Don't get me wrong, there are some cases where it does need to be said, but I feel people are too quick to level accusations of trolldom.  Furthermore, there is an assumption that because a troll thread continues, the troll was successful, but it doesn't work that way.  If the people in the thread are having fun, or are getting fulfillment out of the dialog the thread generates, it's not a very successful troll.  No one really fell for anything.

Outside of fair warning for others in truly abusive cases and train wrecks of threads, why bother calling 'troll'?  Back in the day (in my experience), a troll was a person who was primarily interested in stirring up drama instead of sincerely contributing to conversations.  The problem with trolls is not that they stir up trouble, but rather that they are disingenuous and they make it difficult for any meaningful exchanges to continue.  In most cases where I see people calling 'troll',  the supposed troll really hasn't disrupted the normal flow of conversation in any significant way.

These days I see people cry 'troll' at anyone who offers up an opinion that might offend, cause a bit of controversy, or seems a bit ridiculous.  If you don't think a conversation is worth participating in, fine, but the person you are questioning raised actual arguments, you can't just waive their arguments away with a single pejorative.  That would be fallacious.

Even if it isn't an ad hominem fallacy, unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the person is a troll, it's still just a personal attack which contributes even less to the conversation than the troll probably contributes themselves.  Even if the individual truly is a troll, why focus so much on their behaviour?  You don't control other people; you control yourself, so why not rise above it and carry one with a bit of dignity.

In my opinion, the question shouldn't be, "Is is this person a troll?".  The question should be, "Does it matter if this person is a troll?".  Typically, the answer is no.  As long as you can still carry on a conversation (with the troll or with other forum members) and you don't find yourself getting sucked emotionally to the point that your blood is boiling, why not just take from the exchange what you can?  If that troll-accused offered even one idea that sparks an interesting thought in your head, why not turn that into a positive and explore that idea?  Is it because you are afraid that it might look like you are getting taken in?  That people will think you are gullible?

Even if you do get taken in by a troll, why is that such a bad thing?  Internet discussions require a little faith in humanity.  I know that's difficult to do, but have a little courage.  Where's the joy in posting like a paranoiac incapable of believing people are sincere?  What is the worst case scenario?  You courteously assume the best of someone only to be proven wrong, and all the while the troll laughs maniacally in their little trol layer: "Bwahaha! You treated me with enough civility to give me a chance to prove I wasn't a total douche, but I fooled you all along.  In reality I am a total d-bag.  My, don't you feel embarrassed?"  Honestly, is it more embarrassing to be wrong about being courteous, or is it more embarrassing to be a total tool?

Views: 323

Comment by Banned Atheist on July 13, 2012 at 3:23pm

Even if you do get taken in by a troll, why is that such a bad thing?  Internet discussions require a little faith in humanity.  I know that's difficult to do, but have a little courage.  Where's the joy in posting like a paranoiac incapable of believing people are sincere?  What is the worst case scenario?

The worst case is getting baited into a banning from the forum in question. If atheists weren't already so closeted IRL, it wouldn't be as big a deal. Some atheists tho' (ie, ex-Muslims) use the webz as a safe space to communicate. Getting banned could have real-life consequences - I recently wrote about this on my blog. Most of the time it's annoying, which means finding some way of judiciously managing trollism at the user-level (ie,, or not (ie, /r/atheism).

The fact is many atheists need a 'place' -- even a virtual one -- to go to escape the insanity of real life. This is especially true for newly-minted atheists and nonbelievers who might still be on the fence about some issues, but don't understand the social costs.

Comment by kris feenstra on July 13, 2012 at 3:26pm

Bait you into getting banned?  You control your own actions and should be able to exercise reasonable limits on your behaviour.  Barring the extremes, there is a limit to how much other people's provocations can be used as an excuse for your own poor behaviour.

Keep in mind that this isn't a theist vs. atheist issue.

Comment by kris feenstra on July 13, 2012 at 3:46pm

Also, at the risk of sniping your articles (I haven't read through everything yet), you yourself write the following:

In a global movement like atheism, all these cases of meatspace discrimination come to mind when one is banned online for no apparent reason other than being vocally godless (aka, Militant Atheist troll).

Which is what I'm talking about here.  People drop the term 'toll' so quickly that merely offering dissenting opinions results in an automatic impasse.  Instead of listening to your views, you get labelled a 'troll' and summarily dismissed.

Comment by Nerdy Keith on July 13, 2012 at 7:18pm

Oh fully agreed Kris. I've seen it both here and Yahoo Answers. Whenever an opposing view point is presented that person is automatically labeled as a troll. Its even more annoying when its a simple misunderstanding of what the poster has been trying to say in their first place and someone takes them up the wrong way. 

