Trolling, BS, and detection of such

Jeff Atwood offers a nice explanation of trolling on the internet, and offers some diagnostics:

in any discussion that has a purpose other than gladiatorial opinion bloodsport, the most telling question you can ask of anyone is this: Why are you here?

Did you join this discussion to learn? To listen? To understand other perspectives? Or are you here to berate us and recite your talking points over and over? Are you more interested in fighting over who is right than actually communicating? […]

In other words, are you here in good faith?

Atwood points out that the origin of the term troll is not fairy tales or Tolkien, but fishing. And so it surprised me when he phrases his advice as “Don’t feed the trolls”, rather than extending the metaphor by saying “Don’t take the bait”. I like the second version better because it reminds us that the purpose of an internet troll is to bait his readers.

I also like the diagnostic question “Are you here in good faith?” I just read Harry Frankfurt’s short booklet “On Bulls—“—twice!—and was struck by the writer’s observation that what distinguishes BS from lying or other forms of deception is its flagrant disregard for the truth, i.e. it is less common but just as easy to heap up a pile of BS from truth statements as from false, what matters is that the BSer has a different motive than conveying meaning to the hearer. Trolling is different than BSing, but it seems to share the property of employing communication for purposes other than communicating.

Millennials are also often described as having finely tuned BS detectors, usually by those who worry professionally about how to get them inside the doors of a church, and in their case I think the description is correct—they quickly turn away from heaps of wordy hoohah motivated by goals other than straightforward communication of meaning. I think this is a skill worth cultivating.

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