Is trolling always a bad thing?

I've been asking that question a lot lately, especially as the world shifts from "extremely positive about Facebook" to something that is not quite so positive.

In the comments for many Facebook posts, you might see a few happy sentiments mixed with downright abuse. Hate speech is running rampant, people are going for the jugular online--it's not pretty. There are times when trolling seems like a troubling cultural trend, one that is causing decay in society, but there are times when trolling is totally warranted, valid, and maybe even a little helpful. It depends on how you troll, in the end.

I won't get into the politics here, but it's clear that James Comey, the former FBI Director, is trolling President Trump, and he has a serious agenda in mind. I doubt anyone but Comey himself, and maybe close friends and family members, know exactly what's driving him. But we do know his new book, which comes out tomorrow, is quite eye-opening. It describes several salacious details about a meeting between Comey and President Trump that I won't describe here, but the war on Twitter is raging on. Comey has now called Trump " morally unfit" and has described the most powerful person in America as unethical.

Meanwhile, Trump has called Comey a liar and a leaker.

A post just today spelled it all out: "Comey drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her (lied in Congress to Senator G), then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he, McCabe, and the others, committed many crimes!"

It's a war of insults, but if you look at the Twitter feed of James Comey, you might notice a pattern. Again, this is not a political commentary, it's just a simple fact based on reading posts that are shared in a public forum on social media. Comey is not name-calling. He is not abusing. His posts are always polite and direct. On March 17, he posted this update:

"Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not."

Most trolling is abusive, angry, and mean-spirited. I've seen my fair share, and I'm certain a few people will "troll" this article on my own Twitter feed. I've recently decided to start using a new tactics with trolls, other than ignoring them. Will you try this same approach?

1. Stick to the facts

Comey is trolling President Trump, that much is clear. His entire approach, and really the basis for the book, is to make some bold claims. But he does so in a way that is not insulting or rude (at least, so far). We've created a culture where the truth is housed inside an insult, but most people still know it's an insult. In the end, you look like an insulter when you troll in a negative way. You look like the abuser.

2. Avoid abuse

I feel that this type of online abuse and insulting behavior always comes back to bite you in one way or another. If you feel like you want to go on the attack, calling people names and insulting them, take a breather. Comey obviously doesn't want to troll President Trump in a way that makes Comey seem like an abuser. Scrolling through is feed, you will hard pressed to find actual insults. Yet, he is still trolling.

3. Troll away!

Here's my biggest lesson from this latest chapter in American politics. Comey still wrote a book. He still appeared on television. He is telling his side of the story. He's still trolling in a healthy way. You can disagree with the facts, you can argue against his claims, and that's fine. You can troll James Comey. Public discourse and free speech mean you can still provide a clear counter-argument. But when it involves actual online abuse, it becomes something entirely different. It becomes a black mark on all of us.

Published on: Apr 16, 2018