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Author Topic: When does arguing become trolling?  (Read 4188 times)

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Offline Killing Time

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When does arguing become trolling?
« on: January 8, 2014, 05:44:49 PM »
I'm an argumentative soul.
There's little I find quite as compelling as the cut and thrust of no holds barred verbal sparring. I happily engage in it with friends, acquaintances and complete strangers, in real life over a pint and on faceless social media. I find it compelling, but I would never have considered myself a troll.
I don't deliberately engage in an argument just to piss people off. I genuinely only comment if I think I have a point to make, and if someone is game enough to reply then I feel justified in continuing the debate until one or other backs off in good order (or disarray as the case may be).
I'm generally quite polite, refrain from personal attacks or insults, and I'd like to think that I am open minded enough to be swayed by superior arguments rather than just wading in with little thought beyond the potential carnage.

Now I'm fully aware of the limitations of social media, but there have been a few times recently where a friend has posted a link on facebook that I've felt suitably moved by to negatively comment on.
I've felt perfectly justified in this, after all surely the power of social media is not just in getting maximum exposure for whatever you're trying to plug, but also putting diverse demographics into close proximity where they might be exposed to counter-arguments from beyond their usual social sphere.

Does this really constitute as trolling?
The post is on a public board and thus subject to public scrutiny and comment. Just because someone with deeply entrenched views happens to dislike my analysis of something, does it make it wrong for me to post?
If I post once and that view is then attacked does it count as trolling if I defend it vigorously rather than sensing I'm in enemy territory and backing off?

I can't help feeling that troll has become a convenient label to stick on people who's views we'd just rather not have to listen to.
It's used by people who don't like having their opinions challenged in any way, and yet rather than get off the internet and back into their parochial little meat space lives they'd rather shout out that they're offended and try to wall off a little patch of cyber-space in which nothing but safe self-affirmation is permitted.

Am I wrong?

Offline starstrider

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #1 on: January 8, 2014, 06:08:59 PM »
There probably isn't really a clear-cut answer to this...

I feel like the issue with social media/comment posts/etc is that it's easy to start an argument with someone who doesn't really want to engage, whereas that's a lot less likely to occur if you're in a room full of people. The facebook page/forum/whatever is public, so you're certainly /able/ to start an unsolicited argument (any particular rules of any particular site notwithstanding). I think context is important though. If it's a site dedicated to that sort of thing, and debate is expected or encouraged, that's one thing. If it's an open site and someone's going on about how their dead grandmother went to heaven, but you start debating the existence of heaven and start bringing up all the evils religions have had committed in their name, that's quite another thing (whether your view is justified or not... it's just kind of bad taste to start up that argument at that time with that person, simply because you disagree and have faith in your reasoning and convictions). Same deal but more realistic example: if I go to a LGBT support board that's public and start trying to politely argue that they're leading a hedonistic lifestyle that will lead them to hell, that's probably not very welcomed or appropriate.

I guess what I'm saying is it mostly comes down to tact, and whether the debate is welcomed or not (regardless of whether it's permitted or not). Obviously, some things are much more clearly inappropriate than others. Telling people on an LGBT support board they're going to hell? Inappropriate. Telling people on a FF7 fansite that it's overrated and FF6 was better? Much more appropriate, but still designed to provoke an argument on a site that may/may not be a reasonable forum for such arguments.

I would agree that it's a label that's liable to get thrown around a bit too easily, but I also think that there's a place and a time for having conversations that challenge my views.

I don't know the specifics of your thing beyond what was just said, so I certainly wouldn't feel qualified to say if you were acting "properly" or not. But, if I fill in the facts with slightly negative fictitious versions, I can see how your friend(s) might have been a bit annoyed and felt justified in using that label.
« Last Edit: January 8, 2014, 06:14:41 PM by starstrider »

Offline Killing Time

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #2 on: January 8, 2014, 06:23:07 PM »
I agree that it will typically be context specific.
I also accept that it's much easier to tell in a bar than on a random web page.

But I'd like to think I not that insensitive.
In reality the cases I've been involved with recently have followed a similar pattern, with me making a comment, and other people apparently willing to engage in proper debate.
Only some way down the page has the term troll been used, typically as someone has decided to storm off in a huff.

