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Don't Feed The Trolls: The Problem With American Politics

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[Some details, timelines, etc changed to protect the guilty... and me.]

I recently joined an e-mail list that was billed as a general-discussion cum professional e-mail list.  So I was a bit surprised when I came across rants from both sides of the political spectrum.

I mean rants.  Not even rants like my rants, folks - we're talking full-grown adults debating which presidential candidate best matches the dictionary definition of boob.  And that was the high intellectual point of the conversation.

I made the mistake of asking if this kind of discussion was normal.  Yes, mistake.  I got so much vitriol that I had to wipe virtual spittle from the backside of my e-mail client.  I was an enemy of free speech.  I was what was wrong with America today.  I was called a tool of the left - and of the right.  I was held up as an example of the political apathy that has let "them" (for whatever value of "them" you prefer) take over.

But here's the interesting bit:  A number of people told me - privately, in person and in e-mail - that not only were the political rants par for the course, but also led them to stop participating for long stretches at a time.  Several people told me the political rants led them to unsubscribe entirely, at least around election season.  [emphasis mine]

I think this is a microcosm of the bigger problem in the American political landscape.  Everything is so polarized that only the loudest and most unreasonable get heard.  I'm a loudmouth, and it's pretty hard to dissuade me from a political argument, sure.  However, I try to stay reasonable - and that's when even I get shouted down by soundbite-spewing blowhards.  It's not about the quality or worth of what one is saying - but about how loud and how many times they say it.

I assume the ranters on that e-mail list can be safely categorized as trolls (in the internet sense).  But maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe they're not trolls.  Maybe they really think that sending rants to other people's e-mail will actually convince them.

But they're not.

They're only causing the apathy and disinterest they hate so much.

Steven still participates on the e-mail list in question, but currently has no less than five filters working to filter out the vitriolic political screeds, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they come from

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