Braving the trolls……

Beware the trolls! (Flickr image: kevindooley)

I’ve often banged on about getting out there, getting engaged and arguing the case for libraries, no matter how volatile the audience is (in some ways, the more volatile the better!).  Problem is, this is sometimes harder than it sounds.  You have to be made of pretty stern stuff at times to plough through some of the verbal garbage that is thrown in your direction dare you pop your head above the parapet.  Sometimes even I find it hard to commit myself to the moment.  Not because I am fearful of the response, but because I begin to wonder what the point is – these people don’t listen.  So sure are they of their own beliefs (no matter how illogical), nothing could possibly persuade them they are wrong.  Facts won’t work, in fact the only thing that will is quite possibly first-hand experience.  But when so hostile, what is the chances that they will ‘dip their toes in the water’? Probably zero.

But then, this isn’t really about persuading ‘them’ anyway.  I never seriously believe that I am going to change the mind of the individual I am arguing with.  What I aim to do is to try to show how weak their arguments are so that when an open-minded individual comes to read the thread (they do exist you know!), they see how illogical some of these people are.  Stick to facts and logic (avoid name calling at all costs) and you are on to a winner.  Stray far from that and you are in trouble.  Never, ever resort to name calling.  Once you do that, the argument is lost.  Besides, in my experience, nothing annoys them more than your sheer reasonableness (and I do love to be reasonable).

However, as well as trying to expose the weakness of their arguments, it is also about providing a voice for those that are unable to speak up in their defence.  As I have said repeatedly in the past, both on this blog and elsewhere, 9 million people in the UK have no experience of using the Internet at all.  It is self-evident that this sizeable minority (15% of the population) cannot engage in such debates.  It is those that have Internet connections that engage in these discussions.  Not only those with Internet connections, but those that seek to hijack these forums to promote their own particular political viewpoint (this is especially the case on Comment is Free which tends to attract, shall we say, ‘non-typical’ Guardian readers).

I was trying to think of a suitable analogy for these types of forums and discussions.  The best I could come up with was that it was rather like discussing a woman’s right to vote in a gentleman’s club at the turn of the century.  The people who are truly affected by the discussion are totally excluded from it.  Instead, it is left to those who only see things through a particular prism.  Sure, there is bound to be someone who speaks out, but they will undoubtedly be drowned out by all the others in the room.  Still, isn’t it a good thing that person did speak out?  There is always the potential that one person in that room will leave thinking that the crazy outspoken dude may have had a valid point.  And if one person can be converted………

Part of the problem, I feel, is that too many people suffer from a kind of social myopia.  There is an utter failure to appreciate and comprehend the bigger picture.  Too often it is about what is relevant to the individual rather than what is relevant, or beneficial, for society as a whole.  Or even just a basic failure to see things from more than one perspective – to take a more balanced view.  You see this in many aspects of our society.   Many people only see certain events from their own perspective, they fail to appreciate how those same events are interpreted by ‘the other’.  That’s why, to take a recent example, we see certain people attacking the recent student demonstrations against the rise in tuition fees.  They’re not at university anymore, they are not affected by the rise in tuition fees, so why should they see things from the students’ perspective?  Of course, this avoids the point that maybe their children may be put off going to university by the introduction of higher tuition fees, or indeed the point that many of the students protesting will not be directly affected as they would have left by the time the new regime is introduced.

This myopia also affects the library debate.  Too many of those involved in the various debates fail to see how the proposed cuts and closures affect other people.  The people who do use the library regularly.  The people who rely on libraries to access the Internet and take advantage of a service that they take for granted.  The people who are unable to leave their homes and rely on their library service to deliver books to their door and relieve their feeling of isolation. The children who rely on libraries to support their learning and give them their best hope of reaching their potential and prospering at school.  The people who simply rely on libraries as a safe, secure and non-judgemental public space.

So where does that leave us with the trolls?  To be honest, I don’t know what the answer is.  I’m torn between my need to correct falsehoods and my understanding that it is virtually pointless.  What do you think?  Engage or ignore?

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5 thoughts on “Braving the trolls……

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Braving the trolls…… | thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian… -- Topsy.com

  2. It’s a difficult one all right. I tend to go with the view that arguing against a bad argument is usually a good way to get your views heard by a different audience, and generally if you put forward well-reasoned points this will persuade neutral readers a lot more than a ranting troll will.

    However then you get the cases where you’ve just got to let it go, like in Warner Todd Huston’s anti-union rant (go union thugs!) the pro-library comments were great, and his insane responses even more so, but by the time the comments page got to a mile long I breathed a sigh of relief when the final poster said “Don’t feed the trolls, please. Move along.”

    http://www.stoptheaclu.com/2010/10/14/union-killing-local-libraries/

  3. Sometimes though its hard to remain resonable with some people view point. The recent TGLB post caused me to respond rather quicker than I should have done, just because ‘the red mist descended’. Sometimes its very hard to bite your tongue, but its usually the best format.

    Other’s have said ignore what trolls might say? I don’t think that works though either……..

  4. It’s certainly a dilemma.

    Personally I don’t always respond to posts because I can’t always trust myself not to get emotional. When a post makes me angry or upset I always tend towards the facetious response – which as we all know does nobody any favours – so sometimes I’ve learnt to bite my tongue.

    I have to say I admire the way in which you respond to these posts – using factual evidence to point out the flaws in arguments is so much more powerful than emotional rants… but I guess that also takes a serious amount of energy.

    I know some are of the opinion that responding gives the oxygen of publicity to these posters and that if they don’t get a rise they’ll give up and post about something else… I’m not sure ignoring posts works though – especially when certain “library campaigners” end up representing libraries on Newsnight (I think we all know to whom I refer).

    No easy answers but I’d say keep up the good work… but don’t drive yourself into the ground doing it!

  5. Thanks all…sometimes I feel it is like an itch I have to scratch….I can almost get obsessive about it. And, truth be told, it is kinda fun to argue with them. As long as you don’t take them too seriously or personally. I believe that as long as you remain factual you will neutralise the argument and, hopefully, persuade people who do read the comments to your argument. We can but hope!

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