Dear Drama Observers,
During my middle school years, my dad and I would take our boat to a nearby lake and troll for fish. We’d put shiny lures on the ends of our lines and move at slow speeds through what we hoped were Bass-infested waters. When the fish were biting, trolling was great. But when fish didn’t bite, trolling was no fun at all. It was then that I became aware of the principle: Trollers need fish to make trolling worthwhile.
Fast forward to the social media age in which “trolling” has taken on new meaning. Dr. Google defines it this way:
Trolling is defined as creating discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community. Basically, a social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users.
In our social media “lake,” the principle I learned as a kid finds a current application: Social media trollers need bait-biting users to make trolling worthwhile. Nothing stocks a lake with “fish” like a good crisis, and we’re currently in a crisis, the likes of which our nation has rarely seen.
Like Drama People who need Drama Participants for their dramas to succeed, social media trolling fails when users don’t bite the bait. People staying at home and maintaining their social distance are in no less need of social connections. So, we connect the only way we can—virtually with friends, family, co-workers, or faith community members. We’re online more and are thus more likely to bite the bait that trollers throw out.
With the pandemic as our context, let’s look at three ways in which we’re all susceptible to getting trolled and then three features of the trollers themselves.
Three Susceptibilities (What Makes the Bait Shiny)
- Low Tolerance for Ambiguity
Let’s face it, nobody knows what will happen next, how long this thing will last, what course it will take, how and when the economy gets restored, etc., etc. Most of us prefer certainty over ambiguity and, right now, certainty is in short supply.
Into this context steps the troller who presumes to have it all figured out. They can tell you why the pandemic happened, who was at fault, who’s now manipulating it for sinister purposes, and what we should now do. Their lure of certainty is awfully tempting bait to bite.
- High Tolerance for Quick and Easy Answers
Another feature of human nature is to be drawn to solutions that are quick and simple versus those that are complex and take time. Trollers exploit that human nature preference.
“But on the whole,” Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said recently, “we are right to be wary of people who claim great tragedies as the confirmation of pet theories and previous prophesies. The convenience of an argument is often inversely proportional to its credibility.”
The lure of easy answers may be all hook and no food.
- Natural Myopia
We’re all prone to disregard dangers until they affect us personally. In the 1973 documentary series, World at War, a German woman was being interviewed about her experience of living in pre-war Germany. She recalled,
I think everything that came to us when we were living in Germany came very gradually. That was perhaps the way Hitler managed everything. It came upon us rather drip by drip. And it was only when a specific he did hit you personally that you realized what was actually going on.
To illustrate, she described a time when her son was ill and their pediatrician came to the house and stayed up all night long with her son, providing treatment and monitoring and his condition. As he was preparing to leave the next morning, he asked the mom if she’d like for him to continue to treat her son and she replied, “Well, for goodness sakes, of course. Why would you ask me that?” He then told her he’d been informed by the authorities that Jewish doctors were no longer permitted to put their hands on Arian children and, therefore, he could no longer be her son’s physician.
A troller’s pet theory may sound credible until you personally know someone who’s had the virus.
Three Features (Characteristics of the Trollers Themselves)
It seems that most trollers are angry individuals. They’re geysers of vitriol who spew when challenged. If you ever post an opinion, the troller will offer an angry retort. If you state your disagreement, he’ll then give you a piece of his mind he can’t afford to lose. And the longer the testy back-and-forth continues, the more gratified he’ll be because the trolling worked.
I’ve yet to encounter trollers who weren’t full of themselves. They tend to be condescending, lacking in humility, and have it all figured out. You can always tell a troller, but you can’t tell him much.
The troller will accuse you of the very things that characterize them. You’ll be labeled as ignorant, prideful, pathetically naïve, and as one possessing sinister motivations.
In closing, let me say this:
As Mrs. Tuna repeatedly cautioned her son, Charlie the Tuna, “Don’t bite the bait.”
Till next week.