Trolls, drama queens, and your time

April Hamilton had a recent post about getting into a fight on-line and feeling like she was finally being herself! And it turns out that crazy Ewan Morrison (brace yourself--this is a shocker) likes to fight people on Twitter! And they like to fight him back!

Le sigh.

I know some writers are fairly new to on-line socializing (or on-line socializing outside their real-life social circles), which means that they are new to on-line fights. I was an early Browncoat; back in the Days of Yore when Firefly was just a show that had been cancelled after half a season and had no geek cred whatsoever, we were actively and repeatedly targeted for on-line harassment by variety of groups (fans of other shows, random assholes who thought we should just shut up and go home, etc.). So I know quite a bit about on-line fights.

I'll tell you something about on-line fights: They are almost never undertaken in good faith.

What do I mean by that? Well, let's say I honestly think X and you honestly think Y, and we disagree. We could debate why I think X is right and why you think Y is right. Maybe one of us would change the other's mind, maybe that wouldn't happen, but that would be the end of it.

But that's boring!!! Neither of us is going to be an Internet fuckwad if we stick to a civilized discussion of the issues!

What usually happens is more like this: You honestly think Y. I don't actually care (the vast majority of Firefly trolls back then had never seen the show and had absolutely no opinion about it), but I feel like having a fight--maybe my boss treated me badly earlier today, maybe I'm 12, maybe I'm an undiagnosed and unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic. So I say, "Y? What kind of fuckwit likes Y!?! X is the only way to go!!!!! Anyone who doesn't like X should be shot and their body used as a latrine!"

Now, that's much more exciting! We could go for hours...days...even (and I've seen this happen) YEARS!!!! You could get a posse together, I could get a posse together, and we could avoid the painful business growing up and moving forward with our lives indefinitely!

And we could even brand ourselves this way, which is what Morrison is in all likelihood doing. Joe Konrath gleefully cops to being combative for his own purposes. It works for political pundits: Every time I read someone who writes "I can't believe what Rush Limbaugh/Ted Rall just said!!!" I roll my eyes--being an outrageous asshole is their job.

If it's not your job, and if you're not really getting anything out of it (and I mean really getting something out of it, not just an adrenaline surge), you're better off just moving on. You have better things to do with your time--or at least I hope you do.

I'm not saying that you can't be yourself or that you shouldn't stand up for yourself or that you should condone harassment (most sites have "report abuse" buttons, and you should use them). But the best way to do these things is usually not by engaging in endless rounds of argument with someone who will say quite literally anything to keep the fight going. (This is called "feeding trolls"--they just get more obnoxious because you're giving them what they want.) I thnk that's what people new to on-line socializing don't understand: Ninety-nine percent of the time, the fight itself is the point for these people--they don't want it ever to end, and they certainly are NEVER going to say, "Gee, yeah! Come to think of it, you're right!"