Combating Trolls & Outrage: How to apply critical thinking — a lost art — to our everyday experiences

How we voluntarily give voice to trolls … and how to stop it

The funny truth about power: the people who have it got it from us. No one rises to power without the consent of the populous.

I can’t help but chuckle and roll my eyes at the “outrage” and “rants” caused by Amazon Key and Kellogg’s apparent racism.

Media outlets, both online and offline, are quick to quote “sources” that align with the agenda of their article. Either pro or against a topic, there is no shortage of social sources to strengthen the argument.

However, I notice a commonality in the sources: they are the opionon of some random.

Not a recognized expert. Not a vetted official. Not a spokesperson on the record. Not someone with unique insight.

Just someone with a Twitter account and keyboard suddenly has an opinion that carries credible weight to be quoted as a source used in an argument pro or against something.

In some cases, the voice (or Tweets) of a literal handful of people cause officials to revert to their original position out of fear. Fear of a few seemingly outweighs the silent opinion of millions of others.

“How do we stop that? How do we stop trolls?” Asked my business partner.

How to Stop Internet Trolls

My first response was a bit harsh: “Stifle free speech.

Ok — that’s not really a solution.

The actual solution is much more complex.

Trolls have power because we give into every opinion carte blanche. Regardless of the actual knowledge of the situation. Some semi-anonymous, oft-handed comment is treated the same as an official with first hand knowledge speaking on the record.

Instead, we need to exercise critical thinking.

Sometimes critical thinking leads to failure. Sometimes it means getting it wrong. But it also means getting it right when others get it wrong.

Critical thinking is questioning sources, digging deeper, realizing we won’t all get to the same answer. It means not taking everything at face value.

We can exercise critical thinking by understanding:

  • Perspective — Everyone has a different perspective and set of circumstances from which they view an event. We may all watch the same event but see different things. This does not discredit what others saw, but is important we recognize we have different perspectives.
  • Communication — Some people are terrible communicators and may use the wrong words, wrong grammar, or wrong spelling. This does not negate their point.
  • Logic — Ask yourself if what you are being told actually passes the smell test. Does this make sense? Why? Why not? Who would want me to believe this? What do they have to gain? What other sources can I use to verify what I am being told?
  • Creditability — What understanding does the commenter have about the topic they are speaking on? Do they have more or less knowledge about the subject than I do?
  • Listening — Instead of preparing a rebuttal to a comment, listen to learn. Attempt to understand the point the presenter is trying to convey. This may require reading between the lines, asking for clarification, and accepting new information.

As a society, we are quick to jump to conclusions. We do this by giving equal weight to every comment, post, meme, headline, quote, and rumor without applying critical thinking.

Once we do that, we realize that not everyone’s opinion has the same power. We realize there are probably three versions of the story: What he said, what she said, and what actually happened.

Parents, give your children a safe platform to fail; the ability to think for themselves. The ability to challenge what they are facing and find their own solution.

Leaders, it is your job to exercise critical thinking. Encourage your team to do the same. This means they may disagree with you. They may have a different (but not wrong) solution than you.

We can all become better, and less offended, when we apply critical thinking to the barrage of trolls in our world.