The Care and (non)Feeding of Trolls

The speed and expanse of news dissemination, and the increased democratization of the voices of its consumers, has become both boon and bane of this information age. Know how to effectively add your voice to the new media mix.

Please stop feeding the troll!

                        often heard (but usually ignored) chat room admonishment

Never argue with an idiot… he’ll only drag you down to his level and beat you with experience


In our last article, Bad Press to Better Policing, we looked at the apparent proliferation of negative stories about police and policing, how we perceive, think about and react to them, and the possibility that even bad press can have positive outcomes for the profession.  In some of the events making news, the bad press we’re talking about is coverage of actual criminal conduct or ethical breaches committed by law enforcers; in other words, gross abuses of the public trust.  Like it or not, on the rare occasion these things happen, they are probably going public. 

In others, the actions under scrutiny are legitimate and lawful but ugly.  It’s sometimes been said that effective law enforcement is a lot like making sausage… most people desire and enjoy the end result, but looking too closely at how it is done leaves them feeling queasy.  Usually speaking softly (and politely and professionally) works fine making an arrest or getting people moving in the lawful direction they need to go.  But sometimes we have to reach for the big stick and, when we do, more sensitive or naïve members of society might not understand.

I was recently looking at a video of an arrest that took place in an IHOP that has hit the airwaves.  In it, an officer is attempting to arrest a resisting young woman, sitting backed into a booth, while surrounded by a number of other agitated young adults (apparently she had been involved in some sort of disturbance in the restaurant).  Just as other officers are arriving to back him, a different young woman leans into view and begins punching the arresting officer several times in the face.  She is quickly grabbed, taken to the floor, and placed in handcuffs.  The officers’ actions were appropriate and necessary and, in my view, not the least bit controversial.  But some of the others in the restaurant, based on their audible, real-time comments about the officers’ actions, and the news outlet that aired the footage must have a different point-of-view than me.  The suddenness of how the assaultive young woman was subdued and restrained – and to an untrained eye it would probably shock despite being tactically effective and relatively safe for her and the officers - will almost certainly become the story, rather than her illegal and violent interference in a lawful arrest.  

The speed and expanse of news dissemination, and the increased democratization of the voices of its consumers, has become both boon and bane of this information age.  Just a few years ago, most media reports, as well as editorials and Op/Ed pieces, were one-way conduits of information or opinion.  Most newspapers have long offered a “Letters to the Editor” section for readers to sound off or add their two cents, but space constraints necessarily limited the number that could be published so most readers’ letters never saw the light of day.  Not so in the internet age!  In this day when every newspaper and TV newscast is available online at any time, reader/viewer comment sections are not just common, they are expected.  Hot stories can generate dozens or hundreds of mostly anonymous comments, and anyone can (and will) throw in their two cents without hesitation… and a command of spelling, grammar, or even the slightest understanding of the facts be damned!

And out of this new information democracy was born the internet troll!

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