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Concern troll

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Imagine being on fire, running up to a firefighter screaming for help, and they hook their hands in their pockets and say, "Actually, before we start, I think you should say you're violently oxidizing. Not all oxidization is bad. I mean, some of my cells are performing oxidation right now, and I think it would be better if we ...
Cracked[1]

A concern troll visits sites of an opposing ideology and offers advice on how they could "improve" things, either in their tactical use of rhetoric, site rules, or with more philosophical consistency. The "improvements" are almost exclusively intended to be less effective.

Typical formulation and tactic[edit]

A typical formulation might involve the troll's invocation of a site's espoused ideals alongside a perceived example of hypocrisy (such as contrasting "we value free speech" with the banning of a "dissenter"), and with a call for some relevant reform by the troll. This reform will frequently be burdensome or silly - the concern troll's message is: "I have some concerns about your methods. If you did these things to make your message less effective, it would be more effective."

One common tactic of concern trolls is the "a plague on both your houses" approach, where the concern troll tries to convince people that both sides of the ideological divide are just as bad as each other, and so no one can think themselves "correct" but must engage in endless hedging and caveats. This preys on a willingness to debate critics and allow dissent; everyone wastes time discussing the matter and bending over backwards, so as not to appear intolerant of disagreement, all to the great amusement of the troll.

Sometimes outsiders will come by and make concern troll-like statements sincerely. Some are sincere but stupid. Some may be insightful, and justified iconoclasts, merely making valid observations unwelcome to the dominant ideology or culture of the forum (the Cassandra syndrome[note 1]). Often, of course, the person is misguided, wrong, and not intending to troll. However, an unsolicited tone argument is, in practical terms, not really any different.

Popularity and history[edit]

The term's popularity originated on Daily Kos,[2][3][4] though the term likely predates their usage.

Perhaps one of the best descriptions of the concern troll even before any proper nomenclature was by Martin Luther King in, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."[5]

The tone argument was mentioned before, but it's pretty fitting that he covered both concern trolls and tone arguments in the same breath.

Caveat lector[edit]

The danger, of course, is that not everyone with a concern is a concern troll - and not every concern is unreasonable. In environments of genuine groupthink, applying the concern troll label may serve as a means of enforcing conformity and punishing (or silencing) dissent. And even without actual groupthink in play, many Internet posters find dismissing an argument much quicker and easier than evaluating it. In addition, the term "concern troll" focuses not on what the person is actually saying, but on some alleged agenda.

Thus, if misused, it is the perfect refuge for someone who has no counter to the actual argument: simply ignore the points made, allege some other position, and then accuse the other person of lying if they deny that that is what they're really saying. It's a combination of straw man and argumentum ad hominem: make up something to attack, and ignore their actual points on the basis that since the points were made by someone acting in bad faith, they need not be addressed.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Be aware that 'Cassandra' can also be used as a snarl word.

References[edit]

  1. Luke McKinney, "8 Things Some A$$#ole Says in Every Debate About Sexism"
  2. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/5/23/23539/8255
  3. http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/9/20/12307/9839
  4. Among Wiktionary's list of references, the Daily Kos one comes first chronologically, despite DK having even earlier references.
  5. [1] Martin Luther King Jr.’s scorn for ‘white moderates’ in his Birmingham jail letter, The Washington Post, DeNeen L. Brown, January 15, 2018.