Tuesday, August 29, 2017

He's more than just a troll

Here's a thing I find frustrating.

"Just ignore him! He's trolling."


"They're trolls, just trying to get a rise out of you. It's just an annoying hobby. They wouldn't behave like that in real life." 

Real life.

So there's this tendency to suggest things that happen on the Internet aren't "real" things, and that therefore crime, harassment, deliberate lying, and invasion of privacy cannot possibly have any real-life consequences. Oh, and also, that if they do have real-life consequences, it's because the victims "let them." 

First of all, "it's because you let them get to you" is only remotely true in the cases where the harassment or other horrible behaviors are happening entirely online. If the only harassment someone is getting are gross Twitter messages and they delete their Twitter account, in a way I guess that's problem solved. People keep saying these eleven-year-olds who are experiencing online bullying should just have their parents take their phones away and then maybe they won't be suicidal. But considering online harassment is rarely contained entirely online, that doesn't help much (especially since if you're being bullied and you stop responding, people out to hurt you often look for other ways to hurt you). And beyond that, writing lies or starting smear campaigns or inciting harassment online can still cause direct consequences even if you don't know about it--it can be attached to your name or online handle and used against you, sometimes to result in sustained harassment campaigns from people associated with whoever initially targeted you.

On top of that, "it's because you let them get to you" is a victim-blaming perspective. Victims of bullying and harassment do not "let" someone have an effect on them. Certainly there are available coping strategies and some people are more resilient than others, but that doesn't mean we should focus on the people being targeted and send them the message that they are responsible for "handling" their harassment a particular way instead of holding the harassers responsible. 

And finally . . . 

Stop absolving "trolls" of responsibility because they think it's fun to harass people without risking their personal embarrassment or bodily harm.

When you're a jerk in person you may find that people avoid you or want to hurt you. There is nothing less serious or less harmful about causing harm to others from a place where they can't connect your behavior to you. It isn't less of a jerky thing to do if you single someone out online and target them with hate for some "crime" (like being awkward on a video, or singing poorly, or being a social minority or part of a marginalized population, or having a different opinion from you about a video game). 

He's just a troll, though!

What's a troll, in the opinion of these people? Is it different because supposedly the troll doesn't actually espouse the beliefs they're spouting? (And that's arguable, too, because many, many, MANY people who pretend to be "devil's advocates" are saying what they actually believe under cover of a thought experiment because they want to test the waters or not be connected to their actual opinion if it turns out to be unpopular.) And even if the person is saying something because they know it's controversial or designed specifically to upset someone/push their buttons . . . how is that less of an assholish thing to do just because the person doing it might not actually believe it? Isn't it potentially worse to do something just because you want to hurt someone, not because you're legitimately arguing your side?

Trolls are not lesser jerks because they're "just trolling."

They are hiding behind online anonymity and they are deliberately hurting, sometimes terrorizing people.

And let's not ignore that the victims of such hate campaigns are usually vulnerable people. People from marginalized groups who are already bullied and less accepted in society, who have had to go against the grain to a sometimes great extent to even live their lives in truth, and then they're put in the crosshairs and held under a microscope, harassed for whatever the main "complaint" is as well as having whatever other public behavior they've recorded put on blast by trolls.

Trolls are honestly pretty poorly understood, and the effect they have on people they hurt is so, so minimized. It shouldn't be socially acceptable to be a troll or defend one. And yet time after time after time I hear people doing it, again blaming the recipients of their hatred for reacting to it incorrectly. 

And if you've heard they "go away" if you ignore them, you are wrong.

Yes, it is true that they're encouraged when they succeed in causing or contributing to a messy public breakdown. But that isn't the only thing that keeps trolls going. You can block comments, limit your online engagement, refuse to engage anytime someone is out to target you. But not only does that make said trolls step up their game because they perceive that you're not open to criticism or feedback--it also leads to them finding other ways to harass you in person (if they're determined) and going after anyone who supports you. For minor incidents, it usually doesn't go this far, true. But if you're talking about trolling that is a consistent problem, even one or two determined trolls can take their toll, and when it's bigger than one or two, it takes far more than a toll. It can limit your opportunities, scare you and your family, lead to problems with productivity because of having to restrict how and whether you release online content or allow feedback, and increase stress and anxiety. (All this is assuming the trolls are not violent, which has also happened.)

I once had a so-called troll try to attach my legal name to accusations of pedophilia, because he figured someone who was asexual was actually probably just a sexual deviant and needed to be shamed for it. I mean, either that or he did it for the lulz. Calculate, if you desire, the difference my troll's intention makes in what happens to me if someone believes the accusations and finds them while googling my name for a job interview. 

I am very sick of the idea that a troll's "real" personality is not reflected in what they choose to do with their time. It makes zero difference to me if they're doing it because they hate what I stand for or because they think my suffering might be amusing. Someone who takes pleasure in hurting others is not a good person, nor are they just engaging in a harmless hobby. They are intentionally seeking to harm. The whole POINT is to harm. They're not doing it to joke around with someone who's in on the joke or ribbing them back. They're not teaching their victims a lesson. They're not sending a message or convincing a person to change their message. They're creating a violent, antagonistic environment where people who create content are expected to endure dedicated personal harassment as a natural consequence of creating that content.

Being harassed isn't a "natural" consequence of being a content creator. Stop saying haters gonna hate as if that excuses what trolls are choosing to do. They're not weather or disease or earthquakes that "happen." They are individuals, deciding to make life worse for someone else, and if it happens in "real life" we tend to avoid those people. Though of course some types of bullies succeed in offline life too. We need to stop enabling them through excuses--especially since it sends the message to victims that it is their responsibility to react properly (or to stop being so bullyable). I'm sick of being told that standing up for my causes comes paired with inevitable trolls who should not be blamed for THEIR behavior. Stop supporting the message that being an online harasser is something fun that everyone's done once in a while. (And I'd also appreciate it if you'd stop pretending it only becomes serious when and if a kid commits suicide over it, at which point some people still say the real problem was that their parents didn't teach them not to take online life so seriously.)

He's a troll, but he's not just a troll. He's also a bully, a harasser, a nasty person, and possibly a criminal. Doing it online, facelessly, or in the name of squeezing some suffering out of a victim for his own amusement does not make his actions less awful. And if you're a good person yourself who would not engage in this crappy behavior, please stop protecting people like him under the excuse of free speech or the minimization of their victims' suffering.

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