Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Untrolling Tuesday

So, I'm trying to be more dedicated to blogging, which means not waiting until I have something well thought out to say and shooting from the hip (if you'll pardon the firearms metaphor in this context).

One half-baked idea I had recently was something minor that could be done to help make Twitter a bit more friendly.  I'm not sure where/when it occurred to me, and it's not exactly original, but a couple of weeks ago, I tried an experiment in "untrolling."

Of course, "trolling" is the art/habit/addiction of saying snarky, mean-spirited, critical things to people on social media in an attempt to get a rise out of them and/or to simply vent one's spleen. Anyone who's reading a blog post like this is no doubt familiar with this. Many of us, yours truly included, have done it ourselves.

As an experiment, I decided to do the opposite: untrolling.  Over the course of the day, as I saw various people post things that showed up on my Twitter feed, I'd make a comment to them about something I appreciated about them, their work, their posts . . . whatever.  The only requirement is that it had to be sincere.  Other than that, it might be incredibly broad ("Hey, just wanted to say I've always enjoyed your writing.") to specific ("I appreciate that link you posted to NYT piece on veterans' issues."). As trolling is the rather random infliction of snark and criticism, untrolling is the rather random bestowing of a compliment or thanks.

So I posted a bunch of things with the hashtag #untrolling, and a funny thing happened: people responded.  Famous people, not so famous people, people I agree with, people I don't agree with . . . didn't matter.  I suddenly was getting responses from people who appreciated something nice showing up in their Twitter feed.

Often, these were people whose posts I replied to in the past, and often in a complimentary way, but who had never bothered to respond before.  I suspect that it was the fact that whatever compliment I paid to them was free of any particular context and fairly random that made it stand out.

Not surprisingly, a number of the people who seemed most appreciative were those who got more than their fair share of trolling.  Not surprisingly, those who write on political or social issues often get scorn heaped upon them.  More specifically, my sense is a lot of female writers/pundits come in for particularly nasty vitriol.  And these were the people who seemed most surprised and pleased to see something nice show up in their Twitter feed.

And although it's probably pretty obvious, a lesson learned from this is that it feels good to give compliments and be kind. I was much more happy with myself when getting appreciative comments back from people I untrolled than I've ever been after making a snarky, cutting comment (and I've made a great many), regardless of how deserved it might have been from my point of view.

So, I've decided this is a thing I should keep doing.  Not every day . . . maybe once a week.  Instead of "Throwback Thursday" or "Follow Friday," I'll call it "Untrolling Tuesdays"--a day to make a point of posting something positive to someone on Twitter--something sincere but without any particular agenda or purpose.  It's a small thing to do, but it feels good, and if studies of social behavior are to be believed (see below), small things we do as individuals can have a ripple effect far beyond what we could demonstrate or imagine.

Not to say I've given up snark--it has it's place.  But so does niceness.


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