“Fuck the high road”: Jessica Valenti on “don’t feed the trolls”

I’ve long advocated that the best way to deal with trolls — though I use this term relatively loosely, I generally mean a slightly broader category of troll than the average internet user who thinks creating sockpuppet accounts to harass and slander individuals is the only thing that actually amounts to trolling (and that it can’t possibly come from people within the movement!) — is to confront them. Take their words and use them against them. Force-feed them with why they’re wrong — even if they won’t accept it, bystanders will.

The only way to change society and push back against the small fringe of vocal misanthropes who manage to amplify their messages artificially, who abuse technology to make their fringe opinions seem far more prolific than they actually are, is to directly challenge their fringe opinions and explain why they’re wrong, hurtful, unworthy of dialog, morally atavistic. And when the messages get too abusive, you stop them from appearing in your well-curated online space in order to limit the amount of damage to passers-by they can do with their “trolling”.

Jessica Valenti apparently agrees.

Don’t feed the trolls: it’s probably the most common refrain in online discussions, especially when dealing with misogynists in feminists conversations. The idea is that the best way to deal with sexists is to starve of them of the attention they’re so clearly desperate for. Besides, we think, why sink to their level?

But the high road is overrated. It requires silence in the face of violent misogyny, and a turn-the-other cheek mentality that society has long demanded of women. A vibrant feminist movement has ensured women don’t take injustices laying down offline—so why would we acquiesce on the Internet?

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Jay Smooth on feeding trolls

This actually makes an excellent companion piece to our Don’t Feed the Trolls panel in the SkepchickCON track at CONvergence.

Ill Doctrine: Why I Will Feed The Trolls If I Damn Well Want To from ANIMALNewYork.com on Vimeo.

At Jay Smooth’s blog, he adds a few salient words:

One of the main reasons “Don’t Feed the Trolls” falls short as a universal pat answer is that it assumes one’s only possible goal in speaking up would be to induce a change of heart in the individuals doing the trolling. Many of the stories people have shared in response to this video illustrated how speaking up can be a net positive for your community as a whole, regardless of whether it inspires some epiphany in the trolls themselves. Gauging the usefulness of speaking out strictly by tracking whether a miraculous troll epiphany occurs is often missing the point IMO.

It’s almost like he knew the ins and outs of our specific fight! So uncanny!

Feeding the trolls almost never happens in isolation — if it’s a single person attacking you singly, you simply ignore that person and move on. But these attacks are often public, and include “pig-fucker” charges (by which I mean, charges designed to force you to rebut, rather than because they’re actually true) that the public gets to see.

Sometimes you need to counter spurious argumentation, to put that argument’s metaphorical head on a metaphorical pike to show others exactly how it fails and why you shouldn’t use those lines of argumentation in the future. It’s almost never about changing the troll’s mind, because their mind was often made up long before they ever deigned fit to visit your post; countering trolls is for the benefit of those who come afterward.

Coles Notes and alt audio for Don’t Feed the Trolls

Matt Lowry was so kind as to post his notes on the Don’t Feed the Trolls panel, which while it’s not a full transcript, certainly pulls out a lot of the relevant details.

In Canada, you call that a “Coles Notes”, after the Coles bookstore from whence these synopsis books come. I hear in America, the same idea is called CliffsNotes. I like Coles Notes way better, not the least reason being the unpretentious space included between the two words.

I’ve also done an alternate audio recording from the panel, so if you’re interested in the original take by Cristina Rad’s friend which is uploaded to Youtube presently, but don’t have the tech to hit Youtube at the moment, or just want to grab the mp3 for posterity, you can use this podcast doodlybopper like what I done used for the other two panels.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Also, here’s the mp3 link (20 megs) if you’d like to download it for later listening. Again, lose the -lr if you want a 128kbps version that doesn’t add much in the way of lost audio.

Don’t forget to visit Cristina’s original at her blog in case the ridiculousness in the Youtube comments didn’t do it for you with regard to rampant trolling and misogyny.