The Trolls We Know

So we know what we’re supposed to do now. We have to build bridges. We have to put on our listening ears on and get on out there and talk to our fellow Americans. No matter how much we despise them. It’s time to make sure we make America great again — or keep it great. And seems it all starts with forgiving and understanding our high school bullies. Or, that whiny little pussy that you used to beat up.

Now, even I’ve written about the same damn thing, I have to admit that I am already tired of hearing about it. It’s much easier to just feed that aching need for political and social validation. Not to mention that I love political comedy! Particularly now that the whole world feels like satire.

But, while the funnies give me that momentary fix, there are also ways that making fun of people who see things differently feels horrible. Like when the “troll” on the other side is a friend.

Chuck (not his real name) is a gay friend whom I have known since I was in junior high in central Minnesota. I think our mothers may have been setting us up, but somehow it just didn’t take. But we did get along very well at our first meeting. I made Chuck play about two hours of Nintendo NFL football. I ran up the score and he happily played along, never a complaint. We remained friends throughout high school. We even got a job working at a Frigidaire factory one summer.

Chuck eventually joined the Air Force and served in the military for about 8 years. Neither of us were “out” when we met, but when I caught up with him he had a long term boyfriend and had settled in North Carolina. They have an adorable Persian kitty and a laborador. Chuck works at a call center and loves reality TV and pop culture, just like he did back then.

One of my favorite Chuck stories was the time he drove me all the way to Minneapolis (from St. Cloud) to get a red Bum Equipment sweatshirt that I really wanted… till we got there… and then I wasn’t so into it.

Chuck decided that we weren’t going to drive all the way there for nothing and he bought the sweatshirt for himself. He wore it on every possible occasion, every time we hung out, I am not exaggerating, until he finally shipped out for the Air Force in 1988 (or so).

Many (10–15) years later Chuck and I were able to reconnect via the magic of AOL. And, do you know what? One of the first things he sent me was a photo of his dog wearing that very red sweatshirt. He was always funny.

We found each other again on Facebook a few years ago. His interests hadn’t changed much. He was still gay, very goofy and light-hearted. He was never political. Even as this election season started, he was quiet about politics.

It slowly became clear that he wasn’t a Clinton fan. And in the last week or so of the election he was posting about Spirit Cooking and all kinds of other conspiracy theories.

I tried to engage on the Spirit Cooking emails, something I had read about just a few days prior. The conversation that happened the day before the election went something like this:

C: GOOGLE IT! High Priestess Killary is selling children!!! Spirit Cooking proof! She drinks blood and has ceremonies and is evil.
J: Hey C. What’s this with selling children? You mean the Spirit Cooking email thing?
Cs Friend: She drinks the blood of babies!!!
J: If you’re talking about the email sent to J. Podesta was forwarded by his brother who was asked to go to dinner by a renowned performance artist before her exhibition. He actually didn’t even reply to the email from his bro.
C: Sounds like an event everyone is invited to! NOT!
Cs Friend: How do you know? He could have deleted it!
J: That’s true. He could have deleted it. He also could have called excitedly and told his brother an emphatic “YES!” but I can tell you it seems like an innocent enough email. In the art world this would be a big deal, and wouldn’t set off an alarm to delete, I don’t think. Also I don’t see how you go from that email to thinking Hillary drinks baby blood. Can you explain?
Cs Friend: Well you think its OK to drink baby’s blood!!!! And stop using SNOPES it’s government owned!!!

I replied to that last comment, but I had been blocked from the post before I could reply.

The next day, after Trump won the election. Chuck posted this on his Facebook wall. I took a screen shot so that I could show my mom what had happened with Chuck. Here it is…

He did “Drain the Swamp,” and I’ve been blocked from his Facebook page.

Now I had no idea I was the “swamp.” But I guess I met the criteria. I have no other way to contact him so I will never know which thing I am guilty of specifically. Oh well. We probably would have disagreed about what I did or didn’t do anyway.

I’m not upset that Chuck blocked me. Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do to keep yourself (or even others) from being hurt by the demon Facebook. And he can always reverse that when he’s ready. But I am quite worried about his state of mind right now.

Chuck was a troll. Or I was a troll. And this political crap got in the way of something that was a sweet friendship. And it sounds like he chose to put it in the way of several other friendships too.

I realize that arguing with him, or debating facts, was not going to get me anywhere. As I see it, he’s whirling in a hate tornado, fueled by a ridiculous, unregulated, lying, fake, media. Meanwhile he’s thinking that I have been brainwashed by a lying, fake, mainstream media. He seems to truly believe that there was a psychopathic woman running for President who would have brought Satan into the White House and ruined the country. Or maybe he is just in a frenzy and hates Hillary Clinton so much that he doesn’t care what’s true as long as it makes her go away. I don’t know.

But operating in my reality would not work with him. It only proves to him that I am a part of the dangerously brainwashed enemy who are going to try and prevent him from knowing the truth. Debate, however reasonable or respectfully intended, pushed him further away. If he and I were closer, I would probably suggest that we both step away from the media for awhile. And since he’s possibly being destructive with his relationships, I’d also try and watch him for destructive behavior.

I’ve certainly debated online with people that I thought were nutters before, but they are usually total strangers. I have good days and bad, but I like to think I try to listen and be loving without being a condescending prick. I am well aware that I am not always right. and I usually am genuinely curious about how they came to their conclusions. I like to be aware of what others are saying too. But I do sometimes have a moment where I’m not so kind.

It might help me in the future to remember that they are someone else’s Chuck.

And if that’s not lesson enough to not engage with trolls… DID YOU KNOW… US intelligence officials have reported that the Russians have been trolling for Trump? Now, I think there is still more investigation to be done, but it’s worth considering that the crazy you are arguing with might actually be a Russian troll. Samantha Bee interviewed two alleged Russian trolls a few weeks ago.

So, I guess I’m just thinking about our prime directive right now. Build bridges. And maybe one of the ways we do that is by getting less riled up in our conversations online. That’s where they all happen now, isn’t it? On the other end of the keyboard you’re talking to someone else’s friend who is a little intense right now… or maybe a Russian spy who’s prime directive is to tear this country apart.

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