Monday, January 20, 2014

Perils of a Troll

Having grown up in the world of Dungeons and Dragons and some of the wonderful JRR Tolkein fantasies, I thought that I had a pretty good picture in my mind of this mythical creature.  But little did I know that my imagination would come back to haunt me in the internet age.  I often heard people saying things like "oh, that person is a 'troll'", and just kind of let it slide, because it seemed to be a fairly random insult, but I didn't connect the dots to understand the underlying implications of such a person until now.

I believe that the internet is a wonderful communication forum which enables people to hold ongoing conversations despite geographic or timing differences.  But, to me, the fundamental basis behind holding a conversation is attempting to understand the "background listening" that a person exudes.  I first learned of this concept of "background listening" from a very wise educator named Toby Hecht, who used to teach at GE's famed executive education center named Crotonville, and went on to create his on program based upon some of the same fundamental concepts.  He really helped me to try to "step out of my own thinking" in order to better understand the actions and motivations of others, while always attempting to balance integrity and ethics.

I think that integrity is what really brings me back to these insidious online personas that we call trolls, because I believe that if we can not be honest regarding for what we stand, and who we are, then how can we possibly have a healthy discussion?  For example, if I were to tell you ("this is totally a fake story") that I had lost my child at a young age due to a horrible mishap in the hospital, then this would help you better understand me if I were to go on a long diatribe about how horribly broken the medical field is.  You may work in the field, but you would still be sympathetic to the emotions that are underlying my positions.  If it then came to light that that story about my child was a complete farce, not only would you question my motivations for telling you in the first place, you would question all interactions that you had with me, because they were all based upon a false foundation.

I fear that BCS has fallen victim to relying on such a beast in the debate with LASD.  When I was first learning about this "healthy debate" (LASD-BCS) while lying in a hospital bed with lots of time on my hands, it was a great opportunity for me to better understand all of the players involved.  By understanding the individual people, I could better appreciate their perspectives, and have a healthier conversation with them, despite potentially differing opinions.  Reading peoples posts, their backgrounds and experiences, really helped to frame the conversations, and prevent comments from being taken too personally (knowing the individual's heart that was involved).

But something happened a couple of months ago.  I'm not sure of the root cause, but it seemed that there was a concerted (if not organized) retreat from the online debate by the BCS contingent.  This change in strategy alone did not particularly upset me, because my goal was still the same one with which I started (to try to prevent a false narrative from being told to unsuspecting readers).  I started this goal when a friend of mine, Amanda Aaronson, was running for the open LASD board position.  Amanda could have provided a good perspective on the board as a resident from Mountain View.  She could have also furnished a different perspective by being a BCS parent.  But, during her campaign time, I noticed something unfortunate happening, which was what caused me to step out from being solely a "reader" to become a "participator".

I noticed on several boards that statements in support of Amanda were being made by people whom I did not know.  Without this knowledge, I feared that my "background listening" would not be as accurate, so I dug a bit to learn about these people, and invariably, they all seemed to "anonymously" tie back to BCS.  I say anonymously, because they "attempted" to hide their tie to BCS, thus misleading people into thinking that they were "just random citizens" making astute observations.  These attempts varied from people using pseudonyms to post online anonymously to people claiming that they were just "random citizens" who thought it would be "great to have Amanda on the LASD board".  Ironically enough, a little digging, and I found that these "random citizens" had also donated a fair chunk of change to BCS, and most likely were also other BCS parents, thus destroying both the randomness and unbiasedness of their comments.

Now that I had been brought out from being an observer and a learner in this debate, I have found myself actively participating.  As I have said many times, I enjoy meeting with people face to face more than anything, because I really believe that looking in someone's eyes can help me to better understand their perspectives, and hence their comments.  I have deep respect for all of the people with whom I have personally met, with the exception of one.  Unfortunately, this one, is the same person who BCS has "allowed" to step to the forefront as they have retreated from some of the online conversations.

What began as a healthy, albeit sometimes quite spirited, debate among very intelligent, honest people, seemed to turn into more of a marketing campaign.  The troll began with a false pretense of "unbiasedness", and then would continue to "stir the pot" by making inflammatory comments on "slow news days".  While I don't doubt his overall intelligence, nor his vast, encyclopedic knowledge of everything from charter school law to California history, it is his integrity that I doubt.  And without integrity, what are we all really... trolls???

No comments:

Post a Comment