Trolling isn’t something I really have to explain to you, if you’re even slightly internet-savvy then you already know. In the most extreme cases it’s even made mainstream news, such as when it has led to the suicide of the person on the receiving end of trolling – or let’s call it what it is, bullying. I have even been the victim of some pretty nasty trolling in the past (brother’s account was hacked, slurs against my recently passed grandmother filled my feed, all very upsetting so I won’t go into detail). But those are examples of your extreme cases; there are also plenty of garden-variety trolls, you know, just the irritating arseholes who get off on winding people up.
I will apologise in advance for the extreme cheesiness of my next line *wince*.
A troll is defined by Wikipedia as: In internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion
And it’s a certain type of troll mentioned above that I’d like to look at more closely – the accidental troll – and how they
Introducing the accidental troll
I’m becoming increasingly agitated with comments on Facebook posts, news items, discussion boards and so on. All too often I have hopefully and naively clicked to view comments in the vain hope of finding some interesting debate, thoughtful musings or at the very least a rousing ‘hear, hear!’ and more often than not I shut down feeling disappointed, upset or annoyed. Of course, the subject matter or origin of post can be a great indicator of the tone and content of comments but even on seemingly harmless and innocent posts, the accidental troll can strike.
[Side note] I would like to make it clear here that I don’t think that every person who has a view different to my own is a troll, it’s just it’s rare I’m presented with an opposing opinion that is well-thought, factual, balanced or fair. It just seems that there are a lot of posts that are just inflammatory nonsense if I’m being perfectly honest.
We may have all been guilty of accidental trolling at some point. These days I prefer to sit back and keep control of my itchy fingers, but I won’t deny that in the past I’ve jumped in all guns blazing to put the world to rights. And sometimes my retorts may have been nothing more than pure emotion and biased opinion.
People are never going to agree on everything and that’s fine, what a dull world we’d live in (or a dictatorship) if everyone had the same beliefs, political or spiritual, or the same interests and experiences. But why is it that when certain people present their arguments they just do it so badly? This is where our accidental trolls and logical fallacies come into play.
Let me give you an example
Someone I regret to say I once knew, we’ll call him Shmadam, commented on a mutual friend’s post on Facebook. The post wasn’t even anything to do with the subsequent comment so I’m still rather confused by it. But Shmadam decided to weigh in to tell everyone how upset he was with immigration and that there are now ’20 million Pakistanis in the UK’. Now, most level-headed people would view that figure as high, or at least a little off – no, let’s face it, it’s a fucking stupid comment - but when I queried the figure I was bluntly told to ‘check my facts’. So I did. I went straight onto the census stats for England and Wales and found it’s nowhere near that figure. Quelle surprise. A few moments on Google would have saved poor Schmadam from looking like such a prick, but the figure he presented fitted his already xenophobic views so in the likely event he had heard it from one of his equally xenophobic friends, he hadn’t even bothered to question its legitimacy.
Schmadam’s argument was not only entirely incorrect, but it also gave in to what one could argue is one of the most common fallacies – appealing to fear. This is where the antagonist will try to win the argument by feeding into their audience’s deep-seated fears – in this case around immigration. Politicians seem to be the most astute at this tactic, banding around figures coupled with buzzwords such as ‘benefit cheats’ to scare the bejesus out of even the most rational of people.
Time and time again we’re subjected to this sort of internet commenting faux pas. Debate – fantastic; mindless arguing – arbitrary tosh. After liking and sharing a post shared by George Takei on logical fallacies earlier today, a friend pointed me to an online book on the subject. As someone who already enjoys topics around linguistics, I read with interest.
How to spot one
I won’t go into too much detail here as I’m aware I may have already strayed off what is considered polite blogging territory down a road that not many people will be interested in (I certainly doubt this post will get as much interest as my one about pubes, anyhow). In short, a logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. Or to strip it down further, if you resort to logical fallacies it means you’ve probably already lost the argument – and you know it. You don’t have to go far to find examples of these online, they are an accidental troll’s bread and butter. It seems that they feed on the thrill of arguing rather than debating sensibly, or even winning the arguments they start in some cases.
A quick look at comments on posts surrounding the recent debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage was a veritable gold mine for fallacious comments (I’ll admit here that I was being lazy and went to the first place I knew I’d find such arguments), such as this one…
This is a false dilemma – giving the audience only two options. The writer here assumes that you must either choose between voting UKIP or being a traitor and a twat. When in reality, if you don’t vote for UKIP it doesn’t mean you’re choosing to be a twat, you might just prefer Conservatives, Labour or the Green Party, for example.
Hmm, what else can we find?
A fine example of ad hominem if ever there was one. As you may have guessed, this is when a person resorts to ‘picking on’ their subject’s personality, appearance, job, social standing etc, to try to undermine them. And in the process just end up making themselves look stupid.
I could go on, after all, calling these people out passively aggressively through the medium of blogging is extremely gratifying, but I do run the risk of blogging myself into countless logical fallacies.
Kill it with fire
I guess what my point boils down to is this; if we could all consider our own opinions just a little more carefully, if we all presented some good arguments based on fact rather than a (sometimes) defunct moral compass or gut feeling, the internet might actually be a fun and interesting place to be again. With the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, why must we keep resorting to he-said-she-said bullshit when instead we would try to expand each other’s minds a little? Or maybe that’s expecting too much?