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My New Year's Resolution - Don't feed the trolls

Executive Editor Raheem Kassam tells us why he could never step away from a Twitter spat - but endeavours to do so in the New Year

by on 23 December 2012 10:59

A few weeks ago I gave a speech on social media to the Young Britons' Foundation conference. It was a superb gathering of over 100 young conservatives who took a weekend out of their lives to learn from speakers on topics such as campaigning, philosophy, media and more. I gave what can probably be regarded as a humorous speech about the perks and perils of social media - focusing as little time as possible on Twitter.

One thing I didn't talk about was trolls. So here goes...

Trolling is described by the august 'Know Your Meme' website as: "an Internet slang term used to describe any Internet user behavior that is meant to intentionally anger or frustrate someone else. It is often associated with online discussions where users are subjected to offensive or superfluous posts and messages in order to provoke a response."

As those who follow me on Twitter probably know by now, I'm no stranger to a 'spat'. I'm similarly interested, in person too, to have it out on whatever the said issue of the day is. At least when it's face-to-face I'm happy to get the drinks in first (yes, it's much more fun arguing in person). 

But "why," so many people ask, "do you continue to feed the trolls?".

In my experience, anyone can be a troll. A lot of the time when they don't mean to be. 140 character limits on Twitter often leads people to be curt and abrasive without intent. I'm guilty of it from time to time, too.

But it seems that we're not always keen to give people the benefit of the doubt (again, I'm guilty of this also) and sharp and often hurtful statements can flare up into something larger, even managing to do psychological and emotional damage along the way. No one likes to be called names - and as thick as someone's skin may be - it is not impenetrable.

I have noticed, that when various writers are confronted with serious, fact-based assertions that challenge their own - their answer is simply, "Oh, stop trolling". I don't use the term quite as lightly - saving it for pedants who seek to undermine without presenting any topical facts or pertinent points. They are, to channel 'Know Your Meme', simply attempting to cause frustration.

And this is why I have been unable to do anything but confront them. 

From websites that choose to provoke, to tweeters who feel that they are some kind of moral arbiter, or simply want to 'take you down a peg or two' (I had no idea I was 'up' a peg or two?) - there remains a need for people to say, "No. Enough is enough. You will not get away with snide and snarky comments without recourse".

And of course, this ends up consuming most of your day in some circumstances. The very fact that I'm writing this blog is enough to illustrate just what a prolific waste of time feeding the trolls can be.

So who will stop the onslaught, the reductio ad hominem/ad nauseum/ad absurdum of the side-profile-shot, work-from-home tweeter whose idea of rational debate is to coral their followers into a frenzy of abuse against you - topping it off with, "I've never even heard of you!" (No one asked you to hear of me).

Alas I must declare from here on out - no more. 

I refuse to have my life shortened and my stress levels elevated by people who are seeking to do just that. I have much more fun making The Commentator's podcasts and writing about things I'm actually interested in. So my New Year's resolution is simply, "don't feed the trolls". 

And if this means that they come out in force, thinking they're going to get a free ride - then so be it. I won't hesitate to use that button that I have only used a handful of times before: BLOCK.

If I was ending this as a speech to the Young Britons' Foundation conference, I'd probably make some joke about heading to the bar so we could all troll each other in person - but the sad truth about most internet trolls is they're already drunk - on a toxic mix of anonymity, pyrrhic victories and the sense of satisfaction they get from the 'rise' they see in their victims. 

Well this is one person that won't be assisting in their stupor anymore. 

Read more on: trolls, comment trolls, twitter, and young britons' foundation
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