August 27, 2007

Haters and Trolls

Over at Oval Office 2008, I've been getting a lot of comments trolling on my posting. I try to not let the trolling get to me, but I'm not made of steel and it's a little bit irritating to be trolled.
It's discouraging to get only feedback from haters.

Certainly, the trolls don't have any power over me. The very worst that can happen is that the administrator of Oval Office decides to pull my posting privileges and then I have to go back to posting about the election here, to a somewhat less broad audience. If the trolls don't like what I write and how I write it and the choices I make in my writing, they can seek what they prefer to read elsewhere.

There are two flavors of the trolling. First, there are the people who seem to want me to be some kind of a political journalist. I don't have the time, resources, ability, or inclination to do something like that. Real Clear Politics, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the newspaper sites, and even more partisan sites like Drudge, Townhall, Huffington, and DailyKos, all have the staff to do things like that. I'm not able to compete with those other sources and I'm not going to try. If you want to know how many babies Christopher Dodd kissed at the Monroe County fair this weekend in Iowa, there are places you can find that information easily.

So, I provide analysis instead. I do it, as I do here, when the whim strikes, when my professional obligations give me enough time to do it, when events seem to warrant it, and when I have something to say that seems like it might be of some interest. Sometimes I like to take a weekend off, sometimes I go on vacation, sometimes I just plain don't feel like posting or writing. No one's paying me to do it, so I don't feel obligated to have a professional attitude about writing there (or here).

These types are also critical of the Oval Office blog because they feel it is not updated frequently enough. This is particularly frustrating for me, because I try to post reasonably frequently there anyway. There are something like a dozen people with posting privileges there, and it seems like 80% - 90% of the content of that blog is being provided by me. I've called for other people to write more frequently and I've tried to encourage them to write more when they do. If twelve people wrote on that blog as frequently as I do, there would be lots of content and lots of thoughts and it would be a great place to go for things to think about politically. But none of the other bloggers there seem to share my vision, or have my energy for fulfilling it.

The other kind of trolls are fans of Barack Obama. I thought he seriously stepped on his dick about a month ago in a debate with Hillary Clinton with regards to foreign policy, and then he went "all in" on his mistake instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. His polling numbers have been declining, and hers rising, ever since, so there is some justification for my opinion. But he has people who, I think, are fans and advocates of his who don't like my calling this move a gaffe.

Now, I don't mind criticism of my writing or my observations. At least one Obama fan has taken a few moments to explain why he thinks my posts are wrong. I liked that very much -- that's the sort of thing that gets dialogue, discussion, and thought going. That's what I'm trying to inspire over there. Politics would be dull, dull, dull if everyone agreed with each other all the time. If I got a healthy dose of responses like this, I could put up with the trolls and the haters much more easily.

Many of the trolls, however, simply accuse me of "bias" and accuse me of not knowing what I'm talking about. I don't conceal my advocacy for one party and one candidate. But that doesn't make me biased any more than anyone else who may have a preference. The point of that blog, it seems to me, is to look at the race from a game theory perspective, and assess what's going on, and that's what I try to do.

I've felt the criticism enough that I've considered just stopping my efforts there altogether. And then I remember two things. First, you can't please everybody and no matter what you do, people on the internet will whine and complain the loudest about things they get for free. I'm not being treated any differently by these immature types who seem to think they are owed something than the designers of free downloadable video games or people who offer their fantasy football picks. Second, I remember my experiences as a teacher -- critical thought and structured arguments are rare and people have not been challenged to provide them very much.

So when you combine the attitude of entitlement, inability to frame critical thought, and the lack of diplomatic filters that the Internet provides, and "I think you are wrong about Obama's foreign policy platform, it will work to his advantage in the long run" turns into "You hate Obama and I hate you and besides that, you don't post frequently enough so I hate you even more!" That doesn't mean that the troll is to be forgiven for a rude remark, but it does provide a context in which to understand what is being said.

And with that in mind, I can recall the reason why I agreed to write for that blog in the first place, which is the reason I write here, too -- it's a pleasure to have an audience for one's thoughts. How large that audience is, I really don't know. A lot of people lurk (read but never post comments themselves), and some people only share their thoughts with me by e-mail rather than in the comments section of a post (which is their choice). I know there's somewhere between thirty to fifty people scattered around the country who read this blog at least once a week. I've no clue about Oval Office's readership. But someone's reading it, and I get trolled there a lot more than I get trolled here, so I infer that I've got an audience there, too. Still, like I said before, it's discouraging to get only feedback from haters.

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