“Don’t Feed The #Trolls:” Here Is Why That Doesn’t Fix The Problem

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Several years ago, I attended Army Equal Opportunity Training. There was an exercise we did in which the class was instructed to draw five random chips of different colors from a cup and each color was to represent an unknown (to the class) point value. Once we all drew our chips, we were to stand in line and when we reached the front of the line, we were to tell the recorder of the total value of the chips.

One of the instructors then split us into three groups. The groups we were assigned to depended upon the range of our total point values, which to this day, I’m still not certain as to what range corresponded to which groups. But this instructor would give each of us one of three different cards with a triangle, a square and a circle on them to represent the groups and after giving the total value to the recorder, the instructor sent each of us to that particular group. Each group would then be treated a certain way by the instructors during this exercise.

Those who received circles were treated the best. They would be allowed to do as they wished in their corner of the room. They could play on their phones or chit chat with each other during this portion of the exercise. They could leave and use the vending machines and so on as well. This group had the least number of students.

The triangle group was treated the worst. We (I was in that group) couldn’t talk, we had to sit perfectly still, we had to arrange our chairs in a certain way, well…when we were allowed to sit down on them and not on the floor, which didn’t come right away and we had to earn. Then, the minute someone did something wrong, we were all in “trouble,” and the mistreatment began again. We were basically treated like boot camp recruits.

The square group was somewhere in the middle. A little freedom, a little mistreatment.

We went through several rounds of this and eventually, we began to realize that people were ending up in different groups. Once we learned how each group was treated, we were told to proceed as we saw fit before the next round and we were given a time limit. Once we in the triangle group “earned” the right the speak (as the time continued to tick away,) we came up with the notion that we all needed to figure out how to get out of that group.

With each new round, we in the triangle group were screwed with more and more. We were made to do crazy things or the instructors aimed to embarrass us. We were told to do things like individually “sing the Army song” or to stack the chairs, unstack, stack them again, and then an instructor would knock the chairs over and tell us to stack them one more time, and QUICKLY.

I would like to point out that at the time, we as the students were NOT clear on what exactly the instructors were doing or trying to get us to understand, so you can imagine the tension that existed during this exercise. There was even one point that an instructor threw the triangle card on the floor and told one of my fellow triangle members to “fetch” it. The instructor was a woman. The person told to fetch was an infantry soldier. I’ll let your imagination take it from there. But I thought I would have to jump up and eventually peel this guy off her.

So we continued to work on how to get out of that group. Long story short, we were unsuccessful.

Here’s the reason. At the conclusion of the exercise, the instructors let us know that the purpose was not to try to get out of the group. It was to stand up to them.

It was understandably confusing to us, because again, we had NO idea that’s even what they were getting at. We didn’t know the bad treatment was part of the exercise. Even at one point, I told the group that there was a point to what they were doing (which eased the tensions slightly) but I just couldn’t figure it out. None of us could.

The instructors eventually explained to us that when it comes to soldiers being treated fairly and equally, this is often how we respond to it. We don’t stand up to the ones causing the issues or hold them accountable; we simply try to get away from them or attempt to get them away from us by reassigning them to other units or even ignoring them, hoping they will go away, becoming “somebody else’s problem.”

We honestly thought that we had it figured out once we were able to get out of the group. But we came to realize that the instructors would have arranged it so that there would always be soldiers in the triangle group.

The funny thing is, the circle group was in their own worlds. They barely paid attention to what was going on with us and they were having a good old time. One instructor even joked about ordering pizza for them if they wanted. But again, the instructors acknowledged that as well. They told us that often, once we are away from the problem, we wash our hands of it. We pretend we don’t notice it. They even told us that those in the circle group could have stood up to them if they wanted, especially since they had more freedom to do so. The instructors told us that in all the classes they gave, only once did that actually happen where someone from the circle group, albeit politely, questioned why the triangle group was receiving such poor treatment and it eventually led to it ceasing.

It was a big “Ahhh” moment for everyone. Even the infantryman and the female instructor laughed it off together. But they did an amazing job in masking it from us, as is the case when soldiers receive poor treatment from fellow soldiers or even leadership. It was a very powerful lesson.

