Once upon a time, when the idea for this blog first crept up, I dreamed of having a guest video segment with my friend Kim. We were going to call in “Unpopular Opinions with Kim,” and it was essentially going to be a three-minute rant/conversation about something that Kim didn’t like, understand, or see the point in, that many other people seemed to enjoy. Topics under consideration included LulaRoe patterned leggings and the legitimacy of the Canadian Tuxedo as fashion. Why have these videos not happened? Well, because life happens instead, and there’s a big difference between sharing unpopular opinions between friends and sharing unpopular opinions with the whole internet. At least there should be. Though if you’ve breezed through any form of social media lately, you’ve likely realized this is rarely the case!
The thing about “Unpopular Opinions with Kim” was that it was going to be framed in the context of being a “challenging” opinion (or at least something that most people would disagree with!) that would try to make you think. It was also going to be on various pop culture phenomena, and therefore not truly controversial topics. This is opposed to the more popular context of opinions presented on social media as “this is my opinion and, therefore, irrefutable fact and the only thing I’ll even consider discussing as relevant.” This attitude makes people with different opinions (aka: different versions of their own irrefutable facts) upset, and they often take to the comment sections to let people know about it. I’ve found that in these comment “conversations,” people can argue very passionately, and with much vulgarity and bluster, about something that they’d likely not stand up for quite as strongly in a face to face conversation. But that doesn’t always take the sting, bitterness, and resentment out of the comments, and we’re learning through today’s young people that the anxiety, stress, and other mental health implications of said online confrontations are real and tangible.
I once suggested various ways to clean up your social media presence, one of which was to purge your friend list of the people who post content that’s intentionally inflammatory, prejudiced, or derogatory. Doing this has drastically changed my social media experience for the better. However, recently I’ve noticed another small subset of people who I believe it’s time to purge as well: people who have nothing nice to say, and so instead go intentionally looking for nasty things to say. I suppose these are what people call “trolls,” and I guess I’m glad it took me this long to be fully exposed to it. But wow! Now that I’m paying attention, why is “trolling” people a thing, and how the heck do we come back from the brink of all out, savage, self-esteem bashing? Because I’m convinced it’s going to destroy the world!
First and foremost, if you don’t believe this is a real thing with real consequences, I recommend this excellent TED Talk. It’ll just take a few minutes and will put the whole issue into better perspective than I will.
So why do I think this behavior is going to destroy the world? Because every person involved is being broken down. The “troll” leaves a nasty comment for his/her “target,” and that person is broken down by the hurtful words, but I have to believe the troll is broken down too, or maybe just already broken past their own self-awareness. The situations I see play out on social media are ridiculous! Troll X doesn’t like Personality Y…so Troll X FOLLOWS AND LIKES Personality Y’s profile solely for the purpose of complaining about and bashing it every single day.
Apply this behavior to other situations, and we’d consider it certifiable. I don’t like cooked carrots, so I don’t eat cooked carrots. Imagine if I didn’t like cooked carrots, but chose to eat them everyday solely for the purpose of complaining about how much I didn’t like cooked carrots. Imagine you were dating someone who you no longer found attractive and didn’t treat you well, but you kept dating him/her solely so you could complain about how terrible of a partner her/she was. We send people to therapy over that kind of behavior. And yet, somehow internet trolls thrive, buoyed by a society that likes to talk about mental health when it’s convenient, but also refers to people who have “too many” feelings or sympathies as “snowflakes.”
Scrolling through my instagram account for this post, I browsed the comments on a few very popular accounts: Kensington Palace, Barack Obama, Gigi Gorgeous, and Ryan Reynolds. Within just a few minutes I found multiple comments suggesting that Prince Harry should convince the Duchess of Sussex to get an abortion because the baby is probably not his, multiple comments calling her trash, multiple references to the ‘N word’ on the Obama account, significant gay bashing on the Gigi Gorgeous account, and a surprising number of generally negative “you suck” comments on a happy birthday post from Ryan Reynolds. What are we doing to each other? Why? The posts on these accounts weren’t even about opinions that the commenters may have disagreed with. They were normal, “day in the life” posts that got blasted simply because someone decided to spew poison into the world. I’ll ask again. What are we doing to each other and why? It’s easy to hide behind a keyboard with a screen name and put out garbage. Are we really no better than this?
As a teacher, there are all kinds of catchy, nuanced ways to teach about internet behavior and social tendencies. There are acronyms and five point questions to consider how a post might be interpreted. I tend to think it’s much simpler than that. As the title suggests, maybe we have to go back to the same rule we teach kindergarteners about acting with their classmates. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything on social media! Assuming that it can’t be that simple, then I ask you to consider two different, and yet equally simplistic, criteria for what you’d post or respond to. One: put your name on it. Your real name. The one that will show up in a Google search if your mother, your spouse, or your employer looks for it. If you won’t do that, you probably shouldn’t post it! Two: ask yourself if it passes the “say it out loud” test. My pastor has a tremendous line he likes to use about things that people think, but then choose to keep to themselves. Some people may call this having a filter, he calls it the say it out loud test. If it’s not something you would say to the face of the person you’re commenting on, in all seriousness, irregardless of the consequences, then don’t type it in the comments either.
If you’re the kind of person that would walk up to Obama and call him an “n-word,” or the Duchess of Sussex and tell her to get an abortion, or Gigi Gorgeous and call her a faggot, or just about anybody else and spit poison, I will not only purge you from my social media, I will purge you from my life in general. I don’t need that kind of negativity. I would implore you to scrub that kind of garbage from your life as well.
And to the troll who left me a blog comment…one that never got published publicly on the blog, but bumped this post up the publishing list…I hope you find something more productive to do with your time, and something happier to do with your life. I can only imagine how desperate you must be if you managed to stumble into my little corner of the internet and think that upending my day was a worthwhile use of you day. I guess I’m flattered I was worth paying attention to. But in truth, I’ve been called far worse by much better people.