Facebook and Trolls

Today, I broke a rule of mine: Never engage with a belligerent political comment on Facebook. I often don’t engage with a political discussion on facebook at all—whether on friends facebook posts, or mass shared posts—I find it pointless. I absolutely post political articles on my timeline, something I’m rethinking now.

The political discussion I entered into started because of an article written by the Christian Science Monitor. It discusses combating the rise of ‘intellectual’ hate groups. The Monitor used the example of Steve Bannon and his ties to Breitbart News. In typical Monitor fashion, the writer provided the argument of Bannon being tied to hate groups, but also provided the argument that he was not a part of hate groups, using quotes from Trump about how Bannon was not “alt-right” and could be trusted.

Here is the section in question from the CSM article.

In November, Spencer and other adherents to white nationalist ideology saw new hope for their cause to enter the mainstream political sphere when President Trump named Steve Bannon, former head of conservative Breitbart News, as his chief strategist. Mr. Bannon "began to infuse the Trump campaign with many [alt-right] themes" after officially joining the campaign in August, Nicole Hemmer, the author of "Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics," told the Monitor at the time. "Now, he sits at the right-hand of the president, and many alt-righters believe that it is the dawn of a new era of white nationalism." 

In late November, Trump disavowed the alt-right and defended Bannon to reporters and editors at a meeting at the New York Times, saying that he's known him for "a long time" and that the allegations of anti-Semitism and connections to the alt-right are "not him."

"If I thought he was racist, or 'alt-right' ... I wouldn't even think about hiring him," Trump said.

The White House presence of Bannon, who is credited with transforming Breitbart from a conventionally conservative news site into what he himself has described as a "platform for the alt-right," may add to the difficulty of delegitimizing organizations like the National Policy Institute, notes Professor Michael.


This is where the discussion picked up. The second comment on the piece was written by a man who we’ll call JR. He wrote, “Kudos to CSM for waiting several paragraphs to start their worn-out anti-Trump tirade, attempting to dishonestly associate him with hate groups. [sic] You guys must be getting tired of lying. [Sic] Might I suggest returning to your ancient past foundation of honest journalism from a more neutral center?”

I decided to engage, one because I never have before, and I wanted to see if I approached calmly and provided references, I could have a conversation where openness could occur. You hear all the time that it’s useless to talk on facebook—I wanted to test that. 

I suppose also that, because I found the article neutral—the textbook definition of neutral journalism—and I love the Christian Science Monitor, it would be a good venue for me to try this experiment.

By the time I joined the conversation JR had already been called a troll, and had responded, “No, I expressed an opinion. YOU are the troll by attacking me in order to get an emotional response. You failed.”

I did not personally attack him, instead I tried this rout.

“Richard, I’m unsure of what you mean by saying the CSM dishonestly connected Trump to hate groups.” I explained, as best I could (omitting a belligerent tone and trigger phrases) my opinion on how the article was neutral.

I also addressed JR’s claim that “Prejudiced? Trump? No. Except his perfectly reasonable and justified prejudice against the media.”

Me: “I will say, as far as Trump being prejudice: there is a fairly strong case…” I used the settled out of court case from the 1970s, and Trumps most recent case of illegal activity as proof that Trump has done some wrong. I also used the example of Trump’s comments on the American Judge, where he said that the judge couldn’t do his job because of his Mexican heritage. I cited how Speaker Paul Ryan called this textbook racism.

JR responded with only one comment, to my three writing, “Found “guilty”? SHOW ME”[sic]

Out of all my points he targeted one that many Trump supporters have practice battling. The idea that Trump was found guilty of racist housing in the 1970s. Trump’s father’s company—which Trump worked for—was sued by the federal government for housing discrimination. They settled out of court with “zero admission of guilt” as Trump put it. Many anti-trump people have said, “He’s guilty!” When technically he was not found guilty.

So, it was no surprise that JR jumped on that one comment, questioning it. But I provided other documentation on Trump’s company being found guilty of other crimes, and clarified I knew the lawsuit was settled. Still, I was surprised that JR didn’t address my explanation of why I thought the piece was neutral. He’d glossed over that, which confused me.

In a comment to someone else JR had written, “…title..[sic] “hate groups”…then description of said groups…the witless attempt to connect Bannon to said hate groups and then finally, landing on Trump’s doorstep with guilt by association. [Sic] Connecting dots where none exist is utterly horrible journalism. CSM is FAKE NEWS.”

I address that claim as well. In short my argument was, the alt-right embraces white supremacy, and Bannon himself said, “We’re the platform for the alt-right.” Since the alt-right is a hate group, and Bannon said his movement was the platform for the alt-right, and Bannon is in Trump’s administration, there were enough dots to be connected. Yet, even though the claim could be made that Bannon is influencing Trump to be “alt-right” the Monitor article did not make that claim. I reiterated again, that the Monitor also provided the argument that Bannon and Trump do not lean to the “alt-right” or “hate-group” side of things.

