Imagine a violent neo-nazi skinhead spewing profanity-laced anti-Jewish statements on a Jewish Holocaust remembrance forum. Internet trolls are a serious problem. Putting it simply, Internet trolls are people that deliberately post offensive comments on-line with the sole intention of upsetting others. The flip side of Internet trolling occurs when someone simply making a statement that others disagree with, is falsely accused of being such a troll.
If I make a statement on a forum that few agree with, does that make me a troll? It depends on my intention. If I am making the statement with the sole purpose of annoying others, yes I am a troll. If however, I am simply trying to get people to look at the topic being discussed in another manner as an attempt to get others to think critically and question their beliefs, no I am not a troll. In the latter case I am a non-conformist who is not controlled by group think. I have the courage to take a stand on an unpopular view.
It is often difficult to gauge someone’s intent. This is particularly the case on the Internet where there are no body language or tonal indicators that we generally use to help us identify intent. Because it is difficult to determine intent does not give people the right to assume a person’s intent merely to enforce group think.
When someone dares to pose an unpopular but legitimate argument to the group and that person is called a troll, the person is being attacked instead of his argument. In other words, the ad hominem abusive logical fallacy is committed. Ironically, such behavior is a regular occurrence on mainstream “skeptic” groups that purportedly encourage “critical thinking”.
When someone is called a troll when they are not, an inflammatory comment is made that is upsetting to the person. Sound familiar? This negative feeling is compounded if a group of people gang up on the person. The group is actually engaging in the very same sort of behavior they are falsely accusing the “troll” of.
When a group can shut down further discussion outside the groups’ belief system simply by someone saying “don’t feed the trolls”, we have the employment of the thought terminating cliché. The thought terminating cliché remember is a commonly used phrase used to quell cognitive dissonance by dismissing dissent or justifying fallacious logic. So when the majority of the group hold certain beliefs and then these beliefs are questioned, stress and discomfort ensue. Cognitive dissonance. A critical thinker would welcome questioning as a way to advance learning. They would want their mistakes exposed instead of remaining hidden. They would deal with their cognitive dissonance by either refuting the argument or accepting it as valid and admitting their mistake. The uncritical thinker would resort to low-brow ad-hominems and thought terminating clichés instead of reason. It you want to find pathological skeptics, look out for the thought terminating trolls.
Michael Fullerton is a software designer based in Vernon BC Canada. His writing explores and exposes pathological skepticism and the corporate pseudo-science it tends to serve. He also has an intense interest in organizational psychopathy, or how psychopaths rise up in organizational structures of all kinds. As a pantheist he strives to be part of the movement to unify spirituality and science.