I’m here to admit that I have a problem. It’s a problem that I share with many of you. In fact, I venture to say that a majority of people struggle with this very same issue.
I’ve decided to make the first step toward recovery by admitting that a problem exists. Plus, publicly stating my intentions keeps me accountable. In fact, I would encourage all you to participate in the same challenge that I am about to undergo. Call it an early New Year’s resolution.
I hereby promise to stop feeding public trolls.
Allow me to provide a little context to this promise. Needless to say, there has been—as many experts would purport—a lot of shit going on. A lot of bad shit to be more specific. And whenever bad shit happens, there is never a shortage of public figures to voice their cockamamie prescriptions as to why said bad shit occurred.
You know the type. The response usually involves blaming some ethnic group. Or some perceived culture war against their religion’s holidays. Or, when in doubt, they can blame our Satan-worshipping, Leninist-sympathizing, Islamofascist Commander-in-Chief. (There are so many factual reasons to dislike Obama; I don’t know why people have to make stuff up.)
And what do we do?
We react. We emote. We blast out their dreadful and asinine worldviews via social media. We attach some snarky quip with it that basically equates to, “Hey guys… look at what this dipshit is saying LOL.”
However, there is one problem with sharing, retweeting, and hot-linking this drivel: Their message only grows stronger with each iteration.
With the saturation of social media messaging, there has been a correlated growth in what I call “public trolls”. These are buffoonish characters who truly don’t say anything of substance. In fact, they never intend to. Their goal is provoke an emotional response from their audience by saying outlandish things. And the response is predominately derived from well-intentioned folks who are offended by the troll’s message. Any news, especially bad news, is good news in the eyes of the troll. Manufactured outrage is the best thing to drive traffic toward their misguided cause and feed their engorged egos.
For those unfamiliar with how search engine optimization works, every action you take online—each click, each second spent on a website, each social media share—strengthens the online presence of content. In our world, being the first thing that pops in Google is more powerful than being President. By dedicating the slightest iota of attention to the shenanigans of public trolls, you empower them exponentially with each stroke of your keyboard and each click of your mouse. Calculate the return on investment on the time you spend responding to and legitimatizing the haphazard and self-promoting ramblings of simpletons.
When I first wrote this piece, I wanted to give some specific examples of public trolls. But then I thought again: Typing their name only gives them the power they want. So I am entrusting you to read between the lines, think critically, and determine which characters I am excoriating.
Before lashing out on the stupidity of a statement made by a public troll, consider the relative power and influence of said troll. If the troll is just a “public personality”, they don’t actually possess power. They may have a platform, but they can’t create policy. They can’t issue executive orders. They may have an audience, but their audience is made up 10% true believers who can’t be dissuaded otherwise. The other 90% is people like you saying, “Hey everybody… look at the stupid shit this whack job is saying... rabble rabble rabble.” (Your words, not mine.)
If the public figure making an outlandish comment is in a high-ranking position of power or governance, then that is a different story. Authority that has the ability to impede your self-determination is fair game. Always punch up—never down or at face level.
I am as guilty as the next sucker for falling for the traps left by public trolls. That’s why I am writing this. I want you to hold me to this challenge personally. Let’s keep each other accountable, ok?
Instead of sharing the message of the troll, consider the narrative that you would like to see. Think of the public figures and thought leaders who are a part of that narrative. Dedicate the bulk of your online activity to clicking, tweeting, reading, and sharing that narrative instead. Optimize the shit out of that narrative.
And, if that narrative doesn’t exist, fucking write it yourself and share the shit out of it. Keep in mind that there are a lot of hard-working, creative people who burn the midnight oil to create smart, thoughtful, and witty content that equates to something more than dick jokes and Willy Wonka memes. Find these people, and give them your attention.
Consider this as an effort to improve your time management. What is the opportunity cost of the time and energy devoted toward an individual of no influence who only manages to piss you off? I'd rather devote that time and energy to reading something of substance, listening to the Clash, or playing with my son. I can think of thousands of things I'd rather do actually. Spend more time on the content that reflects the world you want to see.
But—most importantly—whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls.