too many immoral people are trolling more effectively than ever before

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OO MANY IM­MORAL PEO­PLE are trolling more ef­fec­tively than ever! This state­ment is taken from the penul­ti­mate para­graph in 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

Immoral People: photo of man with troll bag over his head scaring people on the Internet.

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 protestors in germany with "Don't feed the trolls" sign.

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 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.

Immoral People: cartoon by Sara Zimmerman about trolls leaving bridges for computers.

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 . . .

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

FEA­TURED IM­AGE: The photo at the top of this page was lifted from an il­lus­tra­tion that I found on 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."


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 thoughts on “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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