Trolls, or What do we do when tactical responses and right/just responses do not align?

Alyssa Rosenberg thinks we should ignore Ann Coulter and other right-wing shock artists of her ilk:

Coulter is like a distorted Tinker Bell: It’s not applause that saves her from fading out of existence, it’s shock and jeers. These days, her ability to elicit that reaction seems to be the main reason Coulter gets campus bookings in the first place. If it’s not, and if campus conservative groups have mistaken Coulter for any sort of serious or interesting thinker, than the campus right may be in even graver trouble than the campus left. Being willing to say anything deemed outrageous is not the same thing as having significant ideas.

This dynamic means that traditional protest tactics turn the people who oppose Coulter’s presence into her props. The bigger the demonstration, the louder the uproar, the more significant the threat of violence, the more proof Coulter has that she’s an exciting and dangerous figure conservatives can use to tweak liberals. If folks on the left refuse to be tweaked, much of the rationale for booking Coulter would disappear. You don’t need to fight to deny a platform to a speaker when you can, by remaining non-reactive, completely eliminate the rationale for booking her in the first place.

I mostly agree. I might also be inclined to say that Trump himself should be tossed in the same bucket, were it not for the fact that he is in the White House with access to actual power and therefore cannot be ignored.

There is an interesting question here, though, and one which Democrats, liberals, and progressives seem to be struggling with quite a bit of late—namely, how do we identify and decide between responses that are tactically sound and those which are just and right? I think we generally hope that the two align, i.e., that being right (on on the right side of history or whatever) will naturally be tactically advantageous, but what about when that is not clearly the case?

The “just ignore her” response that Rosenberg proposes for creeps like Ann Coulter is basically the same as the “Don’t feed the trolls” advice one tends to hear regarding online harassment. They’re just after attention, we’re told, and if we refuse to give that attention to them, they will go away.

That advice is all well and good, provided that you are not in any actual danger from the trolls. It is worth noting that the "Don't feed the trolls" advice tends to come from straight white men, who are generally not subjected to the sort of vile, violent, racist and misogynistic hate that is directed at women and people of color who dare to speak up about basically anything online.

The problem, then, with telling people not to feed the trolls (i.e., not to respond to them—to ignore them) is that the trolls are saying and doing really awful stuff. That leaves us with a case where the tactical solution of ignoring the trolls (or the Coulters) might lead to them going away, but it continues to provide them with platforms and venues for spewing their bile.

Honestly, I don’t know what the right answer is, of if there even is a right answer.

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