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This is a piece I've been working on for about a month -- and a topic I've been thinking deeply about for nearly a year since I took on the job of managing social media for the Chicago Sun-Times: What does a Christian response to trolling look like? I knew coming to the position that not reporting and focusing instead on social media would be a challenging transition. What turned out to be the biggest challenge, however, was adjusting to the constant barrage of negativity from trolls.
Here's some of what I've learned from my own, personal experience and from conversations with others.
It’s the Internet at its worst.
It’s the Facebook commenter who blames the president for everything from crime statistics to bad TV, the sort of thing I see daily in my work as social media editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. It’s the comments on a recipe for "Amazing Rainbow Tie-Dye Number Surprise Cake" posted on a radio station website that veer away from baking into personal attacks and politics.
Writer or reader, Christian or secular, conservative or progressive, nearly anyone who spends any significant time online and on social media has encountered it: trolling. This is the universal experience of the Internet.
Trolls rear their ugly heads to remind us about their conspiracy theories, personal issues, political grandstanding and, of course, how our misguided theology has us bound for hell.
And they’re everywhere, from mainstream news websites like the Sun-Times to right here at CT. Both recently removed comments from most articles; the Sun-Times, temporarily while working on a new system to “encourage increased quality of the commentary;” CT, saying, “our efforts to carefully and thoughtfully report on controversial subjects have been swamped by comments that do not reflect the mutual respect and civil conversation we want to promote.”
“I guess most everybody feels like they’ve been trolled,” said Micky Jones, a seminarian at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. “There’s a fine line between Twitter activism and going after somebody and engaging. It’s one of those things people get really self-righteous about.”
Trolling is an intentional disruption of online communities. That’s the classic definition, around since the late 1980s, used by The New York Times in its 2008 article “The Trolls Among Us.” It’s done to “make people angry or otherwise disturb them,” one self-described troll told me on Twitter, adding he often targets people “who needs [sic] to see how ridiculous they’re being.”
Trolling is not disagreeing. Disagreement is part of any healthy conversation -- social media and website comments at their best.
Trolling, on the other hand, ranges from online raging to harassment.For the rest of the story, read A Christian Response to Trolling.
Here are more links for further reading, as well as some of the conversation I had with others on social media about their definitions of and responses to trolling (proving it's not all trolls on the Internet!):
How do you deal with trolls?
Photo: Elisfanclub via Her.meneutics.