People have been tweeting me links to some revolting news stories lately. Whenever they do so in future, they will be referred here.
Inflammatory news stories follow a pattern like this:
- Person says or does really offensive thing.
- Thing is reported, in the name of keeping the public informed.
- Outrage follows.
- Offending person pretends to be traumatized by all the outrage, while proudly displaying all the negative comments received.
- Public is annoyed into making even more negative comments.
- Offensive person gets a book deal/gallery show/TV interview/undeserved fame.
- Offensive person wins. Public loses.
It’s really easy to find ourselves being drawn into situations like this, because most of us do our best to avoid negative attention. When someone does something that bothers us, our first instinct is to express our feelings about it. We think that the wrongdoer will be chastised and mend his or her ways. This is because we’re not trolls and we don’t think the way they do.
Troll thinking is like this:
Want attention. NEED attention. MUST HAVE ATTENTION.
I have no virtues capable of earning positive attention. But anyone can do something offensive and earn negative attention. So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll be as offensive as possible and get as many people to hate me as I possibly can.
I AM HATED, THEREFORE I AM.
Trying to punish a troll by expressing public disapproval never works, because negative attention is exactly what the troll wants.
Clever trolls then repeat their performance by crying about all the negative attention they got, as if that wasn’t exactly what they were aiming for in the first place. The crying is a disguised brag: ” LOOK AT ME! I was worth this much attention!” That gets them more negative attention, which they will brag about again, creating an infinitely annoying negativity/bragging cycle.
“But, M.K.”, you might tell me, “if we don’t express our outrage at the cruel and stupid things trolls do for attention, we’ll feel like we’re endorsing their behavior. And we just can’t stand that.”
And to that I say: Feel free to criticize the behavior. It is effective when done in a general, impersonal sense, such as: “Bear baiting is stupid and cruel, and shouldn’t be allowed.”
Personal comments like “This person X deserves to die” would only horrify person X if she or he were not a troll. A troll will eat that hatred up and get bigger. Trolls are scavengers who feed on your wasted energy.
Newspapers give them platforms, because newspapers are not here to inform you or to stimulate thought: they exist to grab your attention long enough to make you read the advertising from their sponsors. It is therefore unwise to trust them.
Responding to these manufactured outrages with emotional outbursts of your own keeps you thinking emotionally, not rationally. And that’s where the people who really run things want you.
Rational people with critical thinking skills are dangerous, and so they try to disarm our collective reason by poking at our sore spots, hoping to trigger a reflex. Once they get a reflex they keep poking and poking. If we keep responding as desired, over time we become less rational and more stressed, angry and malleable. Emotional people are easily manipulated; even rational people, when flooded with emotion, become easily manipulated. And the people who want to manipulate us for their own purposes love nothing better than when we play right into their hands.
And that’s why we shouldn’t feed trolls. Think of them as slugs*, and your cool indifference as salt. Shower them with indifference and watch them squirm and wither away.
*No actual slugs were harmed in the writing of this blog.
This article is not about Eric Joyce. That’s a different kind of manufactured outrage, one that deserves its own post.
The tl;dr version:
Punching Tories doesn’t qualify as offensive, at least not to me. You know what I find offensive? Kicking a lot of people off disability and disemboweling the NHS. For starters.
A good benchmark of a troll is someone who does something controversial ON PURPOSE just so he or she can write about it and get attention. Drunken fights don’t qualify. Making a handbag out of your cat does.