Monday, July 11, 2016

Troll road

Internet fights are boring, whether we’re sucked in or just witness them. But sometimes they’re pretty much unavoidable: Although we can control our own responses, we can’t control what others do, and sometimes we can’t stop escalation. Recently, I accidentally stumbled on a new strategy that can be useful when things spiral out of control.

On the whole, I’m far less likely to take part in comment wars than I used to be. Mainly, I’m just not interested, but I also try to be more careful about who I respond to as well as how. But I recently was caught up in two different comment wars, and they led me, first, to stumble on a strategy, and second, to test it.

The first comment war was a typical Not My Fault situation: I was trading amiable comments with someone, and another person intruded himself and started dismissing what we were saying and belittling us for what we were saying. The person I’d been trading comments with wisely stopped commenting, but I didn’t, something I didn’t immediately realise was a bad idea.

As the “conversation” went on, and after I’d made many of the same points he was harping on, it became clear that for whatever reason he was targeting me for abuse—often without actually bothering to read my comments. I was annoyed, not angry, and gave as good as I got—until, that is, I’d had enough of his narcissism and deleted all my comments.

After I did that, all his comments were orphaned, and it looked like he was having a somewhat unhinged monologue. It made him look not just like an idiot, but like he was downright weird. By the next day, he still hadn’t deleted his comment that caused it all to happen, so his monologue was still there. For all I know, it may still be.

A week or so later, I chose to respond to a god-botherer (what we Americans might call a “bible thumper”) who was railing against gay people on a thread about a meme posted by the New Zealand Labour Party. I mentioned this fight in my post on Saturday when I said:
The second, even more illiterate [comment], was from a guy who similarly decided it was a good idea to preach against gay people. He didn’t know what he was talking about, as is usually the case for such people, and how I eventually dealt with his comments is a topic for another day.
Other people attacked him directly, while I focused only his bad ideas. He was like a lot of fundamentalist Christians who have, at best, a very weak understanding of the bible passages they use as weapons, and this is mostly what I focused on, explaining the truth. As always, this had nothing to do with him, but rather was about the LGBT people were reading his comments and wondering if their god really hated them, and also Christians who were taught those same weaponised, mainly Old Testament, passages, but knew in their hearts that they couldn’t really mean what their preachers claimed they meant.

But the illiterate self-appointed preacher never gave any ground, of course, which I fully expected. But I grew tired of his ad hominem attacks on me (at one point he called me a “backslider”, a term not used in the religious tradition I was raised in, so I never heard it until relatively recent years; now, I think it’s an offensive and stupid word).

So, as with the earlier comment war, I deleted all my comments, which also deleted some of his (ones where he’d clicked “reply”). As before, all his remaining comments were orphaned, and it looked like he was preaching to no one in particular, like a crazed street preacher ranting and raving to absolutely no one—although, his comments where he was responding to something I’d said almost read like he was talking to an imaginary person. Unlike the first comment war, this time the guy eventually deleted the comment that started the whole thing, and all the remaining replies from others along with it.

In the first comment war, I was drawn in when I was attacked, but the second I walked into (following others). In retrospect, I should have ignored him—as I’d planned on doing until others had a go at him in response. I should have followed my instincts and not engaged, however, it did give me a chance to test out my strategy.

In general, I’m far less likely to take part in comment wars than I used to be. But sometimes, despite everything, I can get drawn in. At least now I’ve found a way to have my say, walk away, and derail the other person’s attacks and/or trolling.

But my best strategy of all is the one I still turn to first: Just ignore it and keep my powder dry for a time it may actually matter.


rogerogreen said...

For me, the answer is, increasingly, Just Say No. I can tell - and I'm sure you can - when you cannot win. I'm perfectly happy to let them get the last word.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Somewhere I saw someone write that the "rule" should be no more than five replies, I think it was, because any more than that and the other person is clearly talking at you, not with you. When I get caught up in comment wars, it's usually because the first five replies seem relatively benign, and go off the rails sometime after that. If someone's first or second reply to me as a trolling comment or outright attack, and I bail.

The only times I persist are such times when the other person is saying things that I worry an observer—say, for example, a scared, closeted gay youth—could see and be badly affected by. That was the case with the religious nutjob. The other one I mentioned in the post just caught me by surprise.

Mostly, I DO "just say no", but particularly for those times when comment wars sneak up on me, it's nice to have another strategy!