By Karl Radl
Jane Eisner of the Jewish Daily Forward recently penned an article about ‘How Trolling Journalists Undermines Democracy’, which is but one in a long series of articles from journalists since 2015 about how ‘trolling’ – i.e. readers vocally expressing displeasure – is negatively impacting the journalistic profession.
As usual, Eisner shows a distinct lack of self-awareness: She fails to note that trolling itself is an inherently democratic phenomenon which relies both on the skills of the individual trolls and their numbers.
She also ignores the fact that every political persuasion on the planet that has more than a handful of followers engages in the practice, as she would know if she had spent even a week or two on any kind of place that actually allows political discussion.
You would be hard-pressed to find a political forum that doesn’t have trolls, or even a Youtube video on any subject whatsoever that doesn’t have people expressing negative views or simply being abusive in the comments section. This is par for the course in this newly-connected digital world: No longer does an individual need to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn spreading their message with a few friends in tow.
The world has moved on, and now we the people have a new bullhorn that doesn’t require us to go and stand in the wind and rain on a major shopping thoroughfare promoting ideas we want others to hear. Instead, we go with our beliefs into the new marketplace: a digital one where we engage in the standard stratagems and tactics of debate – in good faith and bad – with those who populate and pass through that digital marketplace.
What has changed is not that trolling is a new phenomenon per se – even a good old-fashioned filibuster is a form of trolling if you think about it – instead, the reach of the thoroughfares that trolls have access to is much, much greater. As a direct result, trolling is that much more effective.
Antifa has had expansive access to these thoroughfares in the past: They held ‘Stop the Hate’ rallies and concerts in public spaces, and trolled nationalists in their places of work by doorstepping them and their employers. The boot is now on the other foot, and in the new street politics it is the nationalists who have the upper hand: Gone are the days in which the left could operate without restriction and libel people with impunity.
What the left – of which Eisner is but a trenchant example – are afraid of and complaining about is that their own tactics are being used against them by an increasing militant and freewheeling hydra of an opponent that is the modern nationalist movement.
They are facing the new Digital Street Politics and they can’t handle it.