Tobold's law
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 November 2013, 3:22 am
Godwin's law, in its original form, says that "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.". These days people use a different version, because otherwise they would have to explain what Usenet was. But in other respects the law is also becoming a bit dated, comparisons involving Nazis or Hitler have actually become less common, although they are of course still around. If I would formulate Tobold's law today, it would say "As a blog discussion grows longer, the probability of arguments being dismissed as trolling or strawman approaches one.". Of course that is also quickly becoming outdated, in ten years you'll have to explain to people what a blog is. All the nasty gossip and chatter has moved to Twitter these days.

Wikipedia defines trolling as: "In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion." But most people tend to not consider all of that definition. A very wrong, but common definition is that "if something upsets me, it must be trolling". Thus even if an opinion posted somewhere is not at all extraneous, off-topic, or disrupting normal on-topic discussion, it will be accused of trolling. Even a blog post itself, which obviously by definition can never be "off-topic", as it defines the topic, will be called trolling.

So yesterday both my post and The Godmother's post I linked to where accused of being trolling. Neither of them were. They were two posts expressing very different opinions on the same subject. And if you had an opinion on the matter, it was likely that either one or the other would upset you. While of course the topic was controversial in itself, both posts went to great lengths to not be unnecessarily inflammatory. The Godmother expressed her opinion in the form of questions and links. And if I had wanted to be trolling and inflammatory, the post would have written itself easily, given material like somebody calling herself "Bitter Gertrude" complaining about the culture of beauty invading her beloved cosplay. A trolling post would have made the obvious remarks about her motivation and jumped to conclusion about her looks. Actually you can find those trolling comments in the comment section of the post in question.

The thing is that one thing hasn't changed from Usenet discussion to blogs to Facebook and Twitter: Most of the content written in these places is not a discussion of facts, but a discussion of opinions. That automatically leads to the famous someone is wrong on the internet reaction by others. Not because of things that are actually factually wrong, but because for every opinion out there, there is an opposing opinion. There is no true or false to questions about how female cosplayers should dress, there are only opinions.

As The Godmother appeared to be just learning, any opinion you state on the internet is going to provoke some people to disagree. Which is the completely normal process. Either what you write is being completely ignored, or somebody is going to disagree with it. It would be a pipe dream to hope that you write something and get lots of agreeing comments and replies to it. Even if many people do agree with you, they won't feel the need to write anything themselves if you already expressed their opinion reasonably well. It is those who disagree who will feel the need to respond.

A blogger could avoid that by writing completely bland posts without any opinions in them, but what would be the point of that? You blog BECAUSE you have opinions you want to express. And defending one's opinions and convictions isn't trolling. I KNOW that some of my opinions are controversial, e.g. I am against piracy, and that is a controversial opinion in Somalia and on the internet. That doesn't mean that when news on the subject come up and I want to discuss them I should fold and not say what I think, just because it might upset some people. Real trolling is about cheap one-liner comment, and has nothing to do with bloggers defending their opinions, even if those opinions aren't popular.
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