On trolling in academia

The nickname we have for persistent, consistent societal problems is wicked problems.

These issues are complex. These problems are pervasive. They are a result of decades (centuries) of institutional policy build up on top of so many other forces.

There was a recent opinion in Inside Higher Ed in which a Professor Jim Moore laments the unwillingness of “certain” communities (read: progressive, left, snowflake) intolerance for diverse opinions … about Title IX & sexual assault. I won’t write about the issues of Title IX and the many difficulties associated with adjudicating sexual assault on campus in this post, it’s way too complex.

I am only addressing the email exchange, and Professor Moore’s recent piece. He does actually have some good points, but they are of so little importance to the bigger fact:

Professor Jim Moore is acting like a troll.

What Professor Moore has rejected in his opinion piece, in a seemingly Sisyphean task, is any fault of his in making the situation more difficult.

In the piece, Professor Moore states, “My intent was to create a moment for empathy and reflection. ” This is pure fiction. Yes, it is difficult for anyone to glean another person’s intention. However, given everything I’ve read and witnessed, I see no evidence that he had good faith intentions.

Nor do I expect that he will ever listen to a word I have to say about this. He’s drawn his line in the sand.

To recap: He responded, on a Listserv going to thousands of people, to a student group invitation to an event to learn about Title IX with a two sentence slam:

If the day comes you are accused of some crime or tort of which you are not guilty, and you find your peers automatically believing your accuser, I expect you find yourself a stronger proponent of due-process protections than you are now. Accusers sometimes lie.

Jim Moore

This on the day of the Kavanaugh hearings, in which tensions were already high – in a particularly gendered way.

He trollishly reacted to the use of the hashtag #believesurvivors as 100% literal; ignoring the context behind it. In fact, not only ignoring the context behind it but doubling down on the very reason the hashtag exists. Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in a world where alleged victims of crimes are all given the benefit of the doubt, and said crimes were investigated promptly and properly? You know, regardless of gender and sexuality, and who holds power? I digress.

Let’s give Professor Moore the benefit of the doubt – let’s say he did want open dialogue. That those two sentences were his opening volley in what he hoped would be a long and fruitful discussion.

Once he realized that people were reading the email as “Oh you silly girls, accusers can lie, don’t you know,” he could have responded in a way to minimize harm and reopen dialogue (though, of course he could have just attended the event to listen, learn & communicate – gasp! the audacity). He could have apologized for any harm caused, for his flippancy on such an important issue, or even for reacting out of emotion. He could have tried another way. Instead, he doubled down, more aggressively, more rudely.

This was clearly not an invitation for open dialogue – this was trolling.

Education is not a one way street. One must be able to lead, to learn, and listen in order to teach well. This is where he failed, and continues to fail. I would argue, fail especially as a professor.

He reacted to an invitation from students with a taunt. He was called out. He doubled down. In this opinion piece he is now whining in public about how terribly he’s been treated.There is no self-reflection or true understanding of his actions in this piece.

His claimed intent can only be seen as bullshit given the context.

If he truly wants to be a leader, it will mean admitting harm, admitting wrong, and doing better. Listening more, reacting with the empathy and true desire for conversation that he claimed to want.

Don’t be Jim Moore.

Don’t pretend to be looking for engagement while trolling.

Instead – Here is a very simple set of rules for engagement … if, in fact, you actually desire dialogue. Do you think you might be a troll? Follow these rules:

rules for dialogue

  1. Read the room
    • are you in a room? are you online? what are you responding to? who are you responding to? what is the power dynamic?
  2. Look in the mirror
    • why am i reacting? what is my mood?
  3. Assess
    • is what i have to say productive? what do i want out of this – what is my intent? is there good context for my response?
  4. Choose course of action
    Please be aware, this is the step which could turn you into a troll.

    If you have chosen to launch your first volley … and you have responses, now follow the original steps again:

  5. Read the room
  6. Look in the mirror
  7. Assess
  8. Choose course of action

    If you have completed these steps in bad faith, you risk your Trolliness seeing the light of day. Of course, you’ll have your cheering squad, every villain has goons. Doesn’t make you any better of a person though, does it?

An email listserv isn’t the easiest place to engage in open dialogue on wicked problems. Responding to students in a dismissive way is not the mark of a good educator. Trolling doesn’t lead to real dialogue.