Earlier today my friend Cynthia and I were discussing her interactions with Maha of Mahablog. I wouldn’t recommend clicking that link unless you’re in firm control of your emotions. Maha is Barbara O’Brien, the About Buddhism writer for About.com. Ironically enough in light of that, she runs Mahablog, which is the one of the stinkiest kool aide waterholes I’ve ever had the displeasure to revisit. Extremely pro-Obama, O’Brein is also one of the left-identifying women who thinks she speaks for the vast majority of women, except of course for the 514 she thinks stay at home to take care of the kids. She lives in NYC, so I do understand why she’s fallen victim to the noise machine. It’s all she can hear.
Apparently she and Cynthia got into it after I dropped a link to Cynthia’s latest about the exciting demise of traditional leftist feminism into a snickering post about how Republicans couldn’t possibly win the war for women, as the WSJ suggested. O’Brien is still of the mind that Democrats have got this woman thing, the result of 2010 (and 2004) notwithstanding. She doesn’t see that the ground has shifted and that her communication style is offensive to vast swaths of the American middle. If she did, she would swing very fast into a tone of reasonableness and be strategizing for how she can effectively sell her side to American women. Instead she’s still laughing at the possibility, even though she was just shown in 2010 that it could be done, that Republicans could win so many women that Democrats would lose and lose hard.
This led to a discussion with Cynthia about the fine art of trolling for women, which is something I’ve been engaged in unofficially (and on my own) for almost two years now. But it’s not something I’ve ever talked about much, or written about. It struck me that maybe it’s time I did. Maybe there are others who would like to join me or strike out on their own to attempt to insert their own POV into the narrative. I developed this idea on my own, but it was born of the genius of the Obama camp’s employment of Cass Sunstein’s group polarization study in the 2008 campaign. Now, I’m sure you’re wonder trolling for women? WTF is that?
Trolling for Women involves dummy accounts and dedicated time spent at opposition headquarters. It can be as simple as dropping a link into comments at one of these places, or it can involve the long-term development of characters at some of the most powerful blogs, like Daily Kos. The purpose is to persuade, confuse, or intimidate depending upon the audience. At the Washington Post, one wants to keep a reasonable tone because the audience is going to be all over the place and you want to be persuasive. At a place like Daily Kos, you might want to write a diary that stealthily introduced opposition memes into the conversation (being conscious to avoid buzzwords from the opposition). The reason is because intimidating them does no good and they are beyond persuasion. Confusing them is a good end result. But you might also want to become a diarist known for writing about the moderate or liberal cause that is near and dear to your own heart. I have a longstanding account with a male name at Daily Kos that I use to write about pro-woman things. I do this to provide another example to that very needy audience of a male supportive of women and feminist issues.
At a place like Mahablog, where you have true believers and dangerous anti-feminist narratives floating around, you want to intimidate and confuse if you can. You want to go toe to toe as strongly opinionated women and you want to