A Psychologist Explains How to Battle America's Online Epidemic of Right-Wing 'Fake News' — And Avoid Civil War

This is no time to take refuge in pious failure with our heads held high because when they went low we stayed high on our moral platitudes. There’s a right wing troll epidemic going on.

There are lots of things to try in our pressing mission to tool up quickly to disappoint trolls.

Overwhelm and overload: Trolls often treat their game as a war of attrition, wearing you down with things you have to answer for and explain. Return the favor. Ask them questions and ride them with unceasing demands and impatience. “He still hasn’t answered my questions.”

Chide relentlessly:Mock, deride, ridicule, tease, piss them off in an endless gusher. They like to have it both ways, that you fight unfairly and you don’t know how to fight. Show them that you know how to fight.

Do not enable:Never ever talk to them as though you expect an honest answer from them. Don’t say “do you really believe X?” because it implies that you can take the troll’s word for anything, when, of course, you can’t. It’s like asking psychopaths what they really think. It’s enabling. This is the biggest mistake high-level interviewers make. They ask professional psychopaths like Kelly Anne Conway, “Really? Do you mean that?” Every time they do that they reinforce the false impression that their right-wing guests are credible, not the professional liars they are.

Do not try to persuade them that they’re what they are: Our civic loyalty has made us slow to diagnose their problem and even today we still report evidence as though mounting a case that we’re dealing with a pathological cult. We read these reports as if arms us to argue with the trolls. That’s a strategy whose time has gone. The evidence is all in. Assume that’s what you’re dealing with and never try to persuade them of their hypocrisy with some litany of hypocrisies.

Don’t accuse, assume:Use the equivalent of that classic trick question posed to an unwed man, “How long ago did you stop beating your wife?” Bury you’re assertion as an assumption. Don’t say “You’re a liar” say “I wonder when and how this guy first figured out that he can give himself a headrush boner by lying. Was it that he never grew out of  brat-hood or that he revived it when he started sucking off the tits of his new role models?”

Coach/patronize them about how to be a more effective troll:  If someone shows up guns ablazing about “you libtard socialist idiots,” say, “no, that’s not how you do it. First, you have to lure me with something reasonable sounding. Remember the exhibitionists you idolize sidle up first, makes a little pretend-reasonable conversation and only then show off his pointy little resolve. Don’t open your trench coat as you approach. Practice, grasshopper, practice.”

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Aikido shaming:  Act as though you assume that they have exactly the traits that they’re prejudiced against, even if you abhor their prejudice. For example, in response to a religious troll who tries to taunt with a gay-bashing “who is your husband?” “I know you're lonely and horny to impress or else you wouldn't keep rambling and strutting to show off to me. I'm sorry I can't be your husband. You'll always have Jesus though.”

Don’t just accuse them of hypocrisy, hang them with it: When they play moral police, accusing you of violating some sacrosanct no-compromise moral principle, say “Great. I’ll put this guy  down as someone who claims harassment, criticism of Presidents, complaining and victimhood is always wrong. When they violate their own principle, just mark it as obvious hypocrisy and move on. They’ll try to rationalize it (“Me bashing Obama is totally different!”) ignore it.

Use their shaming words, not yours:They’re vaccinated against your shaming words but not their own. Call them sinners, unpatriotic, un-American, snowflakes, PC-police, the anti-Christ. Do so with feigned authority that matches theirs. Don’t even think about backing down.

Hit below the belt: Shame them with humiliating sexual innuendo. It infuriates them. Trolling is exhibitionist masturbation. It’s their horny lust for right-wing pundits. It’s fantasy about swinging a big dick. Feel free to make them feel dirty and low.

Keep ‘em guessing:Switch tones with them at will but not because you’re bending to theirs. Switching confuses them and demonstrates that you don’t have emotional inertia. Feel free to switch back to your real self, providing instant provisional reward if they start to sound genuinely receptive (which is different from them supplying “reasons” why they’re right) and to switch right back the moment they return to troll-talk. Duck and weave. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Obverse Psychology:And don’t be stung – defensive in response to their accusations. When they say “Ha! you’re sensitive,” as though sensitivity is a rare pathology they’re in a position to diagnose, say “Damned right I am, like you, like everyone, though maybe you’re too sensitive to admit it. The only question is whether I am sensitive in the right places or the wrong, a question you ignore when you pretending that insensitivity means you’re brave.” When they say “you’re biased” say “Damned right, like you like everyone.”