So…what does this have to do with “feeding the trolls”?

A LOT of trolls exist on the internet. Boy, do they. And their entire purpose is to attempt to make our lives miserable.

Considering the nature of the internet troll and what they are about, it does seem that the most sensible thing to do would be to just ignore them. Don’t respond. Just ignore and block, right?

But here is why I feel that does nothing to fix the problem.

Society has no problem finding excuses for bad behavior. As far as I’m concerned, internet trolling is no different.

We hear it all the time:

“Don’t feed the trolls.”

“Oh, just ignore them.”

“They’re just idiots.”

“They’re just looking to get a rise out of you.”

And so on. That isn’t to say that this stuff isn’t true.

But at what point do we stop making excuses?

As a black man, I’ve noticed that excuses are made for racism all the time. It’s bad enough that people believe this doesn’t exist and it’s just all in our heads, but often, when I share an opinion on the internet that these trolls don’t agree with, immediately, they pull out all the racial stereotypes that I’ve heard a thousand times before. Often it’s pitifully forced, but it still happens. Same toward other people of color.

I’ve seen women treated this same way also. I can’t tell you how many times trolls have called women everything in the book for their opinions as well and sadly, there are no limits to what many will say. Without going through an entire list, wishing that women and their daughters (doesn’t matter the age) are brutally raped apparently isn’t off the table either.

Those in the LGBTQ community have to deal with this just the same. Of course, that’s when all those who are supposed Christians come out of the woodwork and declare that homosexuality and homosexuality ONLY is what will banish people to hell. Not the 7 of the 10 Commandments they themselves are violating, but other folks who exist in the LGBTQ community. And I say this as a Christian myself.

Pretty sure that’s not how it works.

Now, if you’re someone who doesn’t care for those who bring up racism, sexism, or support the LGBTQ community, then I’m guessing you won’t lose a ton of sleep for the trolls who attack them.

And that’s a big part of the problem. Lack of empathy.

Let’s say there are 10 black people in a room. None of them play the race card and are all extremely successful. Now, let’s stick 10 black people in another room who do absolutely nothing but blame everything on race and are not successful at all. Now who do you think a troll would have the most fun with?

On top of that, who would catch the most hell for saying something? Surely not the trolls, but the black people. Same as if it were women or the LGBTQ community. They would receive more backlash for responding to these online attacks than the trolls would receive for attacking them.

In other words, trolls are throwing punches. The ones who choose to block the punches…they’re the ones who are viewed are wrong.

Does that seem fair? Or even right?

Now I know a bunch of you will be quick to pull out your “This country is too damn sensitive!!” cards.

Well put them away. This isn’t even about that. Just another bullshit reason to dismiss what someone feels and lack empathy. THAT is what I feel is “wrong with this country.” People who cannot seem to show any level of compassion for what their fellow Americans are going through, whether we understand it or not.

No, let’s just dismiss it by calling everyone “sensitive.” Now if you had an issue, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t fly.

I’m not a woman, but does that mean I cannot show empathy for what a woman goes through? Same for the LGBTQ community as a straight man. We ALL exist together, so why do so many of us act as though we’re alone?

“But Robert…people often cry about things when there’s no problem…” I got that. As with anything, there are always those who will take advantage and blame problems on something way more than it is warranted. But let’s be adults here.

So because someone blames everything on race, I, as someone who doesn’t, could NEVER be discriminated against because of race? Because of a woman who blames EVERYTHING on sexism, that means a woman who does not could NEVER experience gender discrimination?

Don’t let people like that dictate how you feel about those who have legitimate complaints. Because MANY do. And we don’t need to box them in with the bad apples. That’s the lazy way out.

When it comes to trolls, ignoring them just means they move on to someone else. But does that fix the problem?

Does racism “go away” because we don’t acknowledge it? Is sexism a thing of the past just because women have more rights than they used to?

So how exactly do we deal with trolls?

First off, I am certainly not advocating spending hours upon hours online and arguing with them. But I also feel that our voices NEED to be heard, even against trolls. Sure, a troll will do his or her thing and move on. They’ll open up generic social media accounts for the sheer purpose of trying to get a rise out of people. Then they’ll close them and open up others.

Rinse and repeat.

