Yesterday, I got trolled.

Now I concede that, even at almost 38 years old, I’m still slightly ignorant of certain functions of social media. I can’t remember when or why I decided to make my posts on Google+ public, but I did. Normally, if anyone comments on those posts, they’re friends or acquaintances, and I’ve never had more than one or two people “+1” my pics, the Google+ equivalent of “liking” something.

But a few days ago, I posted this:

2015-04-26 20.34.51

 

along with the caption: “Welcome to the newest member of our household: Skye, the Hamster.”

At the time of this writing, the number of +1s on my innocuous photo of our new little bundle of joy was 133, and I have no idea who almost all of these people are. Apparently, members of the Google+ community like them some cute pics of furry animals.

Along with the +1s came the comments, because of course people wanted to comment on the adorableness of our new pet. Some even gave a bit of advice, which was helpful. We’ve never owned a hamster, and caring for a hamster is not the same as caring for a cat or a dog.

Then yesterday, out of the clear blue, for no other reason than to be an utter … I don’t know, I can’t come up with a good enough description … a random troll wrote this comment: (Warning: Bigoted Language After The Jump)

WHAT A FAGGOT

At first, I just stared at the words, wondering if (and then, realizing) it was some kind of sick joke. A couple of well meaning young ladies further down the thread commented about the fact that whoever this person was who decided to be a troll was doing it wrong. I had to agree with them. Sure, I would have expected such a comment if I had posted something about GamerGate or MRAs or White Supremacists or any other groups who have organized themselves with the purpose of attacking and/or marginalizing others. But this wasn’t the case. It was just a picture of a hamster.

I also know from others’ experiences online that YOU DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS. Instead, I reported his/her ass using Google+’s handy “Report This Comment” function. (I will make no assumptions that this person is a male, even though s/he used a male-sounding name in his/her fake account name. It very much could be a male, given that it seems most trolls are from the male persuasion, but it could also be a female. You never know. I don’t.)

The comment has since been deleted — by Google+ or by the original poster, I do not know. However, being the curious person I am, I decided to click on his/her username, which was mentioned in one of the replies of another poster, one of the well-meaning young ladies. (I know. I shouldn’t have clicked on it. I’m the same kind of person who knows not to read the comments under certain anger-filled, finger-pointing articles, and yet I do. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just to observe the train wreck from afar.)

I’m not going to descibe what I found on this person’s account, but … wow. Just. Wow.

Later, I told my husband, and he had the same reaction as I did after I reported the comment: if only we could have told that troll’s mom on him/her.

I’m a mom. I have two young sons. They’re not old enough to have social media accounts. I monitor their YouTube and Netflix-watching habits as much as I can. (Thank God for YouTube Kids.) When my oldest son plays Minecraft, he plays offline. Any other online games, especially those on our tablet, are played against the computer or have no chat function available when playing with other people. Anonymity, at least on our end of the Tubes, is the order of the day. I do all of this for many reasons. Mostly because I want to keep my kids safe as much as I can, but also because I know they are not mature enough to deal with the shadier, more malicious side of the Internet.

The troll who decided to attack the photo of my hamster yesterday — s/he did not attack me; I will not give him/her the honor of that privilege — attacked it anonymously. I have no clue how old s/he is. Judging by the comment, I would have said a tween or teenager. His/her words (and lack of punctuation) had that same ring of maturity level behind them. But when I went to the poster’s account, all notions of age and maturity flew out the window. I had no clue. The posts on his/her account were angry, vicious, racist. I didn’t scroll down very far before I had to close the tab. I kept wondering, Who is this person? Why is s/he so angry at the world?

 And where is his/her mother?

Everyone has a mother, whether biological or adopted or foster. I know many children never get adopted and many live on the streets without parents, but everyone came from someone. Everyone has someone in their life who is/was responsible for their care, responsible for teaching them how to treat other people. Where are the parental figures in these trolls’ lives? Where are the women (or men) who had the responsibility of teaching these misguided souls manners and decency? Where are the people who should be stepping up and saying, “Look. I know you’re angry. I know you want attention, but this is the wrong way to go about it. Just because you’re miserable, doesn’t give you the right to make others miserable, too. You have a choice of how you make people see you, you know”?