I just think this is disingenuous.
Either you're getting into a debate, in which case you need to be prepared to hear/read things you disagree with, or you're not, in which case I'll have said my piece and moved on.

Offline Spectral Arbor

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #3 on: January 8, 2014, 06:39:43 PM »
I'm 32 years old, and didn't really pick up the whole message board / forum thing until I was 28 or so. It is my understanding that "Trolling" is posting something you know will generate negative feedback, for the purpose of then [figuratively] bashing those people over the head with reasons that they are "wrong". You already have an opinion, and want to force it on other people. The post isn't made with the intent to "discuss", the intent is to angrily preach, for lack of a better term.

For example, let's say I'm Pro-choice, and decide to post about the good things that pro-choice policy leads to. If I'm doing that to inform, and am able to stick to professional, fact based arguments, then that isn't trolling, despite the probability that people are going to get hot under the collar. If my intention is to lure people into presenting arguments that I feel I can crush using whatever means are at my disposal, particularly ridiculing different belief systems, then that's trolling.

I suppose in the end, only the poster knows their intentions, and even then, some people aren't all that self-reflective to realize the nature of what they're doing. Posting to be provocative is one thing. Posting to begin a genuinely discussable topic isn't trolling, even if it's hotly contended.

Posting for the purpose of belittling someone else, even in a structured and controlled manner, is Trolling. Assuming that isn't the case, things are probably good.

NOTE: This isn't to say that this will typically be in good taste, or appropriate, only that I feel a poster's intention is the primary determining factor in a case of Trolling accusations. I think the term Trolling has become a buzzword that people use to describe any type of unwelcome debate / argument / provocative statement / anything they don't agree with. Anyone that disagrees with me is a Troll. ;)

Offline The GrimSqueaker

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #4 on: January 8, 2014, 07:26:23 PM »
Your intent gives you the answer. Do you actually want a discussion or to sow confusion and discord? Arguing just to have an argument is a form of trolling. Deliberately going to places where you know your discussion is going to cause disruption is a form of trolling. Take a previous comment, if you're pro-life and you deliberately seek out pro-choice forums to start "discussion" then you're more likely trolling than not. Rebutting a given point is one thing, starting a "discussion" purely to gain counter responses would entirely be another.

Since the label is subjective you can be considered a troll when you really didn't mean to be and vice versa be involved in discussions when all you are doing is looking to sow confusion/discord and people haven't yet noticed.

Take concern trolling, where you present yourself as agreeing with a general argument but try and involve excuses or aspects to derail the conversion. "We've got to think about the children" is a classic tactic there.
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Offline Killing Time

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #5 on: January 9, 2014, 04:45:21 AM »
Your intent gives you the answer.

I'm not sure it does.
I certainly enjoy an argument, but I don't seek out argument for the sake of it, I merely don't shy away from it when presented.
Likewise, you can get into open discussion with the noblest of intents and still be labelled a troll by someone who doesn't like your line.

I do agree that it's easy to identify if you intend to be a troll, but it's far less clear cut when the intent isn't there.

I suspect, on reflection, that some of my activity could easily be considered trolling.
No matter how well intentioned, some people really don't like you muddying their waters, and my years on the internet should have given me a better radar for this.
Perhaps I'm getting grumpier with age, and more willing to get publicly annoyed with idiocy.

I do still feel that use of troll is becoming more and more seen as a get out of jail free card by people who are too lazy (or simply too incapable) to defend their views.
And more importantly, if people don't want an argument then they just shouldn't engage aggressively.
If my initial post is negative but neutral/polite in tone, and the first responses are vigourous rebuttals then surely that simply invites a counter-rebuttal. If the initial response is less aggressive then that sets the pattern for the whole exchange.
In this case who is actually being the troll? Or is this simply an example of unintentionally feeding an unintentional troll?

Offline Underhand

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #6 on: January 9, 2014, 05:32:17 AM »
Not every bad act on the internet is trolling.  Trolling is conduct which is:

1.  a deliberate act;
2.  designed to manipulate a negative emotional reaction in the target;
3.  with the goal of manipulating the target to act in response;
4.  in a way that is amusing for the troll; and
5.  for the dominant purpose of amusing the troll.

