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Barbarians At The Gate

Do you know what the most crucial component of social media is?

In a world where the internet provides us with news every hour of every day and countless views on every subject, it’s the ability to leave a comment that has proven so invaluable to the average person online. It is the means by which we can, among other things, challenge established ideas and openly question political and religious dogma. The anonymity that most online comment platforms provide allow us to ask hard questions and discuss social issues without fear of being ostracized or ridiculed. We are able to interact with people around the globe for the free exchange of information. There are few tools that can give one person so much ability to have their voice heard. It may be the one of the few instruments for social change that rivals the effectiveness of the ballot box.

The ability to leave a comment, however, is also perhaps the most insidious and destructive component of social media. It gives the angry, spiteful, bigoted and ignorant among us all a method to spew hatred for its own sake. Blogs, online media outlets, Facebook, Twitter, digital newspapers, etc. have all had to contend with this problem. It’s a new kind of predator that exists only in cyberspace: the troll. We all know what one is. The dictionary refers to a troll as an ugly creature from Scandinavian mythology that typically lived in caves or under bridges and was rarely helpful to humans. In some stories, the troll would exact some kind of task or toll from unsuspecting travelers who dared cross his path.

It’s no wonder that the troll was the perfect choice to describe the vilest inhabitants of the internet. Wikipedia describes an “internet troll” as a person “who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.” Suddenly, the verb “trolling” takes on a much more sinister meaning than just quietly searching for fish. It becomes synonymous with people searching for conversations to infect with hate and rancor.

There is nothing good about a troll, not one thing, so I’m utterly astonished at how many there seem to be out there. Some people will read articles posted online and in their own twisted minds conclude the writer is making a personal attack on them. Safe and secure in our Liquid Crystal Fortresses, many of us have become unbelievably thin-skinned.  So it was that I found myself in awe lately while reading my own comments page. It’s unnerving and I believe everybody who takes the time to post or reply to comments on a blog has had this feeling. You write something, not even anything incendiary or controversial, and then POW! You feel like someone reached through the screen with and swung at you with a baseball bat. Wow. Unsettling, isn’t it? So as a public service to one and all, let’s get a few things crystal clear, shall we?

There isn’t a single blogger I know, amateur or professional, who doesn’t appreciate positive and grateful commentary. Even comments from those who disagree with you but have something intelligent and logical to say are of great use because in no small measure, that’s how we learn things. That’s what democracy is all about. As for myself, I like to think I’m a fairly tough cookie. I really don’t care what you say about me personally. I’m a big boy who understands that writing about politics will subject you to a lot of abuse. But even if you disagree with everything I write, making a strong and compelling argument will get you a lot further and a lot more respect than just calling me a f***ing idiot.

As to my most recent blog, I find it wildly ironic that so many supporters of Donald Trump, a man who insults everybody under the sun, uses 5th grade name-calling and boorish tweets as the centerpieces of his campaign, has put forth no serious or credible policy proposals and as I previously wrote, “makes racism, sexism, misogyny, nihilism and ultra-nationalism the pillars of his candidacy” are upset when somebody says their support of him is stupid. It amazes me just as much when people perceive I am actually telling not to vote for whatever third-party candidate they want to. It’s your right as an American to vote for whomever you please so long as they meet the qualifications set forth in Article II of the Constitution. What I do state unequivocally is that such candidates have no mathematical hope of winning the Presidency and that is an inescapable fact. In any case, if I bruised delicate feelings, then mea culpa. I’m not trying to change your mind. That appears to be a lost cause which is why the piece was written to begin with. I will, however, point out how completely absurd your support for Donald Trump is or how a vote for anyone else under in the present political system will accomplish nothing…at least not this year.

On the other hand, there were far too many individuals who made comments, and not at me, but at others that crossed an intolerable red line. There is a maxim on the internet of “Please Do Not Feed The Trolls”. Good advice. Well, just this once, I’m going to. So here it is.

Do not call any woman who reads and comments online, or anywhere else for that matter, the C-word. Ever.

It’s galling that somebody needs to make this plain to grown people and to do it this clearly and forcefully. It apparently has to be done, though, so I may as well do it. That is a repugnant and disgusting term and you are scum if you use it. Believe me, I’m no choir boy when it comes to cursing up a blue streak. I freely admit there are plenty of times I need to wash my mouth out with soap. But on a public forum, what kind of person in God’s name uses that word in so cavalier a fashion toward people they don’t even know? I know what kind does and probably so do you. They are little people, in mind and everywhere else, who are threatened by intelligent women with an opinion regardless of what that opinion is. For context, see Scott Baio. And by the way, you shouldn’t even use it when talking about the candidate, either. Granted she is in politics and is therefore is open to scorn and derision from her detractors. Love her or hate her, there is no doubt she can take care of herself. But I don’t care if you’re madder than holy hell about whatever offense you think she has committed or whatever character flaw you perceive she may have. Were you raised in a barn?

Some readers of late may have been put off or offended by the liberal use (forgive the pun) of the F-Bomb and my sarcastic tone; that it perhaps detracted from the argument or obscured what were otherwise good points. Those are very legitimate critiques and I heard those of you felt that way. Fair enough. To be honest, however, being a little profane and snarky was kind of the point. Given the subject matter, my aim was to shake the reader up and I seem to have succeeded.  But don’t believe for a second that gives anyone carte blanche to be abusive and needlessly vulgar. It’s like people using the N-word when talking about President Obama. It was rotten in 2008 in and it’s rotten now. And while we’re on the subject, do not use racial or ethnic slurs at people you think are supporting Hillary Clinton simply because they are black or brown because yeah, I’ve had to read that garbage along with everyone else. Do you talk to people like this in their face? Probably not, but if you do, I suggest having your Thorazine intake adjusted.

I want to get your attention because with so many pundits on TV and online who analyze absolutely everything about this year’s election, it’s hard to make even one singular point unless you metaphorically slap somebody in the face. I want to use words like a proverbial bucket of ice water and pour it over the reader’s head when discussion, debate, reasonable arguments and well, just being polite haven’t worked. When facts are dismissed as “your opinion”, “talking points” or just “lies”, I will sometimes write like my keyboard is on fire because like so many of you, I also get angry.

But I will never deign to use bile and filth aimed randomly and applied at point-blank range like a shotgun to demean people who are just trying to put their two cents in. If everybody were to think and speak a little more sensibly and calmly, for lack of better terms, maybe the climate of political discussion everyone finds so abhorrent wouldn’t be so negatively charged. It would be so much easier to make our stands as voters and citizens. How’s THAT for a contrary idea?

Aristotle once said “Anybody can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

In short, if you’re just a troll, if you can’t stop hating and denigrating ordinary people using the most base and contemptible terms possible because they disagree with you, then yes, you are a moron, you are stupid and yes, you deserve every rotten epithet I can muster. Your bridge is over there. Go crawl back under it.

NOTE: This was dedicated to readers who made comments and then were verbally abused. You didn’t deserve to be. The offending trolls have had their comments deleted.