What’s a troll? Most people understand trolls come from Norse mythology and you probably picture one exacting a toll from anyone trying to cross its bridge. So then, what is trolling? The bridge toll metaphor extends to some asshat commenting ugly remarks on your social network.
Why do trolls do this? I don’t know but there is extensive information on the psychology of this habit online if you google the topic. Trump’s tweets border on trolling. My goal here is to put you at ease with social networking, despite the trolls and seemingly dangerous personal privacy concerns.
I see this message as important because the vitriolic rhetoric has been increasing lately on the social networks I participate in, and I don’t see the noise abating anytime soon. Not with us entering the final throws of an election season. And I don’t want my friends and family psyched out and tuning out. I know you probably only want to see pictures of your grandkids. It irritates you to get friend requests from friends of your kids whom you don’t know. Do what I do. Accept their requests out of politeness and then immediately unfollow them. That way you will never see their posts. They will still see yours’ but only if you actually post stuff and many of you don’t. This is also important because social networking is not going away.
My comfort level participating on the Internet might be partly my personality but I suspect it mostly stems from my job. My I/T career put me online. Before the Internet, I was on CompuServe. Online communication is the company culture at IBM. That was curious to me when I joined IBM in the early ’90s because I came from the phone company where we never answered email. We were all about voice mail. Now everyone is on email. Remember “You’ve Got Mail” from 1998? We’re way past that now and today we are all on Facebook. 1.55 billion of us at last count. The Internet only has 3 billion users so that’s like saying half the world. It’s nearly a quarter of the real world.
Let me digress even further, although I promise this is relevant to my point. Walter Cronkite is often associated with America losing the war in Vietnam. The phrase, “the Vietnam War was lost on television” came from Marshall McLuhan. It’s probably also fair to say that Carter lost the Hostage Crisis on television, to Ted Koppel. And the first Gulf War was won on television with General Schwarzkopf and CNN. And then came the Internet. McLuhan’s other popular phrase is, “the medium is the message.” I suspect you are way ahead of me by now and I probably don’t need to even say this, but the war on terror will be fought on Facebook.
We’ve all seen this war playing out on Facebook over the last couple of weeks. The online social medium changes our experience from the television in our living room to our mobile device or desktop computer. Facebook is just another channel like CBS News, but with one important difference. It’s more immediately participatory. What do I mean by that? TV, then and mostly still, is a one-to-many broadcast. Within a few years, by merging picture-in-picture (PIP) technology with the Internet, it will more closely resemble Facebook, which is a many-to-many broadcast. A party line. Know that the speed of the Internet adds velocity to the spread of ideas. Including bad ones.
So the Internet and social networking has extended your living room to a much wider audience. To the entire world ostensibly although really just to your online contacts factored by some multiplier of your friends’ friends. Unless of course your big game hunting photos go viral. And this makes many of you uncomfortable.
Doesn’t matter how uncomfortable you are. You have a role to play. Let me explain the 1-9-90 rule. It’s sometimes compared to the 80/20 pareto principle, although I would argue it’s much different because everyone participates in 1-9-90. I first read about it as part of teacher education studies. Let me start with that example. In a classroom, there is one teacher producing all the content. A handful, 9%, comment by raising their hand and asking questions. The point of the teaching studies is that the remaining 90%, sitting contently and following the conversations, are still participating. They learn by listening to the question and answer. Maybe they listen in math class, but ask questions in social studies where they have more confidence on the content.
Do you ever post content? Are you the 1%? The teacher? Do you ever comment? Are you the 9%, at least on some of your friend’s content if not to every post? A like is the same as commenting. I post content. Much of it is via my blog and I leverage various social networks as distribution channels. I think I prefer blogging for its ability to format text and pictures. People quick at observational humor are good on Twitter. I’d probably pay to subscribe to my sister-in-law’s tweets, she’s that clever.
Doesn’t matter if you aren’t the 1%. Don’t feel obligated. My focus is on the 90%. The 9% are still contributing, perhaps even with original content. This is where trolls tend to play, although trolls can be found in the 1% too. I suspect most of them are too dull though to produce original thought. They are nothing though if not confident and steadfast in their beliefs. I try to avoid trolls but will find myself in heated debates with marginally more cordial but equally unyielding commenters.
I never actually care about winning a debate with the commenter though. I don’t expect to change someone’s fundamental beliefs. Not without hitting them over the head with a hammer. My audience is always the 90%. The much larger audience reading the comments. Some are still forming their opinions. That’s why they’re reading the comments. They find it interesting. And that’s why it’s important to remain respectful and if possible, write well-reasoned arguments. But for the 90%, not the 9%. Screw the 9%, they’re a bunch of asshats anyway. I would know.
Sorry this post is so long. I have the day off from work. Do you see where I’m going with this? You might not be an original content producer. You might not even comment. But you are being influenced by online commentary. I can say that because you’re reading this. I can even suggest you might be more influenced online than by your television because this year Cyber Monday might just exceed Black Friday purchases. Don’t be a troll, but don’t get turned off by all the rhetoric either. Understand that you’re a participant whether you comment or not. The world is a stage and you’re on it.