Sunday, February 14, 2010

Further Thoughts on Trolling

I must reiterate that trolling is one of the biggest threats to continuing freedom of speech on the Internet. As regular users of the Net, we need to understand how to deal with it. From time to time, on this Blog, I will post my ideas on how we might do this.

One of the most common epithets hurled by trolls, at those with whom they disagree, is "liar." They don't seem to understand what the word means, but that doesn't stop them from using it, and the reason is obvious. It's nasty, and it smears their targets. The fact that they often misuse the word, and that simple recourse to a dictionary would clear that problem up, does not seem to concern them. Their very purpose is not to illuminate the truth, but to obfuscate it -- which, of course, makes THEM the actual liars.

A "liar" is not merely someone who says something you believe to be untrue. The standard required to meet the definition of "liar" is higher than that. A "liar" is someone who KNOWS that what they're saying is untrue, and who is therefore saying it with the purpose of misleading.

If you disagree with someone because he or she has said something you regard as false, the only way you can know for sure if this person is a liar is if you can read their mind. If this person sincerely believes whatever he or she is saying -- regardless of the fact that you consider their statement untrue -- that does not make him or her a "liar." People who say things that aren't true, but that they believe to be true, are mistaken, and in some cases perhaps even stupid -- but they are not liars.

I suppose there is a second way of knowing if people who say untrue things are liars, and that would be if you can show they indicated elsewhere that they knew better. You would then provide the quote, or preferrably the link, that demonstrated this. This is by no means an impossible task, but most of those who scream "liar!" in every quarrel are too lazy (or too dishonest themselves) to attempt it.

Small children often holler "liar!" at other kids in their playground quarrels. This is because they don't yet know the meaning of the word. It may also be because it sounds really bad, thereby making them feel better. Children can be excused for doing this, because they just don't know any better. Those on the Internet, who are supposed to be adults, have no excuse for not knowing better.

What the shouters of "liar!" are really revealing about themselves is that they are too insecure in their own convictions to risk a real debate. Not only are they very likely liars themselves, but they are also cowards. Next time somebody screams "liar!" at you on a blog commentary thread, remember that the best way to counter their idiocy is to call them out on it.



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