Politics and the Internet
The Art of Trolling
How to Have an Enlightened Political Debate Online
Have you ever had Thanksgiving dinner evolve into a verbal war across three generations, with occasional input from that dog; one that stops just short of a reenactment of your favorite grade-school food fight? It doesn’t take much, just mention to a certain relative that you don’t believe that George Bush really planned 9/11 as a way to fill Dick Cheney’s death quota for Satan; or that Obama probably isn’t actually the Anti-Christ/Secret-Muslim/Atheist/Marxist dictator that certain news channels make him out to be. My family is unfortunately tolerant of each other’s views, so I have never had this particular experience. But I imagine that at the end of the night, when you’re cleaning the gravy and spittle off the ceiling, you are overwhelmed with new insight to American politics.
Fortunately for my poor, deprived self, there is always the internet. Thanks to this wonderful invention, I no longer have to sit around after a dully polite family gathering and wonder how to get my daily dose of vitriol. It’s a simple matter of hopping on the computer and logging into my favorite news aggregator, then browsing the forums for a lively discussion. In a few short moments I can all but hear the rousing cries of “Fascist!” “Commie!” and of course the highest accolade the internet has to offer: “Troll! You’re a Trollololol!!!”
It’s such a heartening experience, and yet it seems I am always hearing the same few people arguing their sides. So, in the interest of getting some new blood (spattered on the walls perhaps), I have decided to help out those who have an interest in getting involved, but don’t know how. To that end, here is a useful How-To guide:
Step 1 – Pick a Username That’s Sure to Get Attention
Not all forums require accounts and usernames, but in those that do choosing the right one is crucial. Your username (or “handle” as it is sometimes called) is how you make a first impression. It is your face, clothes, and opening line. There are several different methods you can go with, but two of the most popular are: obscure yet memorable, or blunt and polarizing.
For an obscure username let’s take an example from someone who just happens to be online as I write this: randomjsa. I’ve no idea what his name has to do with anything, but it’s not JohnSmith6883; so I’ll be certain not to confuse his enlightened rants with those of some raving lunatic. Blunt and polarizing is far easier to do, and much recommended for beginners. After all, with such names as YoMamaObama, Envirodude, and 911wasaninsidejob your argument is half done before you’ve even said anything.
Step 2 – Choose a Side, There are Only Two and You Have to Choose
You may not be aware of this, but the fact is that there are only two sides online: left and right. The middle ground has been scorched clean by the fiery warring of the impassioned, so be sure to steer clear of it. Your only safe refuge is to pick a direction, lower your head, and run as far to the extremes a possible.
Don’t feel that you need to support a particular party though; if you have run to the right be sure to attack Democrats as demonic fetus hating socialists, but there’s no reason to treat Republicans as anything more than corrupt capitulators who are allowing liberals to destroy the country. Conversely, if you have chosen the left, be sure to call Republicans greedy fascist zealots eager to sacrifice the poor to their wealthy gods, but Democrats can always be referred to as spineless losers, too corrupt and weak willed to stand up for what’s right. Attacking both parties will assure that you are seen as the non-partisan voice of reason, thus earning you the trust of your virtual peers.
Step 3 – Formulating an Argument: Use of Strawmen, Ad Hominem, and Red Herrings
Now that you’ve chosen an identity and a side, it’s time to begin formulating an argument. Be sure to learn all the recent buzzwords, and use them as often as possible; this shows that you are an informed and engaged citizen. More importantly though, familiarize yourself with the above mentioned logical constructs, for they are the very basis of any good online discussion. If an opponent’s argument seems to be gaining traction with observers, misquote or misinterpret what they say, then tear their new argument to pieces; doing so will establish you as a person of insight and intellect. If that doesn’t work, attack their character, insinuate the worst possible things about them and their sexual proclivities. After all, no one wants to be seen to agree with a child molester. And if all else fails, divert attention to some other, preferably terrifying, subject. People won’t care that you’re wrong if they are distracted by their fear that terrorists may be secretly living in their own backyard.
Step 4 – Debating Points: Ignore the Facts, They Just Get in the Way
There’s really not much else to this step. If someone points out an inconvenient fact (especially if they have a citation to back it up) deflect, divert, or ignore. There’s nothing to be gained by addressing reality, because reality is gray, and politics are always black or white. If you find yourself having difficulty with this step, just repeat to yourself: “Facts are not my friends” and you’ll do fine.
Step 5 – Don’t Feel Limited in Forum: YouTube Comments and Unrelated Articles
A great deal of political discussion online occurs in the comments sections of news sites or in set political forums. Don’t feel the need to restrict yourself to these limited options. Your opinions are important damnit, and they demand to be heard by anyone and everyone. That YouTube video your grandma sent you of kittens playing in a yarn basket? The perfect place to mention that Obama’s birth certificate is an obvious forgery, and that Kenya is an undeniable Muslim stronghold. In fact, you’ll find that YouTube is an unparalleled location for spouting any political views you’ve a mind to, with a diverse audience of rapt observers. And that article you found on how to make authentic Peruvian tamales? It could not possibly be more relevant to mention that Anne Coulter has obviously had a sex change operation.
Step 6 – Never Retreat, Never Defend, Rinse and Repeat
Step six is arguably the most important on the list. No matter what, never apologize, admit that you’re wrong, or stop spouting things you’ve learned from chain emails. Keeping going at full steam, regardless of who opposes you or how much sense they are making. This is the very foundation of online political discussion: never back down. Because, honestly, where would we end up if people changed their minds when presented with clear and reasonable arguments as to why they are incorrect?