A discussion can degenerate into a retarded exchange of insults without there being any trolling.  That's probably just regular flaming.

Similarly, a person who is part of the debate can resort to cheap and intellectually dishonest tactics to win an argument, but provided their goal is to win the argument rather than be amused at the anger/resentment or general discord they are causing, that isn't trolling.  They are still acting like a mindless fleshy pawn of the Illuminati, but I wouldn't call them a troll.

.

Offline Killing Time

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #7 on: January 9, 2014, 06:38:51 AM »
OK then.
Does getting into a public argument on the internet constitute as a "bad act" regardless as whether it falls within boundaries of trolling?
In fact how is arguing in general perceived?
Am I a bad person for enjoying a good debate if someone else finds it distressing.

As I said, I really try hard not to be a dick, not to engage in flaming or random insults.
If I waded into every argument with "That's a nice opinion you have there; it's such a shame that it's wrong!"*, then I could see why people would get upset.
But disagreement should never be considered a bad thing in and of itself, surely?

*and believe me, sometimes I'd love to.

Offline Underhand

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #8 on: January 9, 2014, 07:19:55 AM »
It depends.  I don't know the exact circumstances that inspired you to start this thread, but:

At one end of the spectrum, a discussion that involves a frank exchange of opposing views based on logic and reason where everyone keeps their egos in check is glorious.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is nothing so tedious as when you go to a dinner party, where everyone just wants to relax and enjoy each others company except for that one bored mindless fleshy pawn of the Illuminati who wants to turn every topic of conversation into an argument.

Sometimes people like the mental stimulation, sometimes people just want to chill out.
« Last Edit: January 9, 2014, 07:23:34 AM by Underhand »

Offline Killing Time

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #9 on: January 9, 2014, 08:07:10 AM »
Well the specific threads that got me thinking were where I posted on links that had been posted by friends who had clearly intended to open them for general discussion.

One was an opinion piece on fracking, and my first post was to gently correct a wildly inaccurate claim made by a rabid green.
(as a professional geologist my views on fracking are complicated and highly self conflicted - but I'm quite well informed)
Cue a torrent of abuse and accusations of being an industry funded troll...

Number two was an interesting article on sexism.
Again it was very thought provoking but also made a few sweeping generalisations (of the all men are potential rapists variety) which I felt were counter productive. I pointed these out.
Cue torrent of abuse and accusations of being a misogynistic troll.

Finally, the most recent one, and the one that inspired me to post here, is an argument that's brewing in North Wales about a child who was denied medicine by a pharmacist because the prescription was written in Welsh and he couldn't understand it.
The law is quite clear that prescriptions should be bilingual because actually most people in Wales can't speak Welsh, so it was clearly the doctor's fault for getting sloppy with the prescription. I pointed this out...
... cue torrent of abuse and accusations of being a racist troll.

Now I'm pretty sure I'm neither sexist nor racist, and if I were industry funded I'd currently be skiing in Switzerland rather than posting comments on the internet.
The OPs were clearly open for comment and debate, and yet some  people feel that open comment only means open to their view. But I suspect an opening gambit of "is this thread for open minded people or are we here for a circle jerk?" would be unnecessarily inflammatory.

Offline Benis

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #10 on: January 9, 2014, 08:39:39 AM »
I would say that generally speaking facebook and the like isn't really there for debates. People post links to article for lots of reasons, debating might be quite low on that list, "looking good" is probably a lot higher. You also have the case of political correctness working against you from your examples so calling you a troll will generally be met with approval from most passers by readers.

All in all, people tend not to be out on their different social media channels to have their views challenged and when people post stupid articles you have to consider that most likely they agree with what is stated and do not want that view to be shot down by people, especially when the view they express is considered to be the moral high ground (as is the case in all your examples). Is it trolling though? Not really but it still will be considered unpleasant. Perhaps you can try to be less frank about it and ask if they know about X and Y? (I don't think I have seen any of these examples you mentioned but since I know you I suspect it might have been a bit on the frank side :P)

Offline Killing Time

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #11 on: January 9, 2014, 10:16:10 AM »
Me? Frank?
Well maybe. ::)

I guess my concern is that I really don't want to be seen to be a troll or even particularly unpleasant.
But while I agree that a lot of people post stuff without ever expecting to be challenged, I also think that if people actually were challenged a bit more often then they might think about the stuff they post and develop an informed opinion.
It's much too easy to hide behind a term like troll, especially in cases like the ones I've stated where the moral high ground is black and white even though the reality is pretty murky.

