The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

The trolls of social media debates

By in Opinions


Internet Troll

We live in a time where it is easy to make your opinion known — maybe too easy. Telling the difference between people who are steadfast in their opinions from trolls that will play the devil’s advocate until hell  freezes over is no simple task.

We’ve gone from appreciating that everyone has an opinion to thinking, “oh my god if I see one more ‘like my status if you think child slavery is wrong’ on Facebook I will scream.” So does the use of social media help or hinder the power of debate?

This article is inspired by the aftermath of the debacle surrounding an article written by Professor Kevin Flynn of the University of Saskatchewan campus. He wrote about the inclusiveness of different genders at pipe ceremonies within First Nations’ culture, with reference to an email he received that told women not to participate in the ceremony if they were on their “moon time.”

Once the controversy became known — and because I follow Flynn on Twitter — I naturally wanted to find out what was going on. It was ridiculous how many tweets I had to go through to find the article in question.

Admittedly, I have very little knowledge on the cultural ceremony that the article was referring to. Reading it, I could only grasp that Flynn believed he observed something that was being discriminatory against women and decided to speak out. Something he had said set alight the Twitter cavalry that then bombarded him with hate tweets in what these people believed was for the sake of debate. But this is not a true form of debate.

As a person that was desperately trying to find out the truth about the workings of the ceremony, it was way too hard to locate the honest people with justified opinions.

A debate entails that you do more than just tell the other person they’re wrong, but rather show them. I understand that it is next to impossible to have a valid argument in 140 characters or less, but does that mean that all a person can muster up for a rebuttal is the blanket “Oh look at the white man trying to bring us down again”? Which, for everyone’s information, is still racist.

I’d personally like to thank the people with a cool enough head — on both sides — that addressed this entire situation with what we may call social media etiquette.

It was because of you that I eventually got to learn more and you’ve successfully done what a debate should do: enlighten and encourage others to be introspective about their own opinions

And so, in the context of this article, my message is to the trolls.

Freedom of speech was a big topic in question that surrounded this scandal — the notion being that, whether someone is politically correct or not, they are allowed to make their opinion known.

I fear that the trolls see themselves as freedom of speech activists when in reality all they are doing is peeling away the true reason why this fundamental right is so important.

Freedom of speech and debate is what propels our society forward. The ability that we are allowed to speak about what is on our minds — and point a finger at what we believe is wrong — is one that we should all know better than to abuse.

As a social media enthusiast, I see platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube as an incredible way to bring awareness to what you as a person think might be wrong or right with the world. Yet what we are regularly left with is the mindless textual babble of those whose Internet connection is faster than the time it takes for them to rethink what they said.

Whether you agree with Flynn’s points or not, once the trolls came viciously knocking he responded appropriately by asking those deeply offended to engage with him via email. No matter how much I believe in the power of social media, those who have a substantial opinion should be able to have an intellectual discourse via private as well as public mediums.

With the 140 character limit on tweets, you’re stuck with using a bunch of egregious punch words that look more like an attempt to get a rise than an attempt to educate someone on the flaws in their point of view.

I respect those who fearlessly state their viewpoints no matter what the risk. As long as there is honest intention and an attempt to bring substance to the argument, I’m all for a debate that emerges from two sides yearning for acceptance.

This entails that two sides are willing to speak out — no matter what the cost — on what they think is right. Even if you believe that he went about it all wrong, would you have been more at peace if Flynn saw something he thought was wrong and kept silent about it?

The presence of online trolls should not scare anyone from using their social media as a means to speak out, but we all have to acknowledge that it’s partly due to these critics that anything posted on Facebook or Twitter seems to lose credibility.

If I had copied and pasted this entire article onto Facebook, would it mean any less? Truly, an opinions article is just a lengthy, glorified tweet that has been proofread.

To get those introspective juices flowing, I ask you to think about whether or not you can actually debate on a social media platform. Or will there always be a troll that clouds the validity of anything being said?

As individuals, we should be grateful that by just typing on a keyboard we could be heard by the entire world. We also must understand that if any of us gets the chance to hold up a megaphone to all of planet earth, we should be saying something worthwhile.

Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor

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