TOO MANY IMMORAL PEOPLE are trolling more effectively than ever! This statement is taken from Jenny Pierson’s “Don’t Feed the Trolls: How Outrage Fuels Sickening Careers.” The article is subtitled “The guy who wrote the book on trolling has some tough-to-swallow suggestions on combating the worst of it.” It appeared on AlterNet on February 11, 2017.
This is part of my ongoing series of articles on the malevolence of internet trolls, but this time I am letting Ms Pierson do all the talking. All text between the horizontal lines is from her article. 1
Note that I have made some changes to the original article: it is truncated and small stylistic changes were made to keep this article consistent with my own pieces on this site. 2
Combating the worst of trolling
In an article for The New York Observer, media strategist Ryan Holiday explains the way a marketing campaign based on trolling works. The more outrageous and offensive the product, ideology, or personality, the more of a duty high-road, moral media has to cover it and call it out. But conversely, all that free publicity helps to amplify the troll’s reach to find more of the otherwise tiny audience that would buy such atrocious ideas. 3
What’s interesting about Holiday’s argument isn’t just the dilemma about whether or not to give free publicity to people making money off hate, but also the proposed solutions.
The media’s first option
The media’s first choice—not to cover the perpetration of hate—doesn’t appeal to Holiday: he thinks it could set a standard of letting horrible things go unnoticed.
The media’s second option
The media’s second option, which Holiday supports, is essentially to give trolls a chance to embarrass themselves and prove themselves either unqualified, unknowledgeable, or just not committed enough to promote the horrible things they’re promoting.
Frankly, it seems like a bad idea to give a platform to people with a history of infringing on the rights of others.
This was lifted from an article titled “Predatory Trolls: The Evolution of Classic Internet Trolls” by Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D., on the iPredator website. The people at iPredator identify themselves as an “Internet Safety Company founded to provide educational and advisory products and services to online users on cyberbullying, cyber harassment, cyberstalking, cybercrime, internet defamation, cyber terrorism, online sexual predation, and cyber deception.”
There must be a third option
There must be a third way, perhaps one that’s not as feasible or effective in a landscape where attention is short and subtlety is often wasted. Here are two compromise options:
1) Make public mention of the terrible thing, but give the hate less attention than the context spinning its falsehood or wrongness, and prioritize more valuable news.
2) Let the troll speak, but make sure it’s with a battle-ready interviewer and that it’s simultaneously fact-checked.
The latter presents a challenge: even when an interviewer/opponent is skilled at cutting down hateful language or lies, a dedicated troll can spew more incendiary comments than are possible to expose as fast and effectively as they are spouted.
This cartoon is tailor-fit for one of my earlier editorials against trolling, “Trolls Are Leaving Forests And Bridges For The Internet.”
Fight normalizing trolling
Another key point Holiday brings to the table is that as much as we worry about normalizing trolls when they’re repeatedly successful, it’s not in the troll’s interest to be normalized because then they lose the spotlight and aren’t famous for being outrageous anymore.
Oddly, this creates an unexpected common goal between progressives and trolls: to keep fighting the normalizing of the troll’s behavior.
If there’s anything to learn from Ryan Holiday’s strategy, it’s that all too many immoral people with dangerous ideas are using trolling more effectively than ever before. Both the media and the public have to constantly be on guard with countermeasures to fight it until the idea loses steam, or as Holiday suggests, until the troll is caught abandoning the hateful principles he rode in on . . .
1 My most recent is cleverly titled “Trolls Are Leaving Forests And Bridges For The Internet.” There are others lurking with that here on Neal Umphred Dot Com.
2 Pierson’s piece is 1,165 words long; my adaptation above is 440 words, so there’s plenty more to read in “Don’t Feed the Trolls: How Outrage Fuels Sickening Careers.”
3 Ryan Holiday is an American author, media strategist, and editor-at-large for the New York Observer.