I’ve encountered a lot of trollish behavior online, including the subspecies fixated on the protection of abusive speech. “Watch out,” they cry, “if we’re not careful, PC culture (or some other bogeyman) is going to convince the government to limit or repeal the First Amendment!”
There’s a fallacy at work here. Let’s apply Occam’s Razor (as I like to do when it comes to trollish fear-mongering) to this concern: is it more likely that the government will “come for your free speech,” or that you will face social consequences enforced by your fellow citizens?
Yes, the latter is much more likely. Indeed, it happens all the time. The reactions of the trollish are surprising or not surprising, depending on your perspective on this subject.
Truth and Consequences
When called out for being abusive of others online, the trollish often throw up their hands and declare: “Hey, I’m just speaking my truth. I’m keeping it real. I’m saying what’s on my mind.”
Great, good for you. You do you. Just remember the very laws of nature state that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is echoed across many aspects of reality. Just as this is a law of physics, it is a law of human discourse. In case this wasn’t clear, let me put it this way: it is natural for those you abuse to feel the instinct to strike back. It’s natural for the attacked to become angry and defensive.
It amazes me how shocked the trolls become when they face a backlash. They even use it as a slander against their “uppity” victims. For example: “Oh, here’s the ‘tolerant’ Left,” sneer the trollishly conservative, when faced with the ire of liberals they’ve abused. This reaction reeks of a schoolyard bully who expects victims to remain docile and compliant. Sorry, Biff, George McFly is finally making a fist and hitting you back.
So, trollish folk: while it is unlikely the government is going to legally restrict your speech any time soon, it is much more likely you will face social repercussions for your verbal violence. I think this is perfectly reasonable because frankly we should all be incentivized to return public discourse to some semblance of civility.
Translation: if you shit-talk people, stop being surprised when they return the favor. Stop wondering why women avoid you. Oh, and if you carry a tiki torch at a racist rally, keep expecting your photo to appear across the Internet. It’s the least you deserve. Note that this is not about revenge, but rather the justice of being held accountable for your actions.
The Kindness of Strangers
Let’s admit it: Facebook and other social media contribute to violent communication, because the snarky comment gets the likes, while compassionate speech is “boring.” Opinion is often pawned off as fact. Limited post sizes necessitate oversimplification of ideas. To top it all off, there’s the obvious lack of non-verbal cues like vocal tone and body language, so there’s lots of room for misinterpretation. Based on all of the above, I think we can all agree there’s still no replacement for good-old face-to-face communication.
But since social media is most likely not going anywhere for a while, we need volunteers who are willing to champion the cause of civil discourse. This will be a lucky development for the trollish, who will benefit from the kindness of strangers. I have no doubt more and more people will eventually step up to elevate modern communication above its current muddy state. Many of us are getting sick and tired of feeling shitty about the division in today’s society.
So, to all those who still insist on being trollish, you’re probably going to reap some social rewards you really don’t deserve. You’re welcome in advance. Maybe you can return the favor someday, once you rediscover your humanity.