For the most part, the internet is, has been, and (hopefully) will continue to be a glorious thing. Thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, people the world over have been able to share thoughts, ideas, pleasantries, videos, and a myriad of other things.
I myself have been able to get in or stay in contact with old friends who otherwise might have been lost. Better still, I have been able to contact countless musicians the world over, having pleasant conversations and sharing our thoughts about the art form we adore.
But I’m sure Isaac Newton would remind us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Internet is no exception. For me (and countless others), that reaction seems to come in the form of trolls.
Once upon a time, trolls were little more than the subject of children’s fairy tales, or cute little creatures with long, fuzzy hair high school girls put on the eraser end of their pencils. Alas, the 21st century has ushered in the era of a new kind of troll. He is a relentless, remorseless, inherently negative creature designed to take the pleasantness out of just about any form of otherwise pleasant interactions conducted on the web. To make matters worse, the troll tends to delight in his destructive activity.
And they. Are. Everywhere!
I belong to more than a few Facebook groups, nearly all dedicated to music. We talk about our favorite bands, share sound clips, arrange to meet up at concerts, and other enjoyable things that in the old days wouldn’t have taken place outside of the local record store where we all hung out. We talk about the music we like and why, and we talk about some of the things we don’t like, and why. Most importantly, we do so constructively. Every opinion is respected. Nobody gets their feelings hurt.
The trolls have a completely different agenda.
I will never understand the need for people to swoop in pretty much out of nowhere, dump on any and all of us with some kind of ignorant thought or opinion, and then sit back and cackle with glee (I’m assuming) as the topic thread in question burns to the ground, so to speak.
And this brings these people joy.
To be certain, trolls are as old as the web itself. There is always that lonely, un-loved, “mama didn’t hug me enough” attention-seeking melonhead who always has something to say running completely counter to the the conversation at hand. The old message boards had them just as sure as the new social media groups do.
I actually have a couple of acquaintances (it’s a stretch to call them friends) who revel in this activity. They pop up all over people’s posts, doing their level best to toss a written hand grenade into what was otherwise a perfectly pleasant chat. One of those acquaintances actually took the time to brag to me about it while we were working together. He was a picture of absolute glee after stirring an online pot that simply did not need stirring. I asked him WHY on earth he thought that was a good idea. He paused for a brief moment, and grinned. “I dunno,” he said. “It’s fun I guess.”
I’m not saying we can’t have differing opinions within our groups. That happens all the time. But once each viewpoint has been presented, and no mutually agreeable solution can be reached, the parties involved simply shrug and say, “Let’s agree to disagree.” And that’s the end of it. On to the next thing, where more than likely we will come together once again.
The trolls take things to the next level. They come out swinging — usually without prompting — by saying something completely outrageous and beyond the pale. “So-and-So NEVER should have been a member of Whoozafutz! He SUCKS! He’s a talentless hack that has no business on that or ANY other stage!” Or they’ll see a thread where everyone is in mutual agreement about the quality of a song, and artist, or an album. Right in the middle of our admiration-fest, the troll magically appears. “That album SUCKS! You guys are idiots for liking something that stupid!”
The trouble is, the rest of us are so taken aback, we feel that we have no choice but to defend our positions. But what we failed to understand is the troll has no real position! Regardless of what anyone says, he will run to the contrary. Why? Because it continues to provide him with the attention he has lacked for so long, and can now find from the confines of his computer, usually under an assumed name. By the time we figure out how far down the rabbit hole we have tumbled, it’s too late.
To date, I have been pretty fortunate. My issues with trolls have been relatively minimal. The worst thing I recall is someone hammering at me because of the number of blog pieces I posted on one particular magazine forum. I didn’t mean to saturate the market, so to speak. It’s just that nobody else was posting anything. Still, this guy took umbrage, and couldn’t wait to tell everyone else. When I learned of his frustration, I was dumb enough to engage him. “Feel free not to read the stuff I post,” I said as diplomatically as I could. “Nobody is forcing you to click on the link.” This sent him into a deeper tirade. Luckily, I came to my senses and realized there was no arguing with this character. “Never argue with a drunk or a fool,” Mark Twain once said. That advice comes in handy quite often on the internet.
The funny thing is, within 24 hours he was on my Facebook page, apologizing profusely! I can only assume that some of my followers went after him, letting him know just what they thought of his point of view. When I went back to that page to see what had happened, his thread was gone. I haven’t heard a peep from him since. I have great fans. And yes, I forgave him. Life is too short to hold a grudge.
Over time, I have come to realize that my opinions won’t please all the people all the time. If 14 out of 15 people agree with me, I will take my victory and go. There was a time when I might have obsessed over that one person, wondering what I could do to win him over. Now I understand what a complete waste of time that is. My life has gotten much easier since then.
Truth be told, there is one thing you can say to a troll that will neutralize his power forever. And that thing is nothing.
The lack of argument makes the troll crazy! I post about an album I love. “That album SUCKS,” says the troll. I say nothing. The troll vanishes, provided someone doesn’t attempt to run to my defense. And even they come to realize what a futile gesture that can be. Saying nothing takes much less energy and has a much greater effect. The troll has nothing to feed on, and is forced to seek his entertainment elsewhere.
I’ve said all that to say this: I’ve learned my lesson. Say whatever stupid thing you want to me on the internet. I’m not engaging. If you legitimately disagree with me, and make a logical, level-headed case as your argument, cool. Life will go on, and we can still be friends. Act like an ass, and I have no time for you.
I’m filling in my troll hole. And you won’t be able re-dig it, no matter how hard you try.
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