Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Don't feed the trolls

Any progressive who has spent time trying to cultivate an online community is familiar with the adage Don't feed the trolls, which has been adopted either informally or formally by many blogs and discussion forums as an actual rule.

Don't feed the trolls basically means don't spend all your precious time and energy trying to deal with people who want to disrupt and divide your online community (trolls), because they're insatiable. They will consume all of your attention if you let them. And that is often their goal: To distract you from your real work.

This truism is lost on the ignoramuses at the Seattle Times, who published an editorial this morning applauding newly-elected Governor Neil Abercrombie's declared intention to do something to squelch the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii. Abercrombie means well — like us, he's disgusted that there are people in this country who will cling onto any allegation of illegitimacy aimed at an elected official who doesn't agree with their views — but he too is incorrect in believing that producing more documentation will make things any better. To the contrary: It will only add more fuel to the fire.

At this point, the best thing to do is to just ignore the birthers. There is no reasoning with them. Liberals and progressives often make the mistake of believing that everyone thinks rationally, and if we just confront the other side with "the facts", we'll be able to set the truth free.

As George Lakoff has shown, this isn't the case.

People simply don't think this way. "To be accepted, the truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off," Lakoff writes in Don't Think of An Elephant.

If Abercrombie and other Democratic leaders take the birthers seriously, the birthers will get attention they do not deserve. They should have been ignored at the outset, but thanks to the toxic Republican Noise Machine and our brain-dead traditional media, their stupid and baseless allegations were turned into a "story" during the first months of Barack Obama's presidency.

Thankfully, the traditional media ultimately became bored with the birthers' nonsense and their bogus claims stopped dominating the national discourse.

We do not need to reignite a phony debate by trying to debunk the birthers. Fresh documentation will only embolden them and convince them that they are right. They are troublemakers, and they are simply not worth the trouble. We have enough problems to deal with right now without worrying about them.

If Abercrombie is smart, he'll realize this, and appreciate that there is nothing he can do to shake the birthers of their belief that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sadly, with the exception of Lance Dickie, the Seattle Times editorial board seems more ignorant than many of the know-nothings they criticize. They allow comments on their articles online; they ought to know about trolls. But they don't. Evidently, they don't spend much time in their own garbage-filled comment threads. Much of what passes for discourse there would never be allowed on the editorial page in the letters to the editor section. So why is it allowed on the cyber version of their publication? Do they think newsprint is simply more sacred?

There's no question that the First Amendment — which gives the birthers the right to spew their nonsense — is a wonderful thing. But the First Amendment does not require that free speech also be responsible speech. Those who want responsible speech have to set the example. And that means not feeding the trolls.

Neither NPI nor the Seattle Times Company has the power to shut up the birthers, even if we wanted it. But we do have the power to police what our own readers say. We can insist on responsible speech in our own publications.

And we should.


Blogger luvvvbughugs said...

after 26 yrs of nursing, why...ooh why does my important schooling on life only happen when im too old any my fingers too stiff to do any serious tweeting.....sighhh

January 1, 2011 6:23 PM  
Blogger terry said...

Hoo-Ray!! Finally someone recognizes the 800lb gorilla and points him out! It is not per-chance that conservatives are not swayed by reality. The purposeful melding of fundamentalism with conservatism is for that purpose. Religous dogma is based in the idea that "if I belived it, it is truth". Belief based, not reason based. You will never convince a conservative with factual evidence so stop whining about it and feigning surprise! Expect it and prepare your offence accordingly. Follow my rants on twitter at Sixguitars .

January 2, 2011 7:55 PM  

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