I have been offering up my opinion on the Internet for 17 years now, and no, it is not your imagination; there are some nasty-ass people out here. Among the worst in the world of political opinion:
- The anonymous troll who delights in quick and dirty personal attacks and pretty much never discusses anything political.
- The anonymous stalker who spends weeks and months searching for you all over the ‘Net, and delights in repeating an out-of-context quote that you made on some board 15 years ago because he thinks it makes you look “stupid.”
- The budding (and irony deficient) blogger who will post anything that stalker finds that he thinks makes you look bad, because you pointed out the inaccuracies in one of his blog posts.
- The up-and-coming legend in his own mind “journalist” who broadcasts an impending story and proclaims it will “destroy” a political opponent, and then posts something that resembles something like a fishing expedition for a specific minnow in the Indian Ocean.
- And of course, the most common Internet bully; the poster who suddenly shows up in a forum, or on Facebook or Twitter, and expects you to “trust him” immediately and gets pissed off and trashes you when you don’t.
Over my time online, I’ve learned a couple of things about how some folks operate. One is that anonymity makes people both bold and stupid. Also, there is something about knowing that a couple of thousand people read their screeds each month that gives some people delusions of grandeur. And there’s something about bullies that makes them act more boldly than they would otherwise when they think they have a crowd.
And that’s the word for people like these; bullies. They’re cowards at heart, and they get a perverse pleasure at seeing others in pain; especially those whom they view as “enemies.” In this case, an “enemy” is anyone who doesn’t kowtow to them, and agree with everything they say. People who are secure in themselves don’t need to jump up and down and scream “look at me!” every chance they get. They don’t need to bring other people down in order to feel better about themselves. These are insecure people who desperately need approval from as many people as possible, even if they alienate many more in the process.
You know who I’m talking about, because you see them every day. People who take persistent potshots at others from behind a wall of anonymity are particularly loathesome, as are those who hide behind a thin veil of “credibility” with a select group or political ideology, Credibility comes from your tendency to tell the truth, not your ability to attract followers who buy into your brand of nonsense.
If you’ve been engaged in discussing politics on the Internet for any length of time, you’ve dealt with people like this. While the concept that “politics is a blood sport” has always been true, to a certain extent, these are people who seem to think the purpose of politics is to smear your opponents. If your goal is to make your opponents look bad, you’re not engaging in politics, especially if the attacks are personal. If you look closely, while they claim to follow an ideology, they never actually advocate for anything. They are all about “winning,” but they don’t seem interested in the long term; they only seem to care about bloodying us. Their purpose isn’t in making sure there are no abortions or in securing the border if they claim to be from the right side of the spectrum, or an end to all war, if they claim to come from the left. (Yes, my fellow liberals; many of these folks pose as far left progressives, too.) Their main goal is to destroy us and our blasted “credibility” by saying the nastiest most personal crap they can about us.
This is why politics in this country seems “polarized”. The bullies start fights, and we’re far too willing to engage them. Wingnut bullies don’t engage in actual political discussion; they lob in character assassination bombs out there, disguised as political discussion. In some cases (the late Andrew Breitbart comes to mind), they disguise their personal attacks as “journalism,” with their main purpose being to poison the political debate. By engaging these assholes, the average voter, who just wants to vote for people who can make the government work, decides to stay home and not even bother participating in the democratic process.
In other words, when we engage these bullies, we’re actually helping the Republican Party in its main strategy, which is to drive down turnout. Whether they are aware of it or not, these folks actually have a major hand in helping the right wing keep winning elections. And yes, I suggested that some people do it without being aware they’re doing it. Some of these folks have just been conned into believing that fighting with liberals is what politics is all about, so they think
There is, however, an easy way to minimize their influence on the system, on the electorate, and/or on your own personal psyche.
It’s easier than it sounds. In fact, ignoring these assholes will have such a positive effect on your life, you’ll wish you’d done it years ago.
I’m speaking from experience here, folks. For years, I engaged these bozos fully. I used to argue with the right wing all of the time. I argued every point, and educated myself in the process. But the better I got at arguing against their politics, the more I started to notice that they were no longer arguing against anything I said. Instead, they were getting increasingly personal, attacking everything they could find out about me. For all intents and purposes, they had stopped arguing issues, and I became the issue. The more defensive I became, the more glee they took in attacking me. It was personally upsetting, and it stressed me out.
Then, I took a deep breath and thought about it hard. I walked away for a while and a strange thing happened. I gained perspective.
I learned that politics is not a personal enterprise, and that they were trying to get me to argue personal issues because they didn’t want me to talk about politics. I was making too much sense. By separating the political from the personal. I also freed myself from having to give anyone a response when they said something. It’s a natural human response to defend yourself when you’re feeling “attacked, but what gives mean wingnuts power is to get you to react, either for their own ego-driven purposes or because they think it moves their “side” closer to a “win.”
Ignoring them takes away their power; it’s their Kryptonite.
Here’s what I do:
On Twitter, I ignore them. I rarely engage, except as sport, and I never get mad, because, in the end, each one represents one person out of more than 300 million in the country or 7 billion on the planet.
In email, I use certain keywords, such as Breitbart or Limbaugh, to filter emails into a special folder, which I check once a day. If it’s interesting, I might read it for sport, but most of them, I don’t even bother to read.
Before I respond to anyone, anywhere online, I look at everything else (s)he’s ever written. In most cases, I’ll find nothing, in which case, I ignore them. In some cases, I’ll find vile filth in cesspools like Free Republic comments sections, and I’ll ignore them and mark them as spam. In a few cases, I’ll find out they wrote a smattering of pieces on a few select websites or blogs. If they’re popular, I may ask a question or two. If not, I ignore them. I also differentiate between actual journalists with chops, and wanna-be “journalists” who think they can be the next Woodward or Bernstein by trolling the Internet for a story that has no meaning. I’ll respond to actual journalists; fake “journalists” can kiss my ass.
We have elections to win, and a country to save, folks. We need a progressive vision to overtake this country, but we cannot have that if we spend all of our time and energy on trolls and bullies. Stop engaging, start ignoring. Your life will be better, and you’ll be surprised at how fast the political atmosphere will improve.
You can find Milt Shook on Twitter @MiltShook
Trolls Photo courtesy of www.about-face.org