Across The Universe: Don’t feed the trolls — and other parting words (opinion) | SierraSun.com

Across The Universe: Don’t feed the trolls — and other parting words (opinion)

I’ve written this Across The Universe column off and on over the years, ranging from topics such as current events locally and nationally, advice on handling interesting situations and the evolution of news in a modern era driven by social media and constant change.

As I’ve written a few times since last fall, this week marks a new change — it’s my last as editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza; come April 1, I’ll be moving to Reno into a new role within our parent company.

So with that, as I bid farewell to this column and to the ever-changing communities of Truckee and North Lake Tahoe, I have a few parting words of (hopefully) wisdom on which to reflect.

When I first began with these newspapers in the summer of 2007 as a general assignment reporter, things were different. While we had news websites, our editorial focus was predominantly on our print products. For the most part, our minds were fixed on tradition — rather than the massive change that we didn’t see coming, and that continues to evolve today.

And social media? Heck, we didn’t even create a Facebook page until 2009, well behind the curve of embracing a future of media that must seek to engage several diverse audiences, many of whom do not even pick up a print edition.

Now, part of our mission at the Sun-Bonanza is to be committed to spending as much time on our digital audience as we do our print audience. And in recent years, while I can say we have learned a lot, I can readily admit we have plenty still to learn, especially when it comes to social media and a growing addiction by many to criticize and opine behind the safety of a keyboard.

We live in a world where people can rely on the ease of a smartphone or computer and use a thesaurus at his or her own will, free from any face-to-face (or even over-the-phone) confrontation, to create adjective-laden bombs of commentary on just about anything.

As we’ve seen with our current president’s affection to Twitter, it’s oh-so easy to publish something for the whole world to see. And from there, the comments often spiral out of control.

We also live in a world where countless community members, for whatever reason (perhaps you’re a business owner or a public figure), avoid speaking out in a public forum for fear of backlash.

While this has been true since the dawn of media, what’s different is the at-times dangerous opportunities people now have to express their views with little or no real retribution.

Powered by the free ability to hide behind fake Facebook profiles and Twitter handles, people can easily not just offer negative reviews, but also become, with ease, an internet bully — or worse, an internet troll.

Wikipedia defines the latter as “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community … with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement.”

These people are everywhere, from the White House all the way down to the residents of and visitors to North Lake Tahoe and Truckee. As social media evolves, it’s becoming tougher and tougher to focus the right amount of energy on engaging in online conversation — and it’s not because we don’t value the opinions, nor do we want to avoid digital confrontation.

The challenge lies with recognizing difference between transparency and trolling. Definition-wise, of course, that difference is night and day. But with social media, it can become tough to distinguish. Anyone who’s been passionate about an issue online knows what I’m talking about. An opinionated conversation can quickly turn into one marred by childish accusations and personal attacks.

I’ve said this a lot over the years, but it is worth repeating: Despite all its conveniences, the online world is a dangerous place.

And while I do still believe in the age-old adage of, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all,” it’s getting clearer that more and more people (see above: trolls) are feeling rewarded for being jerks online.

So my advice is simple: Don’t feed the trolls. Put your energy into something that has more meaning than engaging in immature back-and-forth digital banter or creating a diatribe-laden blog. It might sound cheesy, but the simple quote from the Dalai Lama is one that I always profess: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

MOVING FORWARD

As for the future, yes, we are hiring a new editor, and you can expect that news to be published in the coming weeks once things are finalized. Until then, not much is going to change. We will continue to publish things like community briefs, news and photos. The simplest way to do that is to email us at editor@sierrasun.com, and someone will be sure to follow up as soon as he or she is able.

And as always, if you have other information or questions regarding editorial guidelines, advertising or distribution, you can always email Ben Rogers, our general manager/advertising director, at brogers@sierrasun.com.