Editorials, Opinion

W.Va. has the most trolls — but they aren’t under bridges

A survey by Redact.dev, a software company whose program can help you remove previous “contentious” posts from your social media, found that 27% of social media users in West Virginia admit to trolling other people online — the highest of any state. By comparison, the national average of trolls was 17%.

For context, Merriam Webster defines trolling as “antagoniz[ing] (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive comments or other disruptive content” or “harass[ing], criticiz[ing], or antagoniz[ing] (someone) especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings or acts.”

One Urban Dictionary definition says trolling “is the deliberate act … of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional knee jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument.”

If you’ve ever made the regrettable decision to read the comments on social media — or even on an online article — you’ve probably seen someone being a troll. When people respond to a troll’s post, it’s called feeding the troll. And like any creature, once you feed it, the troll is likely to come back.

It’s honestly surprising that West Virginia has such a high percentage of trolls. The Mountain State is known for the friendliness and welcoming of its people, and trolling is the exact opposite. Then again, the anonymity of a keyboard and screen does seem to bring out the worst in people.

We wonder if there’s a connection between West Virginia’s trolls and the state’s many Trump supporters.

Bear with us: While there has been vitriol spewed on both sides of the political spectrum (people on the left are not innocent of hurling insults), Trump took trolling out of the internet and made it part of his brand. Many of his supporters embraced efforts to “own the libs” and even now, we can still find the occasional “liberal tears” travel mug being toted around and window stickers of stickmen peeing on the word “feelings” next to a Trump 2020 or Trump 2024 decal. Irritating and infuriating America’s non-Trump-supporting populace became an essential part of Trump’s platform, and many of his supporters followed his lead.

It’s not a far stretch, then, to think that West Virginians’ trolling behavior online could be related to Trump’s behavior in real life. The former president made it OK to do in reality what people had previously only had the courage to do online, and then picking fights with strangers and tossing around incendiary comments here in the real world made it even easier to do the same thing on the internet.

Talking heads on TV and columnists in the papers always say that lowering the national temperature starts in Washington, but that’s unlikely to happen. The halls of the Capitol rarely showcase the best of America. Which means it’s up to us, as everyday citizens, to bring the civility back to “civil discourse,” and since much of our modern discourse happens over the internet, it means we need to stop feeding the trolls and — more importantly — stop being trolls.