Because the truth is for the troll, it’s all about getting attention. It’s all about making others see him/her. Yes, I’m well aware that I’m calling out my singular troll just by writing about him/her, which is probably what s/he wants. And maybe I should be giving him/her attention. Maybe that’s what s/he craves. Maybe that’s what s/he needs.

I just finished John Green’s achingly beautiful novel, The Fault in Our Stars, and one of the main characters’ biggest fears is of oblivion. He wants to be remembered for doing some grand, heroic gesture and never quite gets around to it. I think that maybe this is what all the trolls’ hate-filled, bigoted, sexist, whatever-ist language is all about. They fear oblivion. They fear they’ll be forgotten. They fear losing the attention they so desperately crave, because maybe they’re not getting that attention from their mothers or fathers or siblings or spouses or from anyone. But on the Internet, they can rail and whine and scream and get attention, and their words last forever. Oh, comments may get reported and deleted, but somewhere, hidden among all the 1s and 0s, the words live on.

Words hold power. Read any fantasy book and you’ll see what I’m talking about, especially when spells are involved. Words have the power to build up or tear down. They can make us laugh or cry or scream or think. They pull us in or push us away. Written or spoken, they hold power. (Funny that when my kids are angry or scared about something, I tell them to use their words.)

And that’s what the trolls want. That’s what the GamerGaters want. That’s what the MRAs want. That’s what the White Supremacists and all their ilk want. That’s what any group of people with the same mindset and agenda wants over the groups who don’t share their mindset and agenda. They want power. And even though many of them already have a modicum of power and privilege, they don’t want to share it. They want to keep it for themselves. They observe the world changing all around them, and they’re not ready to change with it. They’re afraid.

They’re afraid of oblivion.

A few hours after reporting my troll’s comment, I watched a video of a mother in Baltimore pulling her son away from a riot. She had discovered him throwing rocks at police along with a group of other rioters, and she pulled him out, slapping him and yelling at him, telling him to get back home where he belonged. I don’t condone beating children for any reason, but then again, I don’t know that I wouldn’t have reacted as Toya did if I caught my sons doing the same thing. There is a time to be mad and frustrated with the world, and I understand the frustration that young man had, but violence — whether physical or verbal or written — is never the answer. Toya was scared for her son, and I don’t blame her. I would be scared for mine too.

I would also be angry as hell with them, because I’ve been trying to teach them to choose words — respectful words — over violence. I want them to grow up to be compassionate, respectful young men who understand that other people, regardless of their race, gender, ability, whatever, have a right to live their lives without fear of violence or the repercussions of hate and ignorance. I want my sons to understand that humans make mistakes, but that violence in any form is not the answer. Violence only begets violence. Hate only begets hate. And until we realize that the only way to solve our problems with each other is to sit down and have a civil discourse about them — no name-calling; no talking over others; just listening and hearing what the other side has to say and compromising when necessary, then, moving on with life — the violence will continue. The violence of words will continue, until we’re all left wondering how we got to where we are, going nowhere but in a circle of words.

So, my dear troll, I want to ask you: Where is your mother? Where is that figure in your life with the responsibility of caring for and raising you? Where is that person who reminded you of the Golden Rule? I know s/he is out there. Maybe you’re old enough to be on your own. Maybe your mother figure has long since passed. Still, there has to have been someone in your life who once looked over your shoulder and said, “Um, yeah. That’s not how we treat other people. Try again.” Because I want to believe that somewhere deep down you know what you’re saying and doing is hurtful and hateful. I want to believe that one day you’ll regret your hurtful and hateful words and actions. That one day, you’ll truly see the humans on the other side of your Veil of Anonymity.

I want to believe this, because I fear a future filled with hateful, hurtful people. I fear a future that’s lost its humanity.

I fear a future without mothers.

And now that I’ve said all this, let the trolling begin. (Civil discourse is always welcome, but I reserve the right to delete hurtful and hateful comments and report your ass, because I’m a mother and I care about you and the other people commenting here.)

Thanks for reading.

(Even you trolls.)

A. Cook

Amanda Cook is a stay-at-home-mom and writer living in the rolling hills of southern Indiana. When she’s not caring for her family or obsessing over punctuation, she can be found helping out at her sons' school, catching up on her Goodreads list, playing (and sometimes winning, but mostly losing) board games with her friends, crying over her favorite PBS programs, or sewing yet another costume for the local gaming/pop culture convention, where she’ll probably lose at even more board games.

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