Trolls in suits
I’ve always believed that three things can amplify who you really are: money, alcohol, and the internet. The first two don’t always come pouring my way (sadly), but the internet is something in which I am regularly immersed, and boy, do people reveal themselves loudly here. In this wide, wide playground, all sorts of kids interact—to name some: the easily offended, the bullies, the social justice warriors, and, most disappointingly, the smart, well-educated kids who turn out to be lowly trolls.
On the internet, trolls are those persons who post deliberately offensive messages aiming to upset or anger other people, elicit strong responses, and spark comment wars. These are the posters who call other people “Dutertards” or “Yellowtards,” post distastefully Photoshopped images of personalities, and use labels such as “bakla” in a derogatory sense—all for no intelligible reason other than to stir up chaos.
It’s mostly a game for them, assisted by what is called the online disinhibition effect that comes from the internet’s intoxicating mix of invisibility and lack of authority. The recommended response to trolling antics is none at all: Ignore them and deny them the attention they crave—thus the mantra “Don’t feed the troll.”
But in the Philippine context, where internet literacy isn’t exactly optimum yet, trolling takes the spotlight in online discussions, provoking frustrated reactions from common citizens who unknowingly take the bait. This inevitably degrades what would have been stimulating conversations into drivel-filled circuses.
You would think that any person who has the time and hubris to be abrasive online is someone who lacks friends, education, employment, or all three. This person has grown lonely and socially inept after spending so much time alone in a room illuminated only by the glow of the computer monitor (hence the term “basement-dweller”). Otherwise, what reason could a sane person possibly have for wanting to sow discord among people?
But the truth is that many internet trolls function as educated, upstanding citizens in the real world. At the very least, they are highly computer-literate. Many are intelligent thinkers who, if you get a chance to spend an afternoon with them over coffee, would be able to give you solid insights on matters they care about.
“The idea of the basement dweller drinking Mountain Dew and eating Doritos isn’t accurate,” says Jessica Moreno, former community head at the popular website Reddit. She reveals that some users who posted racist or sexist statements on the site would actually turn out to be “a doctor, a lawyer, an inspirational speaker, a kindergarten teacher.”
Yet, on the internet, many of these professionals stoop to name-calling, mud-slinging, and trash-talking. Then, when they sense any slight attempt to moderate their disparaging remarks or temper their raging comment threads, they push back with the pseudo-enlightened arguments that “this is the internet, not a preschool classroom,” and that “being politically correct is ruining everything these days.”
Just ask Rappler, whose recent campaign to “aggressively [delete] crude and disrespectful posts and comments” was met by a torrent of even more disrespectful posts and comments. Or better yet, ask Reddit, whose moderators have received strong backlash for banning discussion groups as clearly toxic as “fatpeoplehate.”
I make no argument for or against political correctness; that concept, I think, has gone the way of “feminism” and “quarter-pounder burger”—that is, they’re represented by terms so often used wrong that they’re now little more than empty buzzwords. Nor is this an argument for policing internet discussions; that topic deserves a completely separate debate.
What this is is a question for those who use their superior mental faculties to troll—the men in suits and the college students and the well-read culture vultures who come home at the end of the day and log in to Facebook to lace their posts with the suffix “tard.”
Why do it?
For the first time ever, this country is being widely inclusive and involved when it comes to social and political issues. Filipinos, regardless of age, status, or class, are having opinions and are able to join discussions that ultimately shape public perception and policy. All these are largely because the internet, and social media in particular, have provided us—all of us—with a venue to participate.
And trolls are ruining it.
In an ideal world, the internet would be a place for healthy discourse and constructive arguments instead of snide attacks that produce nothing of value. It would be a place where the more intelligent of us contribute toward a better-educated populace instead of merely calling them ignorant and stupid. It would be a place where conversations are built on information, logic, and an intent to positively participate—instead of caustic little ad hominem retorts.
Disappointingly, many of those who could have brought us closer to this ideal are instead stretching their fingers for the next opportunity to bait, to trigger, to troll.
It’s true that the internet is no preschool classroom: It is a wide, wide playground where sensibilities can get rustled and egos can get bruised. But if you’re smart enough to realize how free and boundless and exciting this playground is, shouldn’t you also be smart enough to not leave your trash in anyone else’s sandbox?
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