Walk softly, heed the trolls

I’m not a fan of trolls, whether they reside under bridges, in great works of fantasy fiction, or online.
I used the term “troll” recently in a post explaining why comments were turned off here, while guest columns and letters were welcomed.
In my understanding of the term troll — and my experience with some anonymous online folk — the reference is to people who write nasty things to incite, inflame or injure.
Some psychologists attribute at least a portion of online trolling to the work of true sadists — people who enjoy hurting others.
But reader Bruce Plante, whose guest column appears next, challenged my use of the term. Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps I was using too broad of a brush. Free speech is a sacred right.
Protest and challenge of the establishment is something I sincerely support. I was an opinion columnist for nearly 30 years, after all.
As of late, I’m also becoming sensitive to so-called dog-whistle terms like “social justice warrior” to denigrate or dehumanize a class of citizens.
Bruce’s words forced me to ask myself: Do I use the label “troll” to de-legitimize or castigate people who disagree with me?
I am a fan of civil discourse and purposeful listening and learning. I have actually changed my mind when provided new evidence or information.
But I also understand that when people feel silenced or ignored, they might shout out with vitriol. Bruce reminds me I must listen to everyone. Calling someone a troll is tantamount to trolling.

By Scott McKeen, City Councillor Ward 6