serve to let others know that there is a troll among us, and to ignore them accordingly. Others take a different tact, relentlessly hammering trolls with fact and figures. I find this is typically a waste of time. Trolls aren’t there to engage in intelligent dialogue. Instead, they are there to harangue and harass. It’s best just to ignore them. Eventually they’ll go away.
We can use social media, in all its forms, to promote ourselves, our products and services, and our businesses. Social media also allows us to instantly connect with people from around the world to share ideas and dialogue about salient issues. Unfortunately, people can post whatever they want on the Internet, and though some comments are eventually removed because someone complained or was offended, often the damage has already been done. Something goes viral and the offending person is subjected to an avalanche of negative press. Just ask the Florida PR professional who filmed her own profane, racist rant at a Dunkin Donuts, all because she didn’t receive a receipt for an earlier purchase. Whoever said there is no such thing as bad publicity never viewed this disturbing video. This woman is still getting hammered on the Internet.
Always think before you share your opinion on a website. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotions of a moment in time, or in the mass hysteria surrounding an event. Once you post something, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pull it back before someone sees it, so make sure what you are posting is a reflection of who you are rather than a fleeting emotion you may be feeling. I look at some of the poor choices people make with regard to things they post on the Internet, and it brings to mind words of wisdom that were spoken by Ron White, one of the great thinkers of our time: You can’t fix stupid.