Pot shots from the troll gallery

Copyright Whitney Phillips.

Quote from Whitney Phillips’ excellent essay, “Don’t Feed the Trolls? It’s Not That Simple.”

I was in High School the first time that something I wrote prompted threats of bodily harm. I was a regular contributor to the editorial page of the student newspaper and wrote on a variety of topics—usually political—but the one that pushed my fellow students over the edge was a critique of stagecraft of the music department’s regular concerts. And I was critiquing it as an insider. I played bassoon in the orchestra and symphonic band (and occasionally other instruments as needed), trombone in the jazz band, and sang baritone in the men’s a cappella group (marching band and the pep band never participated in the formal concerts, but I was in those groups, too).

I was tired of playing concerts to a nearly empty theatre. I had recently seen the fall concert of the music department of the other high school across town, and their auditorium was not only packed, they actually charged an admission fee! And their shows were fun.

Anyway, my opinion column did not go over well with some of my fellow music students. But at least none of them felt the need to be anonymous with the threats of maiming and murder.

The first anonymous threats happened when I wrote about abortion and sex education—in the same high school newspaper in the late 70s. And again at community college (and later at university).

But the most vicious, virulent, and disturbing threats came when I started reviewing exhibits in the small free art gallery at the community college. Express an opinion about art, and people completely lose all sense of proportion. Remember that the next time someone tells you that art (or music, or literature, or movies, television, et cetera) doesn’t matter.So, by the time I was active on QueerNet and such in the early 90s, getting homophobic death threats and the like on the internet seemed like old hat.

Anyway, since the whole Sad Puppies thing has happened, I’ve been getting a few more comments here than usual. Okay, sometimes more than a few. Though it isn’t a deluge. Besides having comments set to moderate (a comment doesn’t appear until approved, unless I’ve added the commenter to the whitelist), anonymous commenting is disabled. And the comment system records IP addresses (and alerts you that it will). So the number is high for my blog (since my average is less than one comment per post), but low by typical internet forum standards.

Although many of the comments have been angry, so far none have risen to a vitriolic level. Not being able to post wholly anonymously contributes to that (just the fact that one has to type into multiple fields is probably too much of a hurdle for many troll), I’m sure. I suspect that because there is simply so much being written about this particular topic, and my little blog isn’t exactly drowning in traffic, that there are too many other places for the trolls to go.

Anyone who has ever met me and talked with me for more than a millisecond knows that I do not shy away from debate. And I don’t believe that simply ignoring all trolls is an effective way to deal with the problem of vicious harassment. I’m not ignoring them. I’ve read the comments, and made a determination based on the contents of the comment of whether the person is here to discuss the issue or just wants to yell. I see no reason to approve the latter type of comments and subject any of my readers to an angry tirade that adds nothing to the discussion. I certainly don’t have the time to try to reason with someone who seems bent on nothing more than trying to shout down and insult dissenters.

Make an actual logical or reasonable argument. Indicate that you understand there is more than one side to the issue. Then we can talk.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

4 responses to “Pot shots from the troll gallery”

  1. Sheryl says :

    “I see no reason to approve the latter type of comments and subject any of my readers to an angry tirade that adds nothing to the discussion. I certainly don’t have the time to try to reason with someone who seems bent on nothing more than trying to shout down and insult dissenters.”

    I cannot love this enough.

    Related, did you see this Ideas Channel video on the experiences of being trolled? It is one of my favorites, and really engaging. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHSSNyIlAps

    On his next video (), he responds to some of the comments about that video, and he makes such a beautiful response to a common type of comment:

    “For everybody who says that you become a better or stronger person because now you have to deal with rape or death threats… I don’t know what world you live in, but it’s nothing like mine. What?!?”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRfv5a9QFu8 ~8:50

    • fontfolly says :

      I have seen and linked to the TEDx talk about why “don’t feed the trolls” isn’t good enough, but I hadn’t seen either of these. Thank you for the links! Great videos.

      Even as a white guy on the net, I’ve never believed in the myth of the “just joking” troll. And that was before the recent study that showed that they are sociopathic jerks, just as we suspected.

      A couple of the comments I didn’t approve fall into another category: the person who is trying to pretend to be reasonable and thinks they are cleverly setting a rhetorical trap fro me to fall into if I reply. I may need to write more about that sometime…

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