feeding quasi-“legitimate” trolls in an attention economy
In an attention economy, it’s better to ignore than to critique. This drives me absolutely bloody batty. Anyone who’s been online for too darn long knows has heard the expression, “don’t feed the trolls.” This stems from the general belief that trolls engaging in trolling for attention. Giving them attention by telling them off feeds into their goals. Thus, the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore them. We know this pattern from offline examples too. Schoolyard bullies are one example and if you stretch it far enough, you can see this concept in “turn the other cheek.” Still, trying to convince everyone out there to ignore a troll isn’t easy and being silent ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I’m deeply disturbed by the proliferation of troll-like behavior in contemporary life. Why are public figures increasingly appearing whose whole identity is wrapped around driving others batty? Why does it seem as though more people are starting to write controversial books purely to make money off of the attention they receive when others attack them? Why are reputable publications publishing these authors’ tirades against others that are intended specifically to draw them out in a public fight? I guess we know the answer… Or at least the equation. Attention = money. And in the world of media, attention = advertising revenue.
Lately, I’ve found myself biting my tongue a lot. I’m not very good at being silent when I have a strong opinion. To make matters worse, I’m an academic and we’re trained to critique and be critiqued. Yet, in an attention economy, publicly critiquing people whose sole goal is to get massive attention does them more justice than harm. This is understood in marketing as there being no such thing as bad coverage. In a world of blogging and pagerank, critiquing trolls gives them both literal and figurative capital. That’s frustrating as hell. Lately, I’ve found myself encouraging people to not blog about something when it smells like an attention whore. But of course, someone’s feathers still get ruffled and bark bark bark goes the blogosphere.
I have to imagine that folks in marketing land have thought about this, if only to manipulate it. What are good strategies for handling trolls in sheep’s clothing?