We’re all well-aware of this. And yes, to “not feed the trolls” is sometimes the best option.

However, it’s like trying to ignore bullies. Of course we’re relieved when the bully is not longer bothering us. But what about when you’re just tired of them…existing? Do you not have the right to speak up about it?

I know, I know…because of how they do business, you may feel it’s a total waste of time to say anything at all. But remember that trolls exists largely due to our lack of empathy toward one another. They KNOW we don’t have each other’s backs. Trolls exist to instigate.

Would it be nearly as fun for a racist troll if both white AND black people fought back against them? Nope. But since there will always exist white people who will dismiss our concerns, this is the opening trolls use to have their way.

Sexist and homophobic trolls, same thing. If we aren’t already fighting each other, then there’s not much point in them doing their thing, because they know they wouldn’t get much out of it.

Look at all the bogus political stories out there. If we as a society handled our disagreements about politics better, the people creating this nonsense would have absolutely no reason to make up these phony stories. But they know that people are SO grossly biased that someone will believe it.

So am I saying that WE are responsible for the existence of internet trolls?

Basically…

Yes.

No, we don’t make them do it. Of course not. And this may sound like letting them off the hook. But that’s not my point. I just feel like ignoring them isn’t the answer. And people are not wrong for speaking up.

The cold fact is that trolls DO have the power to hurt feelings. And crying about the country being “sensitive” or telling everyone in the world to “ignore” them does nothing to help. Trolls are “skilled” in what they do. Yes, I may personally be able to ignore them, but that doesn’t someone else can. And it’s not right for me to berate them for that. I have my reasons for being able to let that stuff go, but I don’t have a clue as to another person’s state of mind. Ignoring everything just isn’t as easy for some people as it is for others.

Then again…why should we have to ignore? Trolls do what they do, and we are wrong for speaking up against it?

Will speaking up against trolls fix the problem overnight? Of course not. But would women have the rights they have today if ladies back then decided to just “ignore” inequality? Same for blacks and the LGBTQ folks. I get that it’s much different because people are now able to hide behind their computers and phone screens, but I don’t believe the concept is much different. Problems don’t get solved by us ignoring them.

A female friend on Facebook recently posted her distaste for a man who decided to joke and include rape, making excuses for the behavior. Right away, she was berated for speaking up against it, not surprisingly, by a man. Eventually, she ended up catching more from the man than the troll did, which makes no sense to me. Even if I didn’t agree with her, I would never speak more ill of her than I would than the troll, which is what this person did. Somehow, she was more wrong for acknowledging the troll than he was for the behavior.

Makes a lot of sense.

Then again, the “man code,” right? It’s like I said above…if a man hates the fact that women speak up against wrongdoing, especially by other men, of course they would defend the troll in that case or get as annoyed as he did and start berating her. I’m pretty sure if it were a different topic, the man wouldn’t have an issue engaging with the troll, but that’s neither here nor there. Just the classic case of cherrypicking.

The bottom line is that trolls are wrong. Period. And if you want to speak up against that, I’m all for it.

See, here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure those who want to speak up against trolls know they are not “saving the world.” And they’re likely well-aware that dealing with trolls is like Wack-a-Mole. Knock down one troll and another one pops up.

Wack-a-Troll.

But maybe, it’s just the existence of this behavior or the content that people want to address more so the trolling itself.

Rape is not a joke. Ever. So if a person wants to speak up against it, does it matter than the other person is a troll? Does that water it down some? Same for racism, sexism and homophobia. Is it “not so bad” because they’re trolls? Should they get a pass because of it?

They don’t deserve the public exposure. I get that. But maybe in some ways, they do. Even if it teaches them nothing (which will more often than not be the case), it may shine a light to someone else who wasn’t brave enough to speak up and now they are. And they may turn that voice on to someone other than another troll, but people in real life and be helpful to them.

Again, trolls are wrong. End of story. And NEVER let trolls turn you against those who want to speak up against them. That’s exactly what they want. If the one speaking up is “wrong” because of giving the troll exactly what they want, then so are you for making it more about them than the troll.

The person trying to put out the housefire should NEVER be viewed as lesser than the person who started the damn thing.

 

 

 

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