And for a while JR said nothing. I put my two-cents in for other comments, such as one person claiming that Black Lives Matter is a hate group. I provided her with BLM “about” page, which states what they stand for—basically the equal treatment of black people, not an oppression of any other “race”.

I got no response.

I commented on another discussion where one individual claimed, in a sarcastic manner, that all liberals had little tolerance for people with opposing political views. I said I was a liberal with great respect for opposing political views, and knew many other liberals who held that same respect, but that there was no room to allow the speech of white supremacy or the “alt-right” which advocates for the oppression of others.

I got no response.

Eventually JR did get back to others and me.

One comment, not aimed at me was:

“…there is ZERO doubt among the sane populace that PRESIDENT TRUMP is the legitimately elected PRESIDENT. [sic] Of course, the psycho alt-left COMMIES feel differently, but who cares? [sic] No, Trump has never utter[ed] a single racist WORD. None.”

I responded again with the example of Trump saying a judge couldn’t do his job well because of his heritage, which again, Paul Ryan called textbook racism.

JR responded: “””Mexican” isn’t a race, genius. What Paul Ryan says is meaningless and [as] ignorant as what you say…”

JR’s other comment—aimed specifically at me—read—to start—“Sam Williams, there are simply NO dots to connect.” That was the only comment aimed at the arguments. The rest of his comment changed tone dramatically. Here are a couple sentences from the comment:

“Your tactics…the usual race-baiting, guilt-by-imaginary association, the redefinition of terms, and conversation stoppers…”

“Your people have no power because no one believes the lies any more…They know both what you did and what you *wanted* to do. And they rendered you powerless.”

“And by the most serious accounts, the outlook for many years for your anti-American, anti-liberty, and anti[-constitutional] nonsense is extremely bad.”

“You’re on life support and complaining.”

The conversation quickly changed off the Monitor article, and onto me personally. These were personal attacks—and I called JR on it.

He wrote back, “Not attacking you personally-I’m answering you *specifically*.”

Which I think is bull-pucky.

We continued to comment back to each other, but he never actually addressed my concerns on why the Monitor article was neutral. At one point I did address that while I thought originally it was unfair to call him a troll immediately, his comments were becoming troll-ish, not that he was a troll, just his comments were leaning that direction.

He still hasn’t addressed this.

Later another person added the comment that JR’s “account [is] a known alt right agitator and troll, IGNORE.” I wasn’t able to verify that information.

But this whole comment escapade has proven to be an eye opening experience. And it led me to this conclusion:

Facebook is the worst place to be politically active. It can certainly be a news source—often a fake news source on both sides—but if that is the only place where you are being politically active, you need to rethink your political activity.

I went back and forth for seven hours with this gentleman and got nowhere. Why? I don’t know him. He didn’t respect me. He wasn’t moving off his platform. Etc. This would have been a wasted effort if it didn’t lead to this article. People can’t be convinced on Facebook, or twitter, or Tumblr, or whatever social media platform is popular.

There are many more productive ways. Contributing to organizations like Lumos, Planned Parenthood, World Wildlife Fund, is a better method. Volunteering for political organizations is even better. Not being afraid to talk to people in person is better! Volunteering for a political campaign is better. There are so many things that would be better.

I’d suggest canceling your Netflix account, finding someone to share it with, and put that money towards something like the Southern Poverty Law Center, or to the Standing Rock efforts.

This brings me to the second part of this article.

Progressive, Liberals, Left leaning people, we need to be way better on social media (including me). We need to stop shoving opinions down other people’s throats. We need to stop making conservatives feel ostracized, but rather included and respected. People should always be respected (their opinions don’t always have to be.)

I’ll be clear here that I don’t think there is any room to respect alt-right thinking, white supremacy, or any hateful thoughts. All hateful thoughts should be removed from political thinking and ideology. And they should be squashed—not by the government, which would violate the 1st amendment—but by the public, which has an opportunity to stop this hateful movement.

Facebook isn’t going to help that. The more we engage with trolls the worse it gets—I now understand that first hand.

But we need to stop feeding the machine so-to-speak. Putting up gifs, or memes that demean people or ideology won’t help. It will only fuel the “US vs. Them” mentality.

But also, dear progressive friends, do you research! If you’ve only heard a fact, or seen it on The Other 98% you might want to do your research on it before spewing it. Use reputable sources! The more we use gifs and memes, and catching phrases, the more conservatives will too and the circle will just continue.

Snarky remarks aren’t going to help, and we need to understand that. Go high! Take the high road. Stop mashing the share button.

Obviously, there are a lot of liberals who are doing a good job, and not even being politically active on Facebook, but for those who are: be careful in what you’re posting. Let’s be what we want conservatives to be: educated, polite, well versed, and loving and embracing. Let’s be inclusive (again obvious exception to hate speech and actions).

Because honestly, it really isn’t worth it with Trolls.

Jason Samuel Williams is the Editor in Chief of immix.