Well lesson learned I guess.
Thanks for all the considered responses. I'm not sure I'll be able to resist in every case but I'll certainly be more circumspect in future.

Offline Irisado

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #12 on: January 9, 2014, 10:36:02 AM »
The key for me is whether the intention is to have a serious discussion and try to persuade people to change their views through the use of an informed opinion and/or evidence, or whether the intention is to provoke and annoy people just because you disagree with what they're saying.  Sometimes the line between the two is very difficult to tread on the internet.

The thing to remember about Facebook and Twitter is that the author is generally, although this is not true of all cases, looking for people to post comments saying 'yes you're right' or 'wow great article, I couldn't agree more' etc.  They want their own Facebook or Twitter page to just be an echo chamber through which to reinforce their own view of the world, rather than to have any preconceptions which they might have challenged.

There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with people, particularly if you think that their opinion is based on an interpretation of the facts which doesn't stand up to scrutiny, but the danger is that, on Facebook and Twitter in particular, you will be considered an interloper, who is rocking their world and their beliefs, and this is not what they use Facebook and Twitter for.
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Offline Killing Time

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #13 on: January 9, 2014, 11:31:23 AM »
The key for me is whether the intention is to have a serious discussion and try to persuade people to change their views through the use of an informed opinion and/or evidence, or whether the intention is to provoke and annoy people just because you disagree with what they're saying.  Sometimes the line between the two is very difficult to tread on the internet.

I always try to be persuasive. It's surprising just how few people are willing to be persuaded however.
I always tend to think that while I'm unlikely to persuade the person with whom I'm having the argument, I might be having an effect on people who are reading it. I consider that to be worthwhile.


Quote
The thing to remember about Facebook and Twitter is that the author is generally, although this is not true of all cases, looking for people to post comments saying 'yes you're right' or 'wow great article, I couldn't agree more' etc.  They want their own Facebook or Twitter page to just be an echo chamber through which to reinforce their own view of the world, rather than to have any preconceptions which they might have challenged.

It's usually quite obvious when this is the case, and I'm pretty cautious to steer clear.
In the cases mentioned however the articles have been links to an independent blog post or news site, so not an entrenched position of the OPs by any stretch.
Additionally, all of the most vehement abuse has come from secondary posters rather than the OP, who in two out of three cases have been good friends of mine who know I'm not deliberately starting a fight.

Quote
There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with people, particularly if you think that their opinion is based on an interpretation of the facts which doesn't stand up to scrutiny, but the danger is that, on Facebook and Twitter in particular, you will be considered an interloper, who is rocking their world and their beliefs, and this is not what they use Facebook and Twitter for.

My problem is that I think this is exactly what facebook and twitter should be for.
I'm not saying they should be a free-for-all troll fest by any stretch, but they're actually a very powerful tool to engage with people who you might never meet in RL.
Typically in discussions about such issues with mates in the pub you really end up preaching to the choir, and not only is that no fun, it's also totally pointless.

Anyway. I've now ducked out of the welsh language debate (which was ongoing) as I've been ganged up on by 5 or 6 hardcore welsh nationalists, and it's become quite nasty.
It's quite difficult to argue with someone who genuinely believes that it's reasonable to expect all shops operating in Wales to employ a translator at all times there isn't a native speaker on staff rather than oblige the doctor to write bilingual prescriptions.

Offline Irisado

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #14 on: January 9, 2014, 11:39:46 AM »
My problem is that I think this is exactly what facebook and twitter should be for.
I'm not saying they should be a free-for-all troll fest by any stretch, but they're actually a very powerful tool to engage with people who you might never meet in RL.
Typically in discussions about such issues with mates in the pub you really end up preaching to the choir, and not only is that no fun, it's also totally pointless.

