For the past few years, I’ve read the news online. I rarely turn on the TV and gone are the days of having a newspaper delivered to the door each morning. The news can be depressing enough, but recently I’ve developed the habit of scrolling down past the end of an article and reading through the comment thread that’s often found there. That’s where my real aggravation begins. I love a good, well thought out debate with arguments on both sides of an issue but that’s seldom what I find. Instead, these threads tend to be filled with ridiculous and radical statements or worse yet, personal insults. I was beginning to think that the world must be filled with stupid people! Then I realized that some of them are trolls.
Like the mythical creature lurking under a bridge and waiting to gobble up the Three Billy Goats Gruff, they hide behind their keyboards and wreak havoc on unsuspecting internet users. By definition, an internet troll is “a person who sows discord on the internet starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response.” Or, as someone else put it in a somewhat more indelicate manner, “being a prick on the internet simply because it’s the internet and, hey, you can be!” Clearly people are willing to say all sorts of things online that they would never say to a person’s face.
Reading about the tentative agreement reached yesterday in the BC teachers strike is a case in point. Obviously, in a province where labour disputes seem to be the norm and where students have been out of school for several weeks, heightened emotions are to be expected. As I read the comments following one of the articles, I wasn’t surprised to see mudslinging directed at both the government and the teachers union. I was a little more uncomfortable with the nasty comments directed at the teachers themselves, probably because I’ve been in their shoes, but I was also glad to see many supportive ones. In no time, however, the discussion deteriorated into individuals hurling insults at one another. The trolls had done their dirty work, stirring up dissention then sitting back and watching people come apart at the seams! Why would I waste my time reading that? In the future, I won’t. I’m determined to break the habit of scrolling down and looking at the comment threads!
Internet trolls don’t limit themselves to news pages. Blogs and other social media aren’t immune. In fact, I’m aware of one popular blogger who is, in my opinion, a troll himself. He writes controversial and sometimes inflammatory posts, then watches the comments fly! He doesn’t moderate them or even comment on them. He just lets his readers chew into one another. I can only guess that he finds this entertaining but I’ve stopped reading his blog.
I have a Facebook friend who, sometimes inadvertently, starts the greatest online discussions. The topics are often controversial and thought provoking but the moment a troll interjects or the conversation moves toward insults and personal attacks, she has the good sense to remove the entire thread. I so appreciate that! The internet is a great place for us to flex our intellectual muscles and engage in stimulating conversation, but sadly there are those who delight in ruining it for the rest of us.
My only question now is, what will I do with all the time I redeem by not reading this trash?