I try not to be a troll. I mean, I bathe regularly and keep my toenails short, and my nose isn’t that hideous. I also don’t spend my free time guarding bridges.
Additionally, I try really, really hard not to be an Internet troll.
Even if the term is unfamiliar, the concept probably isn’t: trolls are people who feel the need to voice their opinions at every possible opportunity, often starting online comment battles about things that (a) do not matter or (b) they know nothing about.
Trolls aren’t trying to spread awareness about a particular belief they hold dear, they just like to say controversial things and get people to react. They’re obnoxious and disruptive just for the sake of being obnoxious and disruptive.
Sure, I’ve been tempted to troll. Plenty of times! I’m Facebook friends with lots of people who hold vastly different beliefs than I and post things I vehemently disagree with, but it’s not my place to infiltrate their page with my opinions just for the sake of letting them know I think they’re wrong.
If I read something on my news feed that rubs me the wrong way, I’ll keep scrolling. Sometimes I utilize the “hide” feature, or, if someone consistently posts things that infuriate me, I’ll remove them from my friends list.
It’s my own responsibility to deal with my negative reactions—people don’t need to know I have a problem with what they’ve said, because it’s really none of my business.
The other day, though, a schoolmate’s post bothered me so much that…I think I trolled. A little bit. Maybe. Actually, by the definition I’ve given, he was the troll.
Here’s the situation:
Amid Daniel Tosh’s recent rape-joke controversy, I posted an article to my Facebook wall. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “daniel tosh rape joke” and you’ll find more information than you’ll know what to do with). A few friends made affirming comments. I got a few “likes”…whatever. That’s cool.
I get pretty amped up reading about stuff like this and I was starting to feel a little shaky and sick to my stomach. I decided I wanted to move on and continue my night in a more relaxed fashion, so I took a deep breath and refreshed my news feed.
Unfortunately, right at the top of the page was a stupid status by an arrogant meanie-pants I go to school with. (“Arrogant meanie-pants” hardly conveys the rage I feel toward him, but it’s the most tasteful description I could conjure up). He had written, “People need to stop being so butthurt about this Tosh thing. Pun intended.”
A flash of anger blazed through my body and I prepared to launch my reactionary response. I thought, “How dare he! I should rip him a–” but then I remembered.
Trolls gon’ troll!
I told myself to forget about it. I rolled my eyes and kept on scrolling.
As I mindlessly clicked around Facebook, I couldn’t get this guy’s status off my mind. It was bugging me so much, and I couldn’t figure out why. People say stuff like that all the time and I’m able to ignore it. What was this nagging feeling?
A few minutes earlier, a Hillsboro native had commented on the article I posted. He gave me a link to a poem about the importance of overcoming our fears and being willing to speak up—“The Hangman” by Maurice Ogden.
I was particularly moved by a line from the final stanza, when the Hangman, after hanging almost everyone in the town, says to the narrator, “I did no more than you let me do.”
That’s why this meanie’s comment was sticking. I had just spent more than an hour reading, educating myself, thinking, writing, curating this fire within me.
And there he was, making another joke out of it all.
I couldn’t ignore it, because what he said matters—and so does how I respond.
I decided to do what my Women and Gender/Media Studies teacher has taught us—I took the Path of Greater Resistance. This path requires us to challenge the status quo, which can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. But changing a culture’s norms requires pushing back against what is currently considered acceptable, and that means stepping on some toes.
I wrote “not funny :/” and wondered where this conversation would go. The meanie-pants and I ended up getting into a casual conversation in the status’s comments section. We were both tactful and well-spoken, each sharing our opinion and respecting the other’s. By the end, I was able to morph him from a misogynistic meanie-pants into a well-informed feminist who finally realized that rape isn’t funny at all. Who knew?
Actually, everything written after my stylish emoticon is entirely false. This guy was defensive and sarcastic from the start and deleted our whole conversation by morning.
Honestly, that didn’t faze me.
It wasn’t my goal to get a rise out of him or make him look bad on his page; I felt the responsibility to speak up and was proud of myself for doing so, despite a somewhat undesirable outcome.
Yes, people post all sorts of trash on the Internet and, no, most of it isn’t worth thinking twice about. But if I want rape statistics to decrease, it is my responsibility to be part of changing this culture that trivializes a victim’s experience and normalizes the violence against them.
Rape jokes play a big part in continuing to support that culture.
If you believe in something, stand up for it. Do hard things. Challenge the norm, speak the truth. Be ready to meet opposition, but take joy in the little things—like when a troll deletes your comments because you beat him at his own game.