That's just it though, people seem, based on what I know of how my friends use their Facebook pages, to want to use them as extensions of conversations with their friends who, for the most part, think in similar ways to them.  As a result, they neither want nor expect their personal Facebook or Twitter account to be a place for debate.  They're looking for confirmation that others think like they do.  It's a 'let me know that I'm not the only one who thinks like this' call out to the internet, not one to invite those with different points of view to join in the conversation.

Your expectation is that Facebook and Twitter should be like a forum where, if it's large enough, you'll always have different points of view on certain issues, but unless they're Facebook or Twitter accounts set up with the intention of being used to debate certain points (like the comments sections on certain websites for example), they don't really function in that way.
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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #15 on: January 9, 2014, 11:47:00 AM »
Hmm.
Not convinced.
If a friend posts a link on which I comment, and that comment is attacked by different people (mutual friends), surely this doesn't come under that remit at all.
The OP has acquiesced to the debate taking place on their page and the argument is between mutual friends who have just as much "claim" to the space as each other.

Offline Irisado

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #16 on: January 9, 2014, 11:52:20 AM »
Did the person who posted the link expect it provoke such disagreement though?  Most people I know post links thinking that their friends will all get behind them and agree with whatever stance the person who owns the Facebook account is promoting with respect to the link in question.

A lot of people don't like debate.  It makes them uncomfortable, especially if the people who they are debating with know more about the subject in question than they do, and their preconceived view may be challenged as a result.  It's a bit like a member of the Conservative party who I taught when he was a first year undergraduate who didn't want to accept, no matter what the evidence suggested, that there were any good points to the EU.  That's face to face debate in a seminar setting, so that's a bit different to what we're talking about here, but if people have difficulty with being challenged in real life, then they're going to be even less open to discussion on their own Facebook pages.
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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #17 on: January 9, 2014, 12:29:44 PM »
Did the person who posted the link expect it provoke such disagreement though?  Most people I know post links thinking that their friends will all get behind them and agree with whatever stance the person who owns the Facebook account is promoting with respect to the link in question.

The post was a completely comment free link to a neutral news article.
In truth when I pointed out the flaws in the argument it was me who was expecting to be agreed with.

Quote
A lot of people don't like debate.  It makes them uncomfortable, especially if the people who they are debating with know more about the subject in question than they do, and their preconceived view may be challenged as a result.  It's a bit like a member of the Conservative party who I taught when he was a first year undergraduate who didn't want to accept, no matter what the evidence suggested, that there were any good points to the EU.  That's face to face debate in a seminar setting, so that's a bit different to what we're talking about here, but if people have difficulty with being challenged in real life, then they're going to be even less open to discussion on their own Facebook pages.

Regardless of whether people like it, debate is an essential part of the functioning of society, and if flawed views are perpetually unchallenged then the fabric of society will suffer as a result.
Unfortunately, if we all live by the maxim that we will refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person then a lot of witless people will spread a dangerous level of dim-wittery.

Offline starstrider

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #18 on: January 9, 2014, 12:34:07 PM »
Good debate /is/ an essential part of a well functioning society, yes. But I'm with Irisado on this - I don't think it's an essential part of a well functioning face book page.

I don't really use facebook, so maybe I shouldn't comment. But from the people I know with facebook/tumblr/whatever accounts, they're really not planning to debate on them even if comments are open. Irisado said it well, I think, about it being use as an echo-chamber of sorts in many cases. I don't mind debates, I kind of like them. But if I did have a face book page set up, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to have them there.

Edit: I'd also say you weren't trolling. You were just engaging in behavior they didn't really want to deal with as a result of having different views of what social media sites should be for. I suppose simply labeling it trolling is easier than dealing with it in other ways. But just because it's not trolling doesn't mean it's entirely appropriate. ::Shrug::
« Last Edit: January 9, 2014, 12:45:31 PM by starstrider »

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Re: When does arguing become trolling?
« Reply #19 on: January 9, 2014, 12:47:02 PM »
We'll have to agree to disagree on that.
If I post a link to an article on facebook it's because I think it might interest people and I'd be keen to hear their views on it.
I simply don't see the point of having comments enabled if you don't expect people to use them.

 


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