When you troll me, you get unfriended

When you troll me, you get unfriended June 24, 2014

One of the things that grieves me about the social media era is the way that we cordon ourselves off into ideological echo chambers where we don’t have to interact with anyone from the other side. I think this is a real tragedy and I’m very passionate about not living that way. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I’m a progressive who needs conservatives around as conversation partners. That being said, I’m done with trolls. If you troll me, you’re going to get unfriended, which is what happened recently when someone who took exception to my last post about carrying the rainbow flag at the Virginia conference expressed himself in a trollish way.

When I say trolling, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about:

“So I guess you’re saying willful, unrepentant sin is ok to you? As a pastor, you’re officially endorsing sin?”

Yes I’ve done it too. It makes us feel so clever and good about ourselves to hammer off these little darts of sarcasm at complete strangers on the Internet. Maybe there are people who are actually too stupid to understand the difference between sarcastic questions like this and genuine questions. If you ask a question that no rational person would ever possibly answer yes to, then what you’re doing is not conversation; it’s trolling. The reason we troll is because of this strange belief that we have in the social media era that we’re engaged in a perpetual battle for our world’s narrative. These “questions” are not actually questions; they are attempts at narrative manipulation. In this case, the attempt is to narrate LGBT identity as “willful, unrepentant sin.”

Trolls make the same assumption that political attack ad designers make: that peoples’ minds can be controlled by saturating their visual space with your catch-phrases and talking points. You don’t need to be polite or persuasive. You just need to blast your narrative out far and wide. And if nobody challenges you, then you win the argument. It reminds me of driving through Latin American towns during election season where there are fewer regulations about where you can plaster your political signs and they literally saturate all the visual space and make the town look filthy.

It may be obvious, but this strategy to winning arguments really backfires. Because every time someone trolls me from a particular perspective, it causes that perspective to lose even more credibility with me, so it’s really unfair to people who share the views of the troll but aren’t trolls about it. It takes a little more effort to be respectful in conversation, but it really goes a long way, especially in internet conversation where tone can so easily be misinterpreted. I wouldn’t mind for somebody to say, “I believe that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. Why do you see it differently?” That’s an actual question. It doesn’t require you not to state the truth that you believe. But it’s not sarcastic, and you’re not opening with a dig on my character. If you actually want to influence me, then sarcasm is a bad place to start.

I do want to be in conversation with all kinds of people. I believe that God has a lot to teach me through people who disagree with me. Don’t betray what God has to teach me through you by being an arrogant, sarcastic troll in how you present yourself. Because if you’re the one who’s supposed to save me from my erroneous ways, then don’t think God is going to be pleased as punch with you when you stand before his throne and he reminds you that your trolling was the reason I didn’t listen to you.

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  • ” … they are attempts at narrative manipulation …” Yes, yes yes.

    They are also a means of controlling others (as you mentioned); which, I think, is an indication of a lack of self-respect of the troll concerning him- or herself, a lack of self-control, and also a deep sense of inferiority. Those who long to control and police the world demonstrate their own lack of control, but of being in need, be it emotional support, spiritual disciplines, or genuine fellowship.

    Once I realized that God will not hold me responsible for the beliefs of others, I suddenly had no more interest in policing, controlling, or manipulating the world of ideas and beliefs. What a weight lifted off my shoulders. The world is kinda heavy. :^)

    • MorganGuyton

      Yeah it’s one of our basic immaturities to give ourselves responsibility for policing the beliefs of others.

  • Bonnie Russell

    “…willful, unrepentant sin is ok with you…” Statements like this are among the fallacies of logic we used to learn in debate. I forget the name of this one, but it is of the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” ilk.It is used not only in electronic media but also in conversation and slogans, on billboards and in advertising. Those who refer to themselves as “Pro-life” imply, by this label, that anyone who does not agree with their agenda is “Pro-death”. When an amendment was proposed to criminalize the burning of the American flag, some coworkers and I were discussing it. I maintained that such legislation would impinge upon the rights of citizens to dispose of their property if they owned a flag they no longer wanted or that had become obsolete. And what would be considered a flag anyhow – would 4th of July themed paper plates and napkins be included? trinkets sold at parades? T-shirts with a flag motif? There are already laws in place determining where the burning of personal property could take place. I thought I made a good point, until another coworker joined us. My supervisor asked him, “How do you feel about flag burning, John? Are you against it? Or are you all for it like Bonnie is?” In regard to trolling, or hi-jacking a thread in an online forum, perhaps this is merely done by those who don’t understand or care to engage in, rational debate.

    • maguyton@gmail.com

      Ugh! So obnoxious when people do that.

    • Joe

      Apologies for jumping in three weeks late (I apologize because personally, I usually dislike when people drag me back to old comments). The name of the fallacy is “begging the question,” so named because you are making a statement/asking a question that assumes a previous question has been asked and answered.

  • pl1224

    Morgan, when someone trolls you like that, here’s what you say . . . “Yes, if that’s what you define as sin, then I endorse what you consider to be sin. Do what you want with that–for most of us, the issue is open for discussion.”

    (This is just a hopefully helpful hint from a 65-year-old New Hampshire lady who has dealt with more than her share of bull**it.)

    • maguyton@gmail.com

      Good approach!

  • I’m pretty quick to un-friend people on Facebook. But, it depends on who it is, too. If I have a long-standing relationship with the person, then that is different. There are people I know and love who sometimes fly off the handle at me and I’m willing to take it. But, someone I only “know” from the Internet — and even then, not very well — gets un-friended without a thought. I have a pretty clear idea, in my own mind, who I want and do not want for conversation partners. I’ve unfriended a few people on FB in the last few months. They were offended and that’s too bad — but, to be honest, I didn’t want to talk with them.

    • MorganGuyton

      Yeah, there’s this sense in social media land that I have a duty to talk to everybody. No I don’t. Beyond those I know and love as family from real life flesh and blood, I’m going to talk with the people who are going to challenge and edify me spiritually.

  • Disagree – yes. Disrespect – no. Great post!

    • MorganGuyton


  • Jeff Preuss

    Oooo, if I’m not gonna be able to use sarcasm, it’s going to be very hard for me to interact. 🙂 (I’m kidding-ish. Though I am often sarcastic (only when my mouth is open) I am sincere in my discussions here on Patheos, simply because I think honest debate is the only way to promote understanding among all sides of an issue.)

    To wit: I am not a troll, and look forward to reading more of your thoughts. Welcome!