Are we confusing jerks with trolls?
Pictured: The lovely Lars Mikkelsen (brother to Mads Mikkelsen and when I figured that out, it blew my mind!) who is not at all a troll, but he did play a character with the first name of Troels. I chose him because he is much, much nicer to look at than that silly line-drawing troll meme.
I've seen a lot of posts lately about trolls and trollish comments and such. I don't disagree with any of them individually — in all of the posts here, the comments in question have been undoubtedly inflammatory, and much evidence points to the commenters themselves being deliberate provocateurs. And I don't much like discussing boards on boards, as it so often leads to some sort of silly "us versus them" or "are you really one of us" or "I speak for all of you" mentality.
But I do sometimes worry that we are trending towards dismissing all asshole comments as trollish, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Slay Belle put up this post a bit back about why we shouldn't have call-out threads for trolls.
I personally don't want to see those kinds of lists posted on GT. They make me uncomfortable on a couple of levels, not in the least because some people's definition of 'troll' is just 'someone who I don't like.' It's too subjective and I think allows for too much focus on negativity.
I had made a comment a couple days earlier about how I had wished for a long time to compile a list of troll commenters, but I didn't think it would be sustainable or all that helpful. I wonder if I, too, was conflating "troll" with "someone who I don't like". I don't think I am, so far — there are commenters I don't agree with or don't like (as far as you can dislike someone through an internet personality), but I don't think they are necessarily trolls. The list I had in my head was limited to 3 people, and I think many of us can guess who. I think of those 3 people specifically, because while I think they actually do believe their own bullshit (which is frightening), I think they are here for the sole purpose of getting a reaction and pissing us off. This, I believe, makes them trolls.
I see a lot a lot a lot of what I believe are shitty comments from people outside of these 3, both greyed and ungreyed, and while they are shitty, I am not sure that they are trolls. Mansplaining, MRA crap, "friendzoning", covert sexism/racism/homophobia/transphobia/fatphobia/Islamophobia, etc, are all horrible things. My reaction to that kind of shit can be summed up thus:
I choose not to engage with those commenters, because they are often as set in their views as I am, and I find it pointless. Others do choose to engage with those commenters, because they cannot abide by the ignorance or hate that they spew. This frustrates me, as it tends to push those comments that I hate to the top of the page, and gives them some kind of legitimacy. But upon reflection, I think it's important that we distinguish — to the best of our ability, as it is often quite difficult — between people whose opinions are shitty but who are legitimately interested in presenting what they think, and people who say dumb shit just for the sake of it, because they don't know how to be interesting.
For example, a long post about how rape isn't a problem and would somebody please think of the men is, I think, different from "LOL slut get raped you fucking whore". A screed about "black privilege" and how black people are "reverse racists" is different from a comment that says "kill the n——". Both types are abhorrent comments, and not ones that I personally tolerate. I would ideally like to see both ignored, because I honestly don't think either is open to dialogue, just the way I am not open to changing my view that those comments are fucking stupid. But I think the second comment in both cases is an example of classic trolling, whereas the first one is an example of serious and sinister sexism/racism and ignorance. Being completely in the wrong (and refusing to accept what is right) does not necessarily mean one is a troll.
I'm not saying sexists, rapists, racists, etc. should be given a free platform to propagate their ignorance or hate. I think MRAs are a disease. Like I said, I don't engage with these people because I have better things to do like vacuum and brush my dog's teeth. But I think we are increasingly dismissing all assholes as trolls, and for whatever reason, I feel like that's a distinction we should be careful to preserve.
I'm not sure if I'm expressing myself here clearly. I hope I am. I'm not trying to speak for us as a group or dictate what our responses should be or say that you, personally, have no right to call so and so a troll. I'm just spewing my own thoughts and reactions here as usual, and I'd like to hear what you think. Am I making sense? Is this a stupid thing to even be thinking so hard about? Is it just the difference between cholera water and water with shit in it?
ETA: Below in the comments, HermioneStranger writes:
It's less about the idea of "safe spaces" for me, and more about productive discussions, and what boundaries need to be set up in order to do that. If you keep having the 101 discussions, you never, ever get to have the advanced discussions. And the 101 discussions are important!! Everyone has to have them. But they can't be every discussion. So, you don't debate if evolution even exists in upper level physical anthropology class. If you take a class on how to reconcile homosexuality with Jewish law, you don't say "ugh, why is anyone even trying to make their life fit to the outdated laws of a deity who doesn't even exist??". You don't submit a paper on how Shakespeare is dumb and boring and irrelevant to Shakespeare Quarterly. It's ok to set limits on conversations and spaces and say "in order to proceed, you must be willing to buy into certain base concepts for the time being." That's how we get to have advanced, productive discussions, instead of always having things be derailed by The Big Question.
I think this is a really interesting way to look at the issue, and one that I hadn't thought of at all, in terms of why distinguishing "just assholes" from "trolls" is maybe not that important for the level of discussion we desire.