Why We Need to Call Out the Trolls

This was written as part of a two-part post. Part 1 is here.

There are things that we all know: Protecting our own and our neighbors’ health is personally responsible and is also part of being a citizen in a civil society. Our police officers should not be shooting and killing our own citizens who were innocent or who possibly committed a minor crime. Everyone has a right to vote and for their vote to be counted equally. There is no good reason why citizens should need to own and carry military-grade weapons in a peaceful society. For that matter, there is no reason for a democratic country to have a militarized police force. Our Constitution stated that “all men are created equal” and we now interpret that to be “all people.” That means EVERYONE, not just the people who look like us, sound like us, or are from communities or political groups we identify with. We all know this. These are American values that our society was based on and they are not debatable. We need to stop letting ourselves get sucked into a debate.

It is also time to stop “respecting” people who oppose these values or actively work to dismantle them. Remember that sucking us into a “discussion” that goes nowhere is part of their game. Their plan is to keep running us through that spin cycle until there is nothing left to discuss because they have already carried out their plans. Then they will laugh because they played us and now the game is over.

We need to call out the lies, propaganda, misinformation, racism, and attempted move toward fascicm every time we see it or hear it. That might be as simple as writing a comment on a feed. Because every time we throw up our hands and let the trolls post because we don’t want to get into arguments, the trolls have won. Or this might mean restating the truth when someone posts or states misinformation. It might mean joining marches or working with other groups to combine our voices.

“Wizard of Oz” film shot. “Begone troll! You have no power here!”
“Wizard of Oz” clip from Icanhascheeseburger.com

This also means holding people who post or promote noxious views accountable for their words and actions. It’s easy to look and sound tough in an online forum or when you’re in a crowd of “tough guys” who have formed a “militia.” It’s harder when people know who you are and where you work, and when your job or business is being affected. It’s easy for them to dismiss anyone who disagrees with them by calling them a “libtard,” by making personal attacks, or by waving a flag that says “f — k your feelings.” It’s harder for them to disregard a paying customer or a bad business review.

We need to call out people who would promote racism, inequity, and fascist government in any form. To do this:

  1. Call them out. Name their words and actions as racist, sexist, violent, unconstitutional, or unChristian.

They will call this a “personal attack,” complain about “cancel culture” and act like you’re being unfair to hold them accountable for your words and actions. It’s not, and you’re not. Anything they post on a public feed or do in a public place is public information and you’re legally allowed to use it. It is not your fault if they acted like douchebags in a public place.

Members of the public have a right to know what they’re supporting when they frequent a business. Businesses whose workers’ or owners’ actions are posing a threat to the public or to the people they serve should not have licenses. A person posting racist memes should not have a job as a police officer. A person intimidating local teens who organized a BLM rally by showing up with a rifle and shouting slurs as they hold up signs should not be serving the public as a firefighter. Who would want to have this person be the “help” that arrives if we get into an accident or if our house is on fire? Even for less “essential” jobs, do any of us want to frequent a business where the owner or manager was calling the majority of voters “libtards,” “communists,” or writing that we are “the enemy” — simply because we didn’t vote the same way?

For those that think this is “uncivil,” remember that they have been using the myth of “civility” as cover to promote their own uncivil views and actions. There is no space for accommodation, rational discussion, or “civility,” with racists or fascists.

If calling people out and holding them accountable feels like a lot of work and effort, if it feels stressful, or if it somehow feels like it is “unfriendly,” “uncivil,” or “unfair,” think about who you would have wanted to be in Germany in the 1930s. Would you have walked on by when Brownshirts enforced a boycott of Jewish businesses by standing in front of their entrances with guns? Would you have said something when people in your town had made “scientific” comparisons between Jews and rats? Would you have gone back to work with people who had attended Nazi rallies and ignored it when they talked about it at the water cooler? Would you have joined the people accusing schools and teachers of spreading propaganda, or who stood by as professionals, clergy, and teachers were rounded up and sent to camps? Would you have done all this because you didn’t want to make waves or alienate your neighbors? If you think our situation is completely different, read the news. If we are not fully there yet, we are getting close.

In the words of Naomi Shulman:

“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.”

This is not the time to be “nice.” This is the time to resist while there is still something left to preserve.

Suzie Null is a former middle and high school teacher and current professor of Teacher Education. Follow her on Twitter at WritingontheWall @NullSet16

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