Let the wild rumpus start!

Call me old-fashioned, but I still make pre-internet era references in my mind when I hear certain terms that have been hijacked into the modern age of technology.

For example, the word “troll.” 

For me, the word makes me think of the classic children’s (and grown-up’s) book “Where the Wild Things Are” by the recently deceased Maurice Sendak. And I have to admit that hearing makes want to hold a wild rumpus – no matter where I happen to be at the moment.

In an online discussion today with several fellow Times of Israel bloggers, this whole “troll” thing came up, and once I finished dancing around the living room and going to bed without any supper, I started really thinking about it.

The discussion centered on a particular frequent talk-backer (one of several) to many of this site’s blogs and news pieces. This person constantly spouts vitriolic hatred towards Israel, as is, his prerogative.

However, rather than basing his posts on well-reasoned and thought-out facts, almost everything this person says is typical, propagandist baloney – not connected to what is really happening in Israel, and not taking into account the true complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.

This talk-backer takes the easy way out, and simplistically holds Israel 100% accountable for all of the problems in the region, all at the expense of the poor, defenseless, innocent peace-lovers of Hamas and the PA.

One fellow blogger suggested banning this talk-backer, as a troll not interested in actually debating the issues, but as a troll (wild rumpus time again) simply spreading hatred.

The idea to never see certain talk-backers demonstrating their ignorance on our site is certainly appealing. But that would be counter-productive, as it seems to me that they actually do more good than harm.

From what I have seen, both in blogs and news pieces where these trolls show up, for every one of their baseless and hateful comments, there are 10, 20, even 30 replies representing a more factual point of view and blow their propaganda out of the water. 

When the trolls respond, they tend to quote slogans and phrases rather than actually address the arguments made against them. The more they post, the more ridiculous they make themselves look

There are two kinds of people who read the articles, blogs and talk-backs on the Times of Israel: those with open minds, and those without.

Those without an open mind come to the site with an inability to consider ideas that do not fit in with their pre-conceived notions of reality.

To be clear, this group is not restricted to those whose world view is that Israel is the root of everything wrong on the planet.

Plenty of Zionists and Israel-supporters refuse to recognize that Israel has in fact made mistakes. Not everything we have done regarding our neighbors has been right, and like it or not, we need to deal with the reality that is, not the one we wish for.

But no matter where a person falls on the political spectrum, having a closed mind means that no matter what counter-arguments are offered, no matter how sensible, logical and even accurate they are, the ignoramus will not be swayed. Period. His or her mind is made up and there is no use trying to confuse them with facts.

We need not worry about these people being convinced by the trolls. Either they agree with the trolls and their ignorance is reinforced, or they don’t in which case their beliefs won’t be changed. Either way, the troll has done no damage.

Of those with an open mind who read the site – many have strong opinions and ideas about the issues, others who do not. In any event, they are willing (by definition) to think about what they read. They will read the trolls’ vitriol, and they will read the dozen or more responses.

Hopefully, when presented with the both sides of the arguments they are able to determine between fact and fiction, between propaganda and understanding the complexities of a sensitive geo-political situation.

So, the trolls are actually providing us with a valuable service. The more asinine and thoughtless their arguments, the easier the platform for us to present a counterpoint defending Israel.

It reminds me of a lifetime and a half ago when I was a college student in the States. An evangelist preacher named Tom stood at one of the quads on campus daily damning all passersby to hell.  One day he had recruited three “guest” damners – each one crazier than the others, all three of whom made Tom look like a card-carrying ACLU liberal.

A few friends and I were inspired that day to start an anti-missionary group that we called “Jews for Cheeses.” Our goal was to argue with Tom whenever we had the chance. We were not trying to convince him of anything – we knew how futile that would have been. Rather, our target was his listeners who were confused and searching for answers. These are the people who could be easily swayed by the one-sided arguments for which they had no reply.

So we argued.

Just like those are fed up with the trolls in the talk-backs should be doing. Rather than banning them from the site, enabling them to find other platforms from where they can spread their lies and their hatred.

Certain trolls will not be convinced, no matter what we say to them. That’s fine. But for those with an open mind following the dialogue, we have a chance to provide a counter-point to what, on the surface, may seem to be very persuasive arguments.

Personally, I love that these trolls spending as much time as several of them do reading and espousing their ignorance on the Times of Israel site. They garner accolades from those who agree with them from the outset, and the only potential harm to Israel is with the fence-sitters who don’t fully understand what’s going on here.

But they allow us the chance to present the our views, and it is our responsibility to make sure that we do that and do it very well.

It’s a challenge, to be sure. But it is one that is doable, and important.

In the end, we will do as Max did “Where the Wild Things Are” after he finished taming his own trolls. We will sail back home from the long journey, and find our supper waiting for us.

And hopefully it will still be hot.

About the Author
Asher Zeiger grew up (well, sort of) in North Carolina and moved to Israel in 1988. He lives in Modi'in with his wife and two daughters, and works as freelance writer, editor and translator. In his spare time, he tries hard at not taking himself or life too seriously (successfully) and at unwrapping himself from around his daughters' little fingers (not so successfully).