At least it’s spelled right…

A group of people in the United States took to social media on Tuesday to express shock at receiving a pornographic video while dialing in to a virtual social event held on Zoom, a California-based video conferencing platform… “Participants screamed and cringed while the hosts rushed to kick the troll out of the call. But they just re-entered under a new name and blasted the audience with more disgusting imagery.”

Reuters news story,

There’s a whole subculture devoted to shock and destruction. Of people who bring nothing to the table but a desire to disrupt, to disturb, to provoke.

Social workers Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner have identified a few of the underlying causes of trolling in children, where it’s kind of normal:

  • Children are generally known for having a low tolerance for frustration. They want things to go their way.
  • They are unable to cope with their frustrations and extreme feelings, and destructiveness is a release of sorts.
  • Sometimes a child may learn that by breaking things or behaving in a violent manner, he will effectively frighten a parent into doing what he wants.
  • Intimidation may also give a child who’s feeling powerless a sense of control.

How is it that we’ve created an entire culture of these man-boys who have no other strategy than defiance and destruction? How is it that millions of people got stuck at eleven years old?

How is it that we elect them?

This nonsense about the “Chinese virus” has two goals. One is to encourage fear of the other, making us compliant with the hero who might save us. The other is to deflect attention from our own amazingly bad planning. (A century ago, we’d have probably called it the “Italian virus,” since Italy has been hit so badly, and we didn’t like Italians so much back then.)

Listen. Viruses don’t have nationalities or ethnicities. They don’t carry passports, don’t have allegiances to a homeland. They aren’t “attacking” us, since they lack motivation. They aren’t “aggressive,” since they lack emotion. They grow somewhat normally among animals, then at some point a human host is infected successfully, and then it’s just people all the way down after that. If people travel, viruses can come from far away. If people don’t travel, then once in a while, a virus takes down everybody in our little insignificant holler, and no one else ever hears about it.

The “Spanish flu” of a hundred years ago was originally from Kansas, then France, before discovered in significant numbers in soldiers returning to the US from Spain in World War 1. There was nothing any more Spanish about the Spanish flu than there was about the “Spanish rice” my mother made from Uncle Ben’s and paprika. There’s nothing any more Chinese about the “Chinese virus” than there is about the holiday cookies I make every year from melted chocolate and bagged chow mein noodles.

Viruses don’t come from bad sanitation. They don’t come from “dirty cultures.” They don’t follow family lines. They come from breathing on or sneezing on or coughing on or exchanging bodily fluids with somebody else. It’s as simple as that.

As Susan Sontag wrote forty years ago in Illness as Metaphor, our need to anthropomorphize everything gets in the way of understanding diseases on their own terms. The sick become flawed, the well become virtuous. And neither are true. It’s all just respiratory droplets, in the end. Bleach and alcohol and physical distance have positive effects, fear and blame do not.

There’s a common line in internet protocols: Don’t feed the trolls. To mean, ignore them and they’ll go away. Well, we ignored them for a long time, and they elected their king to be ours. We need to step up and do better. Trolls are vicious and dangerous, far more so than viruses. In the end, they can’t be ignored, or else we cede the ground altogether.

…When it comes to how we respond to them, our tactics can and will vary, and they may involve anger, humor, love, tolerance, blocking, or maybe even some productive discussion. But ultimately, if we care about abuse, we cannot care most about whether we have comforted, converted, or even fed them. We have to care more about the people they hurt.

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