I have been called a troll more times than I care to count and yet I can’t seem to get enough of it. How can an artist, after all, get bored with his art? Yes, trolling is an art. What makes something an art anyway? If you put aside the medium, forms, and techniques, what any piece of art represents is emotions. Be it music, literature, painting, acting, dance, movies, or virtually anything that’s accorded the status of being art attempts to spark conversation and evoke sentiment. Trolling, I believe has the same purpose and if done right achieves the same goal.
Like any tutorial, let’s start with the basics:
Merriam Webster defines trolling “to harass, criticize, or antagonize (someone) especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts”.
Urban dictionary takes a slightly different tone and defines trolling as:
“The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue… The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that either a) truly believe in what you are saying, no matter how outrageous, or b) give your victim malicious instructions, under the guise of help.”
Urban Dictionary is obviously lesser of a credible reference but given trolling as we know it is a recent phenomenon, does offer a fresh perspective. For the purpose of trolling discussed here, both are equally relevant.
Now before we examine the dynamics of trolling, let’s get acquainted with the tools of trolling:
Challenging the beliefs of a person triggers the same region of the brain that responds to physical threat. That is, telling someone you are wrong would excite the same kind of response as throwing a pebble at a monkey- fight or flight, turn aggressive or quit the discussion. There is no third option.
The more you challenge the personal beliefs of a person, the stronger they will guard it. There are numerous cognitive biases that cause this kind of behavior. They would reject any logical argument if they don’t like the conclusion, prefer emotional pathways than logical reasoning, and have an inflated sense of what they have been told previously, more on this later.
Rhetoric is often dismissed as inconclusive arguments devoid of any meaning and that’s true to a large extent. But in the face of all those cognitive biases where logic and reasoning are discredited just as easily, rhetoric is the single most effective tool for persuasion. It often uses invalid arguments but the errors are so subtle that few people can actually recognize them in real-time. Fallacy and slippery slope are particularly potent for the act of trolling.
With these considerations in mind, here is your four-step guide to trolling:
To quote Mark Twain “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience”. If you see someone just hurling abuses, branding people, calling names, just leave them alone. Also, never argue with someone who seems to have more time than you. They will just erode your patience.
Find someone seemingly smart- people who think they know what they are talking about. The smarter the target the more you will savor the experience.
Tell them they are wrong. Just bombard their statement with brutal criticism (attack the statement, not the person). Do not bother with any explanation and if you do, deliberately offer half-baked arguments. With such onslaught, most of them would fold- some would just not respond, others may delete their post and some might even turn abusive- a sign you chose a wrong target. Congrats! They have been trolled.
Some, however, would come out stronger with better-structured arguments and logic. Now it’s your turn to up the ante.
When you tell someone you are wrong the most common response you get would roughly be on the lines of this is my opinion and I have every right to express it. This “opinion” is the armor that supposedly shields them from all criticism. Take that luxury out of the equation and this is where rhetoric comes into the picture.
Take this line of rhetoric for example:
Science has no room for opinions. You don’t hear people say from my point of view 2 plus 2 equals 3 or in my opinion moon is giant vanilla ice-cream. There are of course flat earthers who believe the earth is flat but then they support their opinion with elaborate theories. They don’t just say the earth is flat, you all are lying, go to hell. They do fiercely back their claim with reason.
People may have baseless opinions in politics but political science demands reason. An opinion without reason is just intuition and intuition has no credibility. The president is a vampire who eats babies at breakfast? Absolutely!
Ask them to back their opinion with reason and facts.
When you drag people from the comforts of opinion to the stage of reason, a significant majority of them would immediately collapse. Some might sustain for a few rounds but their reason would eventually run its course while you would have an endless supply of rhetoric. Ultimately they would fold and more often than not, you would never hear from them again. They would just stop expressing their opinions and that is trolling in all its glory.
Because it’s fun. But it’s also much more than that. The internet today is a very toxic place. By Godwin’s law, “if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler”. In its current form, that’s often the starting point and no insult, no abuse is off limits.
But where does all this noise come from? Generally, someone makes an unsubstantive statement, someone who sounds smart. People read it- some agree, some disagree and they all in their own ways shape their opinion; the opinion they will share elsewhere. One piece of misinformation fosters an entire gang of misinformants.
It’s akin to shouting “Hi Jack” on a plane. You may have the best intentions and you have every right to greet your friend across the aisle but its implications far outweigh those intentions and it’s destined to quickly snowball out of your own control.
I don’t troll stupid because no one listens to them anyway. I don’t troll the informed because I want them to be heard. The problem is those pseudo-intellectuals who talk stupidity with the tone and authority of an intellectual.
Trolling has these days has acquired a bad reputation. It’s the job of someone who has nothing else to do than disrupt dialogue and discourse. But isn’t creativity by definition a disruption? The problem isn’t trolling, it’s trolling done wrong- the abusive overtones. So it doesn’t matter if people call you wicked or evil or mean: keep trolling for trolling is an art and you are an artist.
Featured Image Source: YouTube