Ad absurdum:When they talk about how tough guys are winners and winning is everything, say, “So what’s your excuse? Since you’ve decided that winning is everything, why do you still live on a low rung? Why aren’t you a billionaire yet? I guess that even proud of having no conscience, you still don’t have what it takes to win.”

Tomorrow decides:Say, “notice that this guy assumes that the future is determined by insistence, as though winning a debate determines fate. That of course, means that he’s just mental masturbating, clueless to how reality works. Real cleverness recognizes that the future is not known and reality wins all debates. What’s funny is that this blowhard prognosticator is so nearsighted he can’t see beyond the immediate gloat. He’s not even planning ahead enough to cover his ass next week if and when he proves wrong.”

Triage: At the height of crisis, worthy causes get back-burnered. During Nazi occupation or the rape of Nanjing, there wasn’t much attention left for pet causes. It would have been a hard time to fundraise for PETA. We’re not used to such crises here in the US but the same applies. You may have committed yourself years ago to the cause that gives the most meaning to your life, or you may be burdened by one oppression or another. There are many oppressors now and we have to prioritize. In debate, don’t lose sight of true priorities. The top priority i is keeping the troll epidemic from ending America before America ends it.

Keep your own counsel:People often feel the need to prove to themselves that they’re decent by proving it to others. They say what in fact, they need to hear. Bring that mission to a debate with a troll and you’re lost. Stand your ground grounded in who you are and you can do what it takes in combat. Have calmfidence, a calm confidence  in the bets you place. If you’re wrong, live and learn, unlike these supposed freedom fighter, the only freedom they care about being the freedom for them to never have to rethink anything ever again. And have calmfidence in yourself. After troll baiting you may need to take a shower to wipe off the grime. You’ll find that when you do, you’re still there, the same decent person you’ve been trying to be all along.

Infinite empathy:Always be ready on a dime to make the troll’s case convincingly to him, not that you have to or should and of course, you don’t have to agree with it all, and you should be careful about when you actually do it. Don’t when a troll has got you on the run unless you want to prove that you hear him and to show him up because chances are he can’t make your case convincingly – he’ll keep trying to mock it. Nonetheless maintain that capacity for empathy.

Empathy ≠ charity:Being able to empathize like that requires that you keep a clutch pedal between it and charity. Many people forget this and end up thinking that they can’t afford to empathize. Instead, be able to make a case so a villain says “damn, you really understand me,” and then cut him down to size. Empathy should not force you into a charitable state of mind. It just makes you a better advocate and keeps you from becoming a troll yourself. Trolls wouldn’t be able to empathize, making their opponent’s case convincingly if their lives dependent on it. They think their lives depend on not empathizing with you total libtard.

For the record, people often tell me I’m a great listener, a fine conversationalist, excellent at give and take. Regardless of whether it’s true (We’d each be the last to know what we’re really like even when friends flatter like that), that’s my goal.

But I keep context in mind. Being aggressive and unreceptive with decent, receptive people is a mistake I’ve made and will make again. Being receptive with aggressive trolls is a mistake I’ll make again too. I’m trying to minimize both but in current context, being receptive with right-trolls is the greater evil, the mistake I’m aim to minimize most in this context. I’m giving much less benefit of the doubt in the midst of this hypocracy coup.

It’s time to drop our earnest efforts to prove that we’re receptive. This is no time to take refuge in pious failure our heads held high because when they went low we stayed high on our moral platitudes. There’s a right wing troll epidemic going on. Get good at thwarting them and we’ll have a better chance of avoiding civil war.

Jeremy Sherman Ph.D. researches how the living interpret, from their cradle at the origin of life to our current grave situation.
 

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