Not Polite Dinner Conversation – Free Speech and the forum troll

The internet forum is an unusual environment.  There are forums for just about any subject under the sun, all built on people discussing those things, disagreeing and agreeing, sharing information and ideas.  All of this is without any of the usual social cues we humans have evolved to use, facial expressions, tones of voice, etc.  And of course, this leads to flame wars over silly things because someone took someone too seriously, among many other reasons. People generally calm down and move on. 

No trees? No nukes? With a troll it could be anything. – MS clip art

But then there the trolls, people who come on to forums just to make claims about how “right” they are, complete with baseless claims and often a profound ignorance of what the subject matter is.  The two main species are the “wannabe nihilist” and the “messiah”. Both are poor pitiful things, needing attention. The first is just a jerk, soon to give up and leave, but the second, oh the second…. 

The “messiah” troll with their personally-held opinions are often ill-educated, if not simply unintelligent, sure that their rants will change minds and gain them external validation even if they don’t have any actual evidence to support what their supposed “truth”. Trolls are often hilarious examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect, desperately suffering from the delusion that they are in someway superior to their audience, when all facts are to the contrary.  They will make posts claiming that “x” is true, but not have one shred of evidence for it and, even when presented with much evidence to the contrary, they will continue with their nonsense, unable to admit they are wrong or apologize for their behavior. 

They are great fun to bat around for a while, especially when they turn to personal attacks having nothing else to support their nonsense. It’s prey to practice on, albeit inept prey.  

But, invariably, someone on a forum will declare that anyone who responds to a troll is “feeding them” and that this is always bad.  This argument seems to assume that a troll’s existence on a forum is always a bad thing *and* anything should be done to drive them away *but* telling them they are wrong. I find *that* unacceptable. And weird, don’t forget weird.

Trolls are unpleasant, taking up time and space with the repeated willful ignorance and the intentional attempts to derail the subject.  In my opinion, if this is too annoying, ban the troll.  But, if there is a reason you do not wish to do so, e.g. that you do not wish to censor, that you wish to use them as an example, keep them where you can see them (all valid reasons to keep such a person around) then to argue that no one should ever respond to a troll is only giving them a pulpit from which to speak and to appear that either everyone tacitly agrees with them *or* that no one can refute their lies and thus they are “right”.  One might hope that others reading the posts would be well-informed enough to know that the troll is lying, but unfortunately, that is not a good bet to make.  They cannot see the facial expressions, the tone of voice that reveals a liar or a simplistic provocateur.   

To allow someone a chance to speak whatever they want is part and parcel of the ideal of free speech.  However, there are responsibilities that come along with that ideal, namely that one cannot stand idly by and allow lies and nonsense to remain uncontested. For if those are uncontested, then they can spread and they can harm others. The internet is full of conspiracy theories and misinformation that start and remain alive because of the insular nature of some forums. Staying silent on open ones only compounds the problem, allowing a “herd” to create its own immunity to reality.  Humans are not perfect and when they see someone promoting an idea that they agree with or an idea that gives them an excuse, they will glom onto it with little thought that it may not be true.  

Treat the troll as a patient zero and you may have a chance to quell another epidemic of willful or malicious ignorance. And, who knows, you might even cure your original case.

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3 responses to “Not Polite Dinner Conversation – Free Speech and the forum troll

  1. But, invariably, someone on a forum will declare that anyone who responds to a troll is “feeding them” and that this is always bad.

    If trolls are an unpleasant presence on a blog then this statement is in fact true. You even say so in the next paragraph:

    Trolls are unpleasant, taking up time and space with the repeated willful ignorance and the intentional attempts to derail the subject.

    Huuum….does this make me a troll. lol

    • Trolls can be a lot of fun with their demonstration of their willful ignorance and general stupidity. They are a great source of schadenfreude with their wonderful ability to shoot themselves in the foot.

      “genesis”, I’d suggest reading more carefully and not doing such a bad job of attempting to quote-mine something that’s just above your post in its entirety. You are wrong. If trolls are unpleasant, it does not mean that responding to them is *always* bad. There is no causation demonstrated here. Trolls can serve a purpose even if they are idiots and unpleasant. And the responses to them can serve a purpose, as I have pointed out. You can be a troll if you want, I don’t mind at all to know where twits are. Or you can be a grown-up and take responsiblity for your actions.

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