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Trolling the Line: When does it get personal?

(SNN) - Last month, we published a piece that quickly went viral. The subject matter? Sasquatch. Who could have known there were so many folks out there so invested in all things Sasquatch? They’re everywhere, and boy did they pay attention! Re-postings of the article are all over the Internet. It had a whole lot of people talking. And they’re still talking.

The Readers

This explosive piece, “Alberta: Bow Valley flooding exposes rotting carcass of a Sasquatch”, written by our editor, Brian K. Hahn, not only went viral; it became controversial.  Is this for real? Is it a hoax? As people shared the link to the article with others, responses began to appear in the comments section of the article.  One reader took issue with the story’s identification as satire, saying instead it represented “a lie or a false statement.” (Indeed, the Disclaimer at the bottom of the article, in part, reads “…. any article, image or photograph held out as news is a parody or satirical and faux in nature and does not reflect the actions, statements or event of real persons.”) In an increasingly intense discussion, another reader labelled the reader referenced above as a “Troll”. According to one definition in the Urban Dictionary, a troll is “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument”. Of course, a reader can look at such posts in another light; it’s all subjective.  What one person sees as provocation, another may see as a lively discussion on the subject. If a satire, parody, or opinion piece stirs up a bit of controversy and a reader becomes argumentative, should his comments be deemed an act of “trolling”? Are lines crossed?  Is it a personal attack on the writer?  Does the reader somehow feel invalidated due to the nature of the article?  In this case, does the “troll” feel that his beliefs have been attacked; or is he just disappointed that the story of the Sasquatch carcass isn’t real?

The Writers

Should a satirist or humorist practice restraint when creating a story that is clearly identified as satire, parody, or “faux in nature”?  How much restraint should be used?  It’s difficult to accurately gage our readership.  Sensitivities vary greatly among readers.  A writer has no idea how any given reader will react to a story, be it satire, parody, humor, opinion or any other genre of writing.  Writing for The Sage is my maiden voyage into crafting humor, parody, opinion and satirical works. We are into our sixth month after going live and I’ve learned a lot in this short period of time. As a newbie, it is hard to know when I might be crossing a line with our readers. It’s nearly impossible because readers draw their own lines on what they can tolerate in reading works in our genre. This is especially apparent when writing on political topics. I experienced this firsthand just this morning, as a reader.  

The Writer as Reader

As an American writing for The Sage, I will admit that when I read our editor’s new opinion piece, “Obama wants American police working in Canada exempted from Canadian Law”, which is a strong (and justified) reaction to a pilot project where police and agents from the U.S.would operate alongside Canadian police forces as part of a perimeter security pact, but U.S. forces would be exempt from Canadian laws. This is viewed as a threat to Canadian sovereignty. Our editor is clearly against any sort of exemption for the American team. My first reaction was, “Wait, I’m an American! I am just a writer from Minnesota, U.S.A. I couldn’t strong arm anyone if I tried. Is this guilt by association?”  I reacted before I thought it through and I write for this publication!  Would I condone an agreement to give our policemen immunity from Canadian law?  Not at all.

So, I knew better. Our editor was voicing his opinion on this hot-button issue with the written word, aiming his displeasure at politicians. But my initial instinct was to protect my identity as an American citizen. After all, I am not one of those offending U.S. politicians. I realized that I had put myself in the place of a reader. And that reader had a knee jerk reaction. I don’t believe in a Sasquatch. I don’t support the Bigfoot community of believers. I am not a Troll. But I am an American who is an Obama supporter. And to my surprise, I drew my own line. 

Photo: Some rights reserved by 8one6 flickr photostream, The Sage nor this article endorsed.

DISCLAIMER: The above article is OPINION.The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the authors of The Sage Opinion and forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the The Sage News Network or the official policies of the The Sage News.
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