The basement files: Don’t feed the trolls


Logic would dictate that if you buy two pair of pants, of the exact same brand, of the exact same cut, of the exact same size, they would be exactly the same. In this, the age of robotics and machinery, in a time where we have man-made objects not only scouring the surface of another planet but out “voyaging” beyond our own solar system, you’d think we would have found a way to make identical pant sizes, well, identical. I shouldn’t be a baritone in one, and a falsetto in another. Pant sizes have almost made my “list of things I don’t trust,” which currently only has two occupants: politicians, and farts. Neither smells great, and if you’re not careful you can get more than you bargained for. But that’s not what I want to talk about today, I just had to get that off my chest.

What I do want to share with you all this week is a new (hardly scientific and borderline irrelevant) theorem I have developed over the last few months, and would like to put it to you, the readers for some peer review. The theorem is titled “The Pol/Race News Message Board Conversation Degradation Theorem,” (or TP/RNMBCDT for short) which states that “no matter the news story, if the comment section exceeds five individual comments (not including replies) the conversation will turn political, or freakishly racist … if it hasn’t already.”

I stumbled across this phenomenon about nine or so months ago. One night I was bored out of my mind and happened to be surfing news websites. I know, I know, I should be “reading the paper,” but just go with me for a second. I was reading the articles, catching up on the news of the day, when I ran out of new news. So I grabbed a pop and scrolled down to find that there were three comments on this news story. It was something about weather because we had some early season tornadoes in the country, and the first two comments referenced the story. The third, well, I can’t mention it here — it was “colorful” to say the least, and had zero to do with the subject at hand.

I thought it may be a “one-off,” but my curiosity took over, and I just had to check out a few more stories, on a few more news sites. Sure enough, there it was, and it was rampant! A new bike path? Blame the Democrats! Industrial pollutants? Dang Dirty Republicans! Lutefisk dinner? Those “lye-ing” Norwegians!

Now, anyone familiar with the Internet is aware of “trolls.” Folks out there that, through the veil of anonymity, take great pleasure is peeving the heck out of people and just being a general nuisance with their, let’s call it “jack-bassery.” This is more than that however, because some sites use a Facebook plug in, and people are saying these things using their real names.

It’s incredible! And I hate to say, kind of addicting to read in a sick sort of way, but not for the reason you might think. Sure, some people can get just vile, but a majority of those who don’t start posting in an online thread until the TP/RNMBCDT is executed seem to vehemently believe in what they are saying, and will not only try and back it up, but actually attempt to change your mind.

The super-racist stuff does get attacked by the other posters, but some of it can actually be thought provoking. “Stop pandering to (insert racial group here)” replied by, “bigot,” to which they answer “I’m not a bigot, I want to help (said group) and you’re not helping them by keeping them down, and here is why …” The left argues their way, the right argues theirs, and it’s completely unfiltered (to a point — the website moderators will take out some of the more heinous stuff, and some of the stuff they don’t agree with … but not the posts calling them out on it), and I love it! There is no phony outrage like what you get with the talking heads on cable T.V. This is real outrage, with real people, arguing real points, in the most asinine of places! There was a tire recall? “Well, maybe we should recall Obama!” “Forget you, we should recall Christie instead, you GOP hack!” “Hack? I have a job you hippie! You know why we should recall Obama …” “Yeah, well Christie did this and this and that …” How can I make this a TV show?

Anyway, that’s the TP/RNMBCDT in a nutshell. I know some of you out there will probably not take the same pleasure in reading asinine conversations between two people who might as well be talking to a brick wall, but for those of you who like a good (and sometimes unintelligible) read, and aren’t easily offended, pick a news site, pick a story, and check the comment section. You’ll see the TP/RNMBCDT in action.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to see how this conversation on Sunday liquor sales devolves into a shouting match over the welfare state and government overreach.

Chris Hamble is a freelance writer and humor columnist serving newspapers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and is a lifelong Stillwater resident.