Opinion Columns & Blogs

June 28, 2009

Vasché: A troll is a troll is a troll is a troll

When I was a little boy, I was scared to death of trolls. I think my fear came from fairy tales that had those mean little troublemakers who lived under bridges and threatened to harm anyone who tried to cross without paying a hefty toll.

I remember being afraid whenever we went someplace -- a park, a garden, a trail -- that had a footbridge. I was quite relieved when I learned that trolls were make-believe, that they didn't really exist except in folklore and fairy tales.

Today, 50-plus years later, I've discovered that trolls do indeed exist -- and they're in our midst. These days they don't live under bridges, although some of them may have crawled out from under a rock. But they're threatening little troublemakers, just like those fairy-tale mini-monsters that scared me to death.

I first learned about modern-day trolls in a Web-based course on social networking I'm taking. In an article titled "The Trouble With Trolls," author Sean O'Driscoll explains that "trolls will hijack conversations with off-topic and often outrageous claims on controversial topics."

If you ever read blogs or story comments on our modbee.com site, you know what he means.

Trolls do what they do for different reasons, O'Driscoll continues. Some have a grudge against you; some have a grudge against a group of other community members; some have a grudge against everything; and some are just plain obnoxious.

And, O'Driscoll writes, trolls never change. "A troll is a troll is a troll is a troll is a troll -- you do not have the power to bring them from dark to light.

"In the end," he says, "the single best tactic for managing trolls (and hardest to do, it seems) is ignoring them."

You don't have to log on to the Web to see trolls at work. They play their divisive little games in letters to the editor, on call-in talk shows and at public meetings. Sometimes -- gasp -- they even run for office; and, sometimes -- double gasp -- they actually get elected. Fortunately, at least in these parts, they usually last only a single term before voters come to their senses and boot them out on their sorry little bottoms.

Citizen involvement is critical to our system of government, whether at the local, state or national level.

As such, well-intentioned civic critics -- those who raise honest concerns and push for positive change -- play a critical role in our participatory democracy.

But trolls?

They take their rights of free speech and a free press and selfishly use and abuse them to create chaos. We have enough of that in these turbulent times without these mean-spirited, small-minded people creating dissension and division for no positive purpose.

What we need to meet today's challenges are civil dialogue, cooperation and consensus-building that result in identifying and implementing solutions that serve the common good -- none of which is part of a troll's DNA.

Why talk about trolls on this Sunday morning?

As you know from the accompanying editorial, another election is just around the corner.

More than ever, we need quality people -- as noted above, men and women of character, competence, commitment and courage -- to step forward and run for the council, school board and special district seats that will be on the ballot in November.

They don't need to see eye to eye on every issue; in fact, different perspectives and positions are healthy. But they do need to share a strong commitment to work together for the common good.

As for the trolls, they'll be out there, stirring up trouble and maybe even running for office.

We need to know they're around, but, as O'Driscoll writes, the best thing we can do is ignore them.

After all, a troll is a troll is a troll is a troll is a troll.

Vasché, The Bee's editor and senior vice president, can be reached at mvasche@modbee.com or 209-578-2356.

Related content