too many immoral people are trolling more effectively than ever before

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.

Immoral People: photo of "Internet Trolls Evolved" poster.

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.


2 Replies to “too many immoral people are trolling more effectively than ever before”

  1. I think before the “media” can provide any useful service in this area they have to rebuild their own brand. Right now their trustworthiness polls on a level with Congress. So if you see a hard-hitting interview between a news star and a high profile troll or politician or whoever, the first question is “who do I trust in this conversation.” If the answer is neither, then it hardly matters the quality of the questioning. Now, as to how they should go about rebuilding “trust”….that would take a book!

      • Part 1:

      To me, “media” and “mainstream media” and “corporate media” are essentially synonymous.

      When I use the single word “Media,” I mean the mainstream media that include the major television and radio stations, newspapers, and magazines. Traditional, corporate-owned outlets like ABC and NBC, like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, like Newsweek and Forbes.

      While they have done a fabulous job of presenting the arguments of Capitol and management and a piss-poor job of representing Labor and workers, their news departments are RARELY guilty of flagrant lying and really shouldn’t have to establish trust in that respect.

      So, if someone see a hard-hitting interview between a news star and a high profile troll or politician, if the first question is “who do I trust in this conversation,” that someone a) hasn’t been paying attention, or b) watches way too much FoxNews.

        Part 2:

      When I see or hear the single word “Media,” I assume it’s being used like above. It it’s not, then the writer/speaker is doing a poor job of communicating.

        Part 3:

      Almost all of the lying, mis- and dis-information, and fabrications, and come from NON-traditional outlets, starting with talk-radio on AM stations, and now websites on the Internet. No matter how BIG and powerful Limbaugh and O’Reilly may be, they are no not part of “the media.”

      They are glorified orators standing on a box in front of a crowd.

      This is, of course, changing.

        Part 4:

      Almost all of the lying, mis- and dis-information, and fabrications come from non-traditional outlets found on talk-radio and websites come from rightwing outlets.

      The vert concepts of “alternative facts” and “fake news sites” are associated exclusively with the right.

      That the mainstream media does NOT make this obvious is due to their underlying conservative philosophies.

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