Internet Trolls and Differing Opinions

A week ago I had my first experience with a social media troll. Wikipedia defines an internet troll as: “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion,[3] often for their own amusement.”

My experience was mild compared to others I’ve heard of, but here’s how it went:

I’m a member of a local restaurant review group on Facebook. Someone posted about having a horrible experience at a restaurant that I’ve also had a horrible experience at. So I posted a comment that read: “Worst restaurant in Valpo.”  

Not long after my post I got a notification that a guy had commented on my comment: “That’s not very Christian or pastoral of you.”  

This guy didn’t know me so it was ivy he had looked up my profile. I debated on whether or not I should respond, but I did and wrote (tongue in cheek): “just trying to help people avoid suffering 😉.”

He replied: “I’ve never suffered there but I certainly wouldn’t suffer through one of your hate sermons.”

I was done and didn’t want to continue down this road so I told him he didn’t know me and I was deleting my comment.”  Done with, right?

Wrong. It’s weighed on me. I won’t compare this to the vitriol (love that word) that happens when people write political or controversial blog posts, but I’m seeing more and more that to have a differing opinion means that you have to disagree vehemently (another favorite v word) and fight tooth a d nail to prove your opinion is superior to someone else’s. We rarely know how to disagree civilly. 

As a pastor I had people asking me for my opinion frequently- and I often gave it. Sometimes I’d answer how they thought I should answer or maybe a little lighter than I would to a friend, sometimes I gave my opinion even if it would t be shared. But more and more I’m reticent to give my opinion. I think it’s partly because I don’t want to expend the energy in defending my opinion, but I think it’s also because I’m aware that people just want to argue. 

This is one of the reasons I love my Pub Theology group – we come to share our opinions on topics, but we also come to listen and learn from one another. It’s a rare space in our world. To listen is such a gift and such an expectation of Pub Theology that when people come and do more talking than listening, they stick out like a hunter orange in the middle of the woods. 

I have come to love differing opinions – but only when the ground rules are that we are there to learn and listen and not judge. If only everywhere could be like that.