Don't get me wrong though there are certainly trolls on the internet who just want to take the piss. I think the Think Atheist community should count themselves grateful that we don't have anything near the level of trolling as Yahoo Answers does lol 

You'd be surprised by the amount of "Why are there still monkey" questions on YA lol

Comment by Karen Lollis on July 13, 2012 at 8:45pm

Thank you, Kris. I especially like the distinction between guessing if someone is a troll, and asking if it matters. If a conversation ensues between other responders with or without the original alleged troll, then who cares? Enjoy the dialog. If you've engaged honestly, then what's there to be embarrassed about?

Comment by Logicallunatic on July 13, 2012 at 10:33pm

You're right. People tend to overplay the troll card as a kind of automatic response. Giving people the benefit of the doubt  is probably the best thing to do... it seems such a tiny risk to take and as you say, what does it matter even if they are a troll? The benefit from having a reasoned argument with someone and learning new things far outweighs the risk that they are a troll. 

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on July 14, 2012 at 5:49am

There are a few species of Trolls on the Net. There are the sickos that post vile insults on sites setup to commemorate the lives of loved ones lost suddenly often via suicide. Then there are those that are obviously Trolls because they post rubbish and leave. However I agree that calling people trolls because they post an opposite view which they do stay to defend is offensive. However I prefer to use intellectual responses to such behaviour. If I am in a discussion about Evolution and a fundamentalist say I am wrong and his goddidit is good enough then I will ask for reasons why. If the response is a personal attack on me the “going to burn in Hell Atheist” then I don’t get upset about it. This is an invite for some fun. I will start by “forgiving” this potential Troll and go from there. I will though have the last word.
I once joined a Catholic “open forum” to ask “Which is the truest version of the bible as they can’t all be?” I was told by the Mods that I was deliberately trying to incite trouble and was asked to close my account. It was suggested that because I stated “Atheist” in my profile that I would deliberately attempt to ask offensive questions. So I joined under a new name as a real Jesus freak and asked as many dumb questions as possible without ever being offensive. “What kind of control did Moses exercise over the 26 known species of woodpecker on the Ark.?” After a few dumb replies about how god would have thought of that so I need not worry, I replied by saying “Oh Sorry I meant Adam not Moses!!” Then I withdrew and watched the resulting “debates” about how some Christians are so poorly informed about the basics of the bible that “something must be done about it”. I was eventually informed that it was Noah who built the Ark. I commented that it was great that both the OT and NT had famous carpenters. It was suggested to me by the mods that I should read the bible. I then jumped back in and asked which bible was the truest version that I should read?

Comment by James Cox on July 14, 2012 at 9:01am

I went to a christian singles party several years ago, with a fellow I worked with that was christian.

My friend knew that I was 'not with christ', before we went.

It seemed an ok group, charming women, good food, reasonable conversations, till one guy got up and thought the group should pray. This went around the group, many did not seem to want to humor the fellow, they were just there to meet people. I asked a few questions to break the ice as it were, then I was immediatly informed that I was there to cause trouble. I felt this then was a challenge and the battle of wits began. I was very surprised how many people took my side, like they were hungrey for sometime more substancial than their common meet and potatoes fair.

It finally came down, during the conversation, that details related to christian dogma, were 'settled questions' and no longer subject to debate. I continued, 'who settled these questions for us, you?'

I always wondered about that experience. Was I a troll in their ointment as it were? Or given the open nature of the group, was I just another member that was just a little more open, modeling thought that the rest should be doing as a matter or course?


Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on July 14, 2012 at 2:14pm

@James - those “settled questions” not open to debate are usually the ones that are at the core of their faith. They are the ones that if they were actively discussed even Christians with poor reasoning abilities would see them as highly improbable. If you ask why they are not open to be challenged then the response is invariably like that of a spoilt child – “because I said so, so take that Atheist! How dare you try to make me challenge my beliefs. I don’t need to for I have FAITH!!

Comment by James Cox on July 14, 2012 at 5:42pm

May be 'trollism' is in the eye of the beholder?

Something similar happened during a Social Psy. field trip to the Bagwahn commune in Oregon early 80's(83 I think). Our group was on the tour bus driving around the commune. We visited there lumber recycling center, their love grove, their hill side sewage treatment plant/operation, and a drive by with the Bagwhan and his armed body guards in Cads, etc. During the tour of the hill side sewage treatment plant(they pumped their waste to the top of a hill, and since it is very dry in that part of the country, they could use air drying and sun light exposure) the guide mentioned that 'that big cities are very wasteful of their resources and contaminate rivers and land with thier municiple waste'. I mentioned in response that not all cities can use this method due to local weather/climate and the state of municiple sewage treatment could be better than this depending upon the degree of pathogen distruction'. It was clear that we could be going off script for her, with the rebutal 'you are embarrasing yourself with the other passengers, if you do not be silent you will be removed from the bus at our next stop!' Clearly my comment was not going to well received and criticism was meet with an attempt to maintain conformity. I always learn something..;p)


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