Six months before last year’s presidential election, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog about how to survive a Trump presidency. A week later the blog was subject to an orchestrated ‘no prisoners taken, pile-on Troll attack’ by twenty or so Trump supporters. The attack lasted for a couple of hours, but when no-one responded to their insulting and ‘braindead’ comments they disappeared, never to return. The process was brutal and I discovered a Troll attack is a very disturbing experience indeed!
So why do these small but highly organised ‘follower armies’ of Trolls bother to pile on to random blogs, written in jest on the other side of the world? Because on the fringes of our society there is an internet culture war taking place. Most Trolls are extremists on opposite sides of the political spectrum and their intention is to polarise debate into one of two ‘camps’. In their simple minds, you are either with them or you are the enemy, deserving of their insults and threats. There is no room for reasoned debate or polite acceptance of opposing views.
Their strategy is to claim ‘victory’ based on their imposed majority judgement of the targeted chat forum. On a grander scale, it means that small, well organised, on-line groups can magnify the impact and influence of their extremist viewpoints. They are able turn random social media platforms into propaganda machines that suit their ends. Think anti-vaccinating, Brexit, fossil fuels, abortion, Trump, gun laws or any other controversial social issues of the day.
For those who do not have polarised views, the behaviour of the Trolls is boorish and irritating. Our natural inclination is to push back against those views – an activity known as feeding the Trolls. A sad reflection on our society is that this boorish style of commentary has become so prevalent it now mainstream. I read a serious column in a respectable Australian newspaper where a government ‘spokesman’ suggested that anyone who believed in man-made climate change was a ‘cardigan wearing, Guardian reading, elitist.’ I suspect most of his moderate-leaning readers switched off at that point.
So how best to fight back against a Troll Follower Army that has taken possession of your favourite internet forum? Trolls are after all, mythical creatures that can be outsmarted by low-IQ Billy Goat Gruffs! Here are six ‘Resistance’ strategies that may not win the war against a full blown Troll pile-on but they are more fun than seething impotently at your computer screen:
- Ignore them and they will go away. It’s the ultimate strategy. Trolls thrive on conflict and are the masters of trench warfare. They have incredible stamina and will win any war of insult. But with no ammunition or target, their short attention spans will cause them to quickly leave the field of battle.
- The Commando Hit and Run. When a Troll Army has invaded your favourite forum, sneak in and lay a ‘sticky bomb’. This explosive argument should be logical, factual, unemotional, unbiased and hard hitting. Then get the hell out of there fast leaving the Trolls chasing nothing but shadows.
- The Sniper Attack. Locate the Troll Army general. He’s the loudest, most obnoxious and most irrational Troll on the chat forum. Take aim and hit him between the eyes with a killer line of reasoning backed up by telling scientific references. Then exit the chat room leaving the troll army stunned and leaderless.
- The Kamikazi. Unfortunately, you are going to have to take one for the team by zeroing in on the Troll heavyweight. This involves dropping ‘the big one’ – the latest academic research paper on the lead Troll’s sweeping generalisations. You might inflict irreparable damage on his flawed logic, but you are also likely to be shot down in flames by sheer weight of numbers.
- The ‘Johnny Come Lately’. A strategy used to great effect on US websites. This involves supporting the one remaining voice of reason surrounded by a sea of angry Trolls. With the battle almost over and the Trolls on the back foot, you enter the fray with a few hard-hitting facts and well-constructed conclusions. Your support is often enough to send the orchestrated Troll pile-on packing.
- The ambush. Draw the trolls out into the open with a few rookie comments while keeping your best logic, your carefully researched facts and your supporting reference sites hidden. Once the troll army has revealed their position let rip with your entire debating arsenal leaving them stunned and bloodied. Then get the hell out.
Freedom of expression demands that the ‘sensible centre’ sticks up for what it believes to be right and does so in a calm logical way. It’s time for normal people to fight back!
It may not be the best way of dealing with the Trolls, but then the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff would have been a complete anti-climax if the little billy goat had not given the Troll a taste of his own medicine.