There are Internet trolls who go after journalists day in and day out, typing the most despicable, insulting things they can think of on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media.
Just this week, I remarked to a sparring Twitter troll — a professor who contributes to The Atlantic and serves as the pub’s Supreme Court correspondent — that someone should perform a dramatic reenactment of our exchange. I was trying to lighten things up when a new troll, a law and economics professor, jabbed, “They already did, it was called Dumb and Dumber and you were the star.”
This is presumably a grown man with a penis and an education.
The first prof, Garrett Epps, who teaches at University of Baltimore School of Law, was flummoxed that I didn’t answer him the way he thought I should have when he mentioned a spelling error: “FYI, the professional response is, “Sorry, will correct.”
Let me get this straight. I am supposed to apologize to him for a spelling error that didn’t involve him or his name?
What I wrote instead: “You are correct, will fix and then write a whole story about my error.”
Ironically enough, Epps offers this ominous warning in his Twitter bio: “Trolls who use insults or condescension will be blocked right away.”
After he scolded me for my response, he added, “You’ll thank me if you ever work at a news medium.”
In one fell swoop, he managed to both insult and condescend to me. Should Professor Epps block himself?
Whether anyone likes it or not, trolls are part of the package these days. There’s no real getting rid of them as a species. And even reporters can use trolling to their advantage–particularly if it elicits a comment.
The first time I ever really considered the word “troll” with any degree of seriousness was in an exchange with BuzzFeed Chief of Staff Ashley McCollum in February, 2014. (Annoying, but true preface: I am fond and respectful of McCollum and have been ever since 2009 when I started covering the media. Pretty sure the feeling is mutual, even if my questions occasionally irritate her.)
I had asked for official comment on a story in Politico Magazine on disaster porn that claimed BuzzFeed just cares about traffic, not dying Ukranians. McCollum replied, “I appreciate your persistence but I can smell a troll question from a mile away, Bets.”
In retrospect, it was hilariously insulting and demeaning. But I was shocked and fuming that anyone would actually respond in a professional capacity with Twitter-speak.
“What the hell, troll?” I replied.
Eventually I asked if Smith was on vacation in Kiev. “Now THAT is trolling,” I snapped.
We concluded the exchange on a note of laughter.
True trolls are lower life forms who can’t seem to find other ways of occupying their lives. Their muzzles off, they’re free at last to celebrate the more grotesque parts of their personalities–traits they wouldn’t dare display over dinner or at a cocktail party.
But when journalists like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes sit around on a Saturday night and ruminate about such trolls ruining their otherwise rosy existences, isn’t that maybe more startling than the existence of trolls in the first place?
This was the discussion on Twitter among a cluster of prominent journalists on the Saturday before Easter, which was also the second night of Passover for the Jewish trolls who might kvetch if I left their holiday out of my sentence.
Apart from Hayes, the conversationalists included BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, BuzzFeed reporter Rosie Gray, WaPo‘s Daniel Drezner, Sacramento ABC News10 digital producer Tauhid Chappell, and New York Daily News opinion editor Josh Greenman.
On a side note: The user known as “Southpaw” (@nycsouthpaw) is a lawyer and a big defender of lefties online.
What a wretched way to spend an evening.
While few journalists are ever off these days, it seems like a good idea not to whine about people who read our stories.
When someone shockingly suggested that they learn to use their mute or block buttons, Hayes, whose show “All In” is suffering abominable ratings, called such a task “laborious.”
Hitting a block or a mute key on a keyboard is LABORIOUS?
Is Hayes having trouble with his computer mouse?
Actually, doing brain surgery is laborious. So is hard labor like construction, putting together a bookshelf from Ikea or moving an entire house full of crap across the country.
Three male TV journalists who I admire for their ability to bitch slap their trolls all happen to work for the same network — CNN. They are Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper and Chris Cuomo. Anderson may be my favorite because he really gets in there and twists the knife. Tapper is relentless about accuracy and really pushes the trolls to back up their accusations. And Cuomo has a delightful brand of obnoxiousness all his own.
The aforementioned journalists, meanwhile, acted like the “trolls” are like an infestation of springtime ants that should be sprayed away quickly rather than having to go to the trouble of getting rid of the worst of them, one by one, on a case-by-case basis.
Southpaw: “Hypothesis: As time goes on, Twitter mentions will become as bad as newspaper comment sections were in the mid-2000s.”
Rosie Gray: “That has already happened.”
Southpaw: “Hmm maybe it’s function of follower count rather than time. My little world on here has been getting nastier too though.”
Ben Smith: “Rosie Gray, Jonathan Martin & I have been bracing for that for years but I think it leveled out again?” (Ben is referring to NYT reporter Jonathan Martin.)
Rosie Gray: “IDK, my mentions are regularly a cesspool. I think a lot of the blog commenters just migrated here.”
Chris Hayes: “Same here.”
Tauhid Chappell: “Still depends on who’s following IMO you but more trolls you get, the worse it is.”
Daniel Drezner: “Doesn’t the mute function put a limit on this?”
Chris Hayes: “Yes, but that and blocking and pretty laborious.”
Ben Smith: “But I mean look at the lovefest right here. Just keep it going and we’ll be fine.”
Josh Greenman: “I have a few like that but ignoring generally does the trick.”
Josh Greenman: “But you all have more followers.”
At this point, Steve Johnson, a self-proclaimed political junkie, tried to offer a reality check. “Media hacks whining about attention. At least someone is reading!”
Daniel Drezner: “You jinxed it, Ben,” he says, referring to Smith’s lovefest.
Smith responded like a teenage girl: