How can we stop right-wing trolls winning the argument online?

13:41Ciaran McCormick

When I first set up this blog almost four years ago, I got a death threat message on the Facebook page on the very first day. This was before I posted anything even slightly controversial. The internet is a dark and disturbing place where non-natives often stumble across trolls that shock them. Luckily I have a thick skin.



However, as the online world and real life merge into one, the phenomenon of trolling has become a political issue. Right wing individuals are using the internet to build communities of like-minded people and are often using some of the same tactics. They have even transitioned from this and become fashionable, acceptable and mainstream media sources such as Breitbart. One has even become President of the United States.

The battle between the online right and the left has manifested itself in some curious ways. For example, the annonymous free discussion site Reddit has become a battleground between the two sides of the argument. A forum on the site - The_Donald, has become a place online for supporters to congregate.

They have flooded the rest of the site with their content by manipulating the site's algorithms and encouraged a number of conspiracy theories. Vice described it as 'full of memes and in-jokes, far right talking points, coded racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, and a hypocritical "free speech" rallying point.'



It is communities like this that act as an echo chamber for people on the internet, whatever their political beliefs. We self-select the content we see on social media, which limits the perspectives to which we are exposed. This empowers us to think that our views are common sense and held by most people. Shock comes when people vote for Brexit, or support Trump, because we have not heard the other side. When right wing people are pumped up in their beliefs by people with similarly dangerous views, it empowers them both online and in the real world, where it becomes politically significant.

They are still trolls, nonetheless. This term is less frequently used these days, as right wing people online have become more mainstream and systematically organised. However, take a post from anyone in the public eye expressing a left wing view in an open forum. The comments often derail the conversation with personal attacks, often rooted in hate, misogyny, racism and other evils.
How can we stop the right wing internet taking over and spilling into the real world? There are many different approaches that have been mooted. Some people say that we should ignore it and let it fizzle out on its own. Others would have us intervening and then leaving to say our piece but avoid being sucked into endless circles of ranting. There are some that would have us relentless fighting these trolls and trawl through comments to try to dismantle their arguments. These methods all have their own merits and limitations. Perhaps, it would be easier to just take a few smaller steps to help reduce the effectiveness of these online right wing trolls.

First of all, we need to recognise that the online world is not the whole world, nor is it the most important part. The real damage of the right wing movement is done in the real world, when people's rights are taken away and the welfare state and public services are unnecessarily slashed. Go out there and experience actual political events and experience the lives of these people. Only through empathy can we be equipped with the understanding needed to connect with normal people with our views. Trump connects with abandoned communities like rural people in the United States who have born the brunt of economic changes that have stripped jobs from their towns.

Likewise, we must also cut out undesirable behaviour from left wing people online. Whilst it may be satisfying to abuse right wing people for their disgraceful behaviour, when you abuse anyone holding a view that you disagree with, you push away moderates that could have joined your cause. It is important to be the nice, good guys and gals that people want to support.

This means that we must be accessible in our views, willing to consider alternative perspectives. We should not obsess over ideological purity and dismiss other left wing people with different views. Tone policing shouldn't be used to shut down arguments and change the subject, but people should reserve the right to tell people when they are being inappropriate in their language with other people.

It is important to know when it is right to intervene. Sometimes it's not about changing the person's mind that you are arguing with. The real thing at stake is the people hovering over the argument, not engaging but readying. It is about the people that might be influenced by the right wing troll online. Break that echo chamber and persuade them. You have to accept that many people will never change their minds, instead challenge them and attract the people on their fringes.

When you enter these battles, you should have the full logical arsenal at your disposal. Right wing trolls online are experts at moving the debate away from substantial issues into personal attacks, and logical dead ends. This poster will equip you with knowledge of the logical fallacies that you have to be able to point out and sidestep.

One of the most effective tactics to stop trolls doesn't involve spending your free time arguing with them and banging your head against a brick wall. Putting pressure on the social media networks and platforms themselves can work. They need to put in better filters and suspend more accounts that hurl anonymous abuse at innocent left wing people.

For example, Twitter banned notorious right wing troll and pseudo journalist and commentator Milo Yiannopoulos when he incited racist hatred against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. We must also pressure media outlets who give these people platforms, booking hate commentators such as Katie Hopkins because they will cause controversy, a reaction and prompt more views.

The final strategy is the most ambitious. We must take away the reasons people have for turning to the right wing troll communities online. Trolling is seen as being edgy, cool and counter cultural. Being tolerant is not. We need a new generation of politicians with charisma that can communicate left wing messages effectively. Improving the economy by restoring public services and rolling back austerity will boost jobs and give these people the hope and stake in society that they are craving.

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