An ex-psychiatrist explains how to tame a troll

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/09/24/an-ex-psychiatrist-explains-how-to-tame-a-troll.html

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When dealing with a trump supporter, is it really politics, or is it Morality that you’re talking though?

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When the aim of one’s interlocutor is to make one upset, why even engage?

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Nah, I’ll just block, thanks. Good on her for finding a better way, but I don’t have the time or inclination to engage with the Trump sycophants.

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“Satisfy that and they’ll miraculously transform into decent people who just want to talk politics.”

Sorry to say this has not always been my experience. Often the deep seated issues that caused them to seek trolling as a last resort for social contact will always be an issue and thus they will dominate the space with their needs until it is toxic. Not always though. I guess it’s better to be hopeful and grateful for healthy moderation.

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Step 1: block *.ru

That’s nice, but I think this ex-psychiatrist could learn a thing or two from @orenwolf.

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For some trolls, phase 1 and 2 (responding in any way) violate phase 3 (not feeding).

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Maintaining humanity and human connection is still important.

The probability you are dealing with a soulless irrideemable is orders of magnitude lower than the probability of dealing with someone that is entrenched in their views but capable of listening and understanding at least something.

As an aside, please remember that if you leave no path back, not only are you leaving people with no path back, but you are turning yourself into someone who will assume your opponents are mot worthy of engagement. Don’t turn yourself into someone like that.

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This is all true, but the missing factor, which is missing from Dr Tanerius’s assessment as well, is this: Regardless of any empathy, reason or civil discourse, the platforms by which we communicate online are engineered to reward and validate trollish behavior. Social media feeds are algorithmically directing the user both to information that fits a narrative they already align with as well as communities of like-minded people. People are volunteering to be emotionally and psychologically manipulated and driven further and further away from exactly the kind of thoughtful discourse the good Doctor suggests. This is as true for someone who may think that white Americans are the truly oppressed demographic as it is for someone interested in yoga. Or traveling to Bali. Or nice sneakers.

This is bigger and more powerful than anyone’s ability to resist being influenced by it. It is a cancer that needs to be excised, yet we’re stuck discussing what color bandages we’d like to hide the wound with and hoping that the cancer comes around to our point of view because we were nice to it.

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I get what your saying, but I can’t help but be reminded of the paradox of tolerance here.

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Baseline rules for dealing with trumpies, and some of use don’t have the lux of blocking - they are here in our lives:

  1. You don’t get say all mainstream media is “fake”. Thats a lie, and you know it. If you can’t accept that ground rule there is nothing to discuss.

  2. You can’t accuse me of being brainwashed by mainstream media, and I won’t accuse you of being brainwashed by trump.

Isolate them to reasoned conversation, and they have no tools.

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I’m sorry, but this strikes me as “how to play into a troll’s hands.” The main purpose of trolling is to get people to invest resources in bad faith in order to waste them, resources like time or attention or good will. Without some scientific way of accounting for how many trolls are “lost souls” vs. “deliberate provacateurs” vs. “dark triad sociopath-sadist-narcissists” I’m going to tend towards “if it acts like a troll, assume the worst.” If it could be shown that the lost souls outnumber the other types, or even equal them, I might reconsider. But I’m not sure how you’d ever measure such a thing.

Incidentally, my wife (who spends a lot more time online than I do, and is far more of a warrior) has come up with a great strategy that has never failed her. You could call it the “step into my clinic” approach. She replies not to the content of the troll’s message, but with facts of what is known about tolls and what motivates trollish behavior. She then asks them questions about what type of troll they are, and you can almost hear her taking out the scalpel. They tend to get lost quick.

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Yeah, some trolls are not trolls in the old sense, but enemy agents of a hostile foreign state. And they’re good at their jobs. Anti-troll tactics are not going to be effective against them. It will not be obvious who they are. So, unfortunately, it means that shutting people out may be the only choice.

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Hell, what great engagement are we going to accomplish with someone who, as soon as the conversation is over, is going to turn Fox News back on?

I make part of my living on social media, and I can believe her method works, but it sounds EXHAUSTING.

The bottom line is I get hundreds of trolls a week and it is not my job to make them all better people. If you come into my house and poop on the carpet, I don’t calmly introduce myself and try to be your therapist about it. You are escorted out and never invited back.

Any even slightly trollish people on my content are instantly blocked and forgotten about. My mental health depends on it.

As @cannibalpeas said, trolls exist because platforms enable their behavior. If they got instablocked everywhere they’d figure out how to be nicer people, or at least go back to Sto*-front and leave the rest of us alone.

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It’s rare, but in a few cases I’ve had a human interaction with a troll, after the nastiness was over. And I do admit I at times get angry and say things I regret.

In one instance on Twitter, after someone called me the usual libtard etc. he apparently clicked on my profile and read my pinned tweet, both of which mention ADHD (which I have).

He asked if I give online workshops. Where he lives there are no resources and he wanted something for his recently diagnosed son. At that moment he was no longer this troll but someone worried about his child and reaching out. Since I’m not a counselor nor do I run workshops of any kind, I gave him a little bit of advice. It was a minor thing but it felt good not to end things in the gutter.

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It’s an exhausting job thinking you can prevent people from seeking out St*-front in the first place.

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Thanks for this.

Not all of the troll-tastic online humans are impossible.
So many of them take pleasure in cruelty and time-wasting that it’s psychically draining to even give troll-ish folks the benefit of the doubt.

Thanks for staying human. It’s a real accomplishment in these times. I will draw strength from your example and try hard, where and when possible.

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That sounds fair… except we know that followers of Mass-Murdering Traitor Trump are receiving data from very narrow channels that tend to radicalize them. It’s not technically “brainwashing” (which I would characterize as a process of breaking down existing personalities and then imposing a new behavioral structure on them), but it shunts them away from larger options of information and behavior.

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