The sometimes necessary evil of trolls

21 Mar
. Ask your community to engage trolls as well, but to elevate the discussion to its highest level.

. Ask your community to engage trolls as well, but to elevate the discussion to its highest level.

The best part about social engagement is the lively, passionate conversation online. The worst part about social engagement is the lively passionate conversation online.

I’m speaking of trolls at their worst. Some of my best days as a newspaper web site manager were when readers held spirited debates on highly charged topics. A liquor store robbery, the trial of a corrupt politician, or even the mayor’s public gaff would light the fuse. Then people piled on, adding ideas as the subject quickly spilled toward a solution. Parallel is faster? One news story, plus 30 comments is better than one news story with no comments.

There can be a lot of pain and stupidity in a big, rust-belt city with high unemployment. Most of that pain and stupidity is a direct result of economic factors. But add the anonymity of the web and it becomes easy for some to slap labels and stereotypes into the comment fields.

And what begins as an honest assessment of our common circumstances and common will to resist decay, melts into a stone-throwing circus. Instead of much needed exploration, we end up back on our heels – again.

Always try to engage and reason with a reader or community member choosing to act in a negative manner. There is always something valid and useful to learn from any stab of pain and anger. Understand that the anger is looking for a soft spot – an easy target. Try not to take things personally.

When you ask people acting in this manner to articulate their anger and to give detail they often run out of steam quickly. They usually have labels, and talking points, but very little detail and common reference points. Ask your community to engage trolls as well, but to elevate the discussion to its highest level. Understand that the most painful and barren ideas improve our better arguments.

This can be your opportunity to declare a contrast and to meet boorish behavior with refusal – your refusal to submit to that level. Everyone has an equal voice. Some will use theirs more effectively and earn value and gain trust. Others will squander that opportunity.

Don’t ever cede your voice. Wade into the melee and state your case.

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