Online Discourse

A worringly common trend I see in online discussion today is accusing people who disagree with you of being a troll. This, as I think we all know rationally, is unhelpful because it doesn't help either side feel heard.

More than this, though, this idea really only helps people who have opinions that some of us may consider dangerous or bigoted.

Let's look, first, at the idea of "trolling" and how it relates to online opinions.

It's no secret that sometimes people will just say shit to get a rise. However, I think it's also no secret that a lot of time, when people say that they're 'trolling', what they mean is, "I said something and thought people were going to agree with me, but now they're calling me out."

The "I was just kidding, bro" argument has been used too many times, and yet people still use it. Why? Because people buy into it. Someone online comments something disagreeable or bigoted on your post, and you call them a troll. To me, this only serves to further the idea that the people saying this don't really believe what they're saying. They're just saying shit for online clout and to rile people up. Right?

Well, no. They probably believe what they're saying, but you just gave them an out. By accusing everyone of being a troll, you're implicitly telling people that no one really believes this shit, and we shouldn't take them seriously. Unfortunately, this idea is dangerous and always has been. If someone is a bigot, don't let them weasel out of it by just calling them a troll. The "i'm just joking bro" school of politics is one of the things that people point to as having served to radicalize them or people they know.

Stop calling people trolls and call them what they are when they're being bigots: bigots. Instead of endlessly arguing with them in the first place, you should probably just block and move on anyways. You're not changing anyone's mind online and are probably just making them dig their heels in more. I know that sucks to hear, but you can't win 'em all.

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