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Why Can't We Just Ignore Right Wing Trolls?
I Wish We Could
As Twitter has descended into serial fool Elon Musk’s fascist playground, people have been searching around for social media alternatives (follow me on Threads and Bluesky). But as left of center people migrate to those platforms, the right wing trolls of the world will follow, and the question arises: What the hell do we do about them?
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The kneejerk response, I feel, is to just block and ignore them. The argument in favor of this seems satisfying on the surface. These are the most disgusting and vile individuals around and they thrive off of conflict and attention. Blocking and ignoring them is their poison and it will cause them to die off. A great example of this effect has been conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who got chased off of platforms like YouTube and Twitter and nowadays has to sell his fake brain pills to pay off the financial judgements against him. He’s not as influential now as he was in the heyday of 2015-16.
This is a strategy and philosophy that works with irritants like Jones and I endorse it. The low hanging fruit is not worth anybody’s time or effort. Retweeting a trollish post from MAGAGuy123 is just providing him or her (its almost always a him) with a platform they don’t deserve and exposing them to more odious people. These folks get off on “triggering the libs” and your exasperated post just works as social proof for them, and if you’re working to debunk or deprogram them that won’t work — they’re in a cult.
But what if that online troll is a more prominent person, like serial troll Senator Ted Cruz. Or Donald Trump? Or a Fox News host like
Bill O’Reilly Tucker Carlson Jesse Watters? That’s a thornier issue.
For a long time the wider progressive movement decided to just ignore the growing conservative media. Right wing radio, especially, was not worth the time and effort to monitor and/or condemn. It was thought that conservative media was the fevered swamps, far away from the more “legitimate” world of politics and the establishment Republican Party.
But there was a direct connection between modern conservatism and its media arms. The Goldwater moment led to Reaganism and that ushered in decades of conservatives regurgitating the lies and bigotry of major figures like Rush Limbaugh (who I will remind you, is very dead).
Ignoring this is not an option. By the time Media Matters and the Center for American Progress launched in 2003-2004, the right wing had fully integrated its media arms and trolling is now something every elected Republican takes part in. This trolling, even in the form of nonsensical online posts, has a direct effect on public policy in America. Today’s wingnut meme is tomorrow’s Republican legislation (Build the wall? Drill, baby, drill?)
Liberals simply can’t ignore this information that is in the bloodstream of the right. We don’t live in a three-to-four channel universe anymore where bad ideas need mainstream media oxygen to catch on like wildfire. Democrats are continually on their heels because they don’t pay enough attention to right wing information networks, and closing ourselves off just make things worse.
On the other hand, simply reposting right-wing ragebait without context or material defanging it does help the right. It’s the difference between a post that says “Look at this thing that Marjorie Taylor Greene said” and a post that instead notes, “Look at what MTG said? She is dumb and stupid and the fact she’s a major right wing leader shows how dumb and stupid their entire movement is.” You can also debunk what they say but I prefer ridicule myself.
At the same time it is also necessary to promote and publicize people and ideas that further progressive narratives. Preferably in ways that aren’t boring and make your eyes glaze over.
For myself, I like to balance out posts about “look at this dumb thing conservatives said/did/believe” with posts about “this great thing from the left.” It’s like a carbon offset, but for ideas.
Either way, trolling is how the right works in the present day and it is foolish and straight out political malpractice to operate as if it doesn’t matter. We may not like it, we may understand that it is stupid and hateful, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is very influential and has a direct effect on the lives of millions of people.
This is an ongoing battle for the heart and soul of the world. We can’t turn away, no matter how good it might make us feel.
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