As I get this blog rolling, I'm going to spend some time on issues relating media literacy and digital citizenship.
Oh, come on, you can't fall asleep on your keyboard that fast. Wake up and say...
There, that's more like it!
Someday, my goal is to spin off the media studies information into its own project, but in the meantime, I'll touch on some hot topics when it comes to things like social media drama, "fake news," and viral media.
So for my post in a series related to digital media, I'm going to cover the most important topic I can think of:
Please, don't feed the trolls.
If there is only one of my media literacy posts you read, and the only post on my blog you remember, let this be it. The vast majority of internet related drama can be traced back to the fact that people won't stop feeding internet trolls.
Trolls come in many breeds. There's "Basement Trolls" that might lurk in dark corners of their parents' houses that are only lit by their computer monitors, who stay up too late making nasty comments on posts just for the sake of creating chaos. There's "Vanity Trolls" who are rude to others because it makes themselves feel smarter or better looking or compensate for whatever insecurity they may harbor. There's the "Here I Stand, I Shall NOT Be Moved Trolls" that must defend their pet issue, no matter what other information is offered, and will assume anyone who doesn't have vision as narrow as theirs is an idiot.
And here's the sad thing, folks. Those are the best of the bunch. Internet trolling can be a lot more nefarious and damaging. There's organizations so bizarre you think they have to be fake, only to realize that there's actually real human beings making posts that say terrible things about individuals or groups of people. There's clickbait posts that will lie and libel all day long if it will increase traffic to their page. There's even political trolls that intentionally create pages that will trigger anger in certain groups so you like and share their posts.
As I continue this blog, I plan to cover "How To Spot A Troll" in more depth (as much as I wish I could cover this topic in one post, Internet Trolls are an invasive species with many different breeds and habitats), but for an introduction, I'm going to list the most important things you need to know about internet trolls.
Clicks, shares, likes, and comments are their food - and they will die without it.
When someone posts something ugly or false on the internet, they are doing it because they want someone to see it and react. If a troll leaves their mark, but no one answers or clicks, then they did not succeed. I don't know the science behind starving a troll to death to the point where it goes away, but if we want to win the war on trolls, taking away their food source is a good start. So if you suspect a post might have a troll behind it, don't click, don't share, don't comment - even if it is to call them out (keep in mind that angry comments are like double the nutrition for a trolls rather than an agreeable one). So really, if you smell a troll, scroll away from whatever it is as fast as you can.
Trolls can wear excellent disguises.
This is more of an issue as we go higher up the Troll Evolutionary Scale. The lower forms, like Basement or Vanity Trolls, are usually very easy to spot and ignore. They tend to say things like, "OMG HOW ARE YOU SO DUMB FOR NOT KNOWING HILLARY AND OBAMA WERE HAVING AN AFFAIR YOU DUMB LIBERAL REAGAN LIVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
(That would be in the comments on a post about something like, say, a baby elephant being born at a zoo, by the way.) Lower forms of trolls are usually easily identified by the fact that it appears they all own keyboards that have the caps lock stuck on, and the only punctuation key that works is !!!!!!!!!!!!!
It's easy to pass on those trolls, and most of us probably are as quick to dismiss them as we are quick to hustle past a raccoon eating out of a trash can. However, higher trolls are better at blending into an environment. They hide behind lost child posts, political memes, and dramatic stories. However, rather than the honest people of the internet who are trying to share real information and stories, they're trying to manipulate information for gain. Which leads to the next point:
Trolls have hidden agendas.
Trolling can be very lucrative, both financially and politically. This will also take a post of its own to cover, but I'll just start here by saying that creating posts designed in a way to get as many clicks as possible can translate to cash for some of these trolls, and there are proven political agendas behind some trolling efforts that can spread a damaging amount of misinformation to the public.
Like, we're talking threat to American democracy amount of misinformation. No joke. More on this later.
The worst Trolls try to be your friend.
The very highest forms of Trolls are the opposite of the Basement Trolls - they want you to like them. This can look like creating facebook communities around a specific political belief or ideal, sending you friend requests that look like someone you'd want to hang out with (or sometimes, actually stealing a picture of a friend and trying to pass themselves off that person), or spinning their content in an intriguing way to get people to spend lots of time in their group or on their web page.
These are hardest trolls to spot, and the worst - possibly literally criminal when it gets into things like identity theft, extortion, libel, harassment, and plagiarism.
So now that you've learned about the basic habits and habitats of Internet Trolls, stay tuned for more information on how to avoid them. But in the meantime, if you think you spot a Troll on the internet, DON'T FEED IT!
Any questions about trolls, or something you'd like to see covered in this series? Please comment!