What to do About the Trolls?

What should we do about pro-Assad trolls? Should we name & shame, or should we just block and get on with our lives? I’ve recently polled my Twitter followers about this, and the results are in. Of nearly 70 responses, 32% said name & shame; 37% said block & go on; 25% said do both. 6% said we should engage them, or just leave them be.

Anyway, it seems like an inane question. Conventional logic (and common grace) says we shouldn’t bother with them. “Don’t feed the trolls”, just block & go on. Don’t give them the time of day.

But I want to challenge that. A case can be made that by naming & shaming, we can make the internet an inhospitable environment for them, driving them from its open fields into its dark alleys. Not only does this help further deligitimize them & their arguments – it spares us the mental anguish of having to deal with their BS.


Freedom to Troll?

But won’t we be restricting freedom of speech? This question has haunted me whenever I felt the urge to press the block button. In a few cases I’ve had “block remorse” – a feeling of guilt that, maybe, I should have engaged them instead. In other instances I hesitated, eventually preferring to err on the side of lenience.

But the right to speak freely does not entail the right to insult others, assult them verbally, or hurl foundless accusations at them. It also does not include the right to cheer on as men, women, and children are being slaughtered, or as neighborhoods are being leveled. Importantly, it does not include the right to lie, deceive, or mislead.

Pro-Assad trolls typically do all of the above.

So what’s the way to go with them? Just block, or report & block? “Mass report & block” can get their accounts suspended, especially when they’ve been involved in clear trolling behavior. The great EGGCOLLECTOR (who has compiled a list of trolls both on Twitter and on Tumblr) says that it’s best to block & list, to avoid them popping up under a new account.

My preferred policy is to simply block the more stupid trolls (and perhaps report them to EGGCOLLECTOR for listing). But then, when I come across a troll account with a lot of followers (500+ is a lot for trolls), I prefer to ruin their day by mass reporting & blocking. They may well come back under a new account name, but they’ll have to start over.


Slick Trolls, and Almost-Trolls

What about those who support Assad, but do not engage overtly in “trolling” behavior? If you ask me, these are the worst of the bunch – the slick trolls. You just know they are trolls, but you can barely hold them up to anything in particular. They lend a veneer of respectability & legitimacy to the regime’s arguments. And, there are some who lap it all up.

As for those slick trolls, I prefer to name & shame them. No, I won’t engage them – it’s totally futile (also, it’s frustrating enough to give you brain cancer).

A final group is those who aren’t exactly Assad fans, but are somewhat sympathetic to the regime’s arguments or skeptical towards its opponents. They may well be poorly informed, or sitting on the fence, or perhaps a troll already got to them with a ton of propaganda. Perhaps the thing to do here is to engage them, then deal with them according to which side of the fence they choose.


Policy Summarized

So, there. Dumb trolls, block & forget. Popular trolls, mass report & block. Slick trolls, name & shame. Non-troll sympathizers, engage to push off the fence, and then deal accordingly.

I invite you to weigh on in these thoughts, but I’d also like to say that I’m adopting them as my policy from now on. You’re more than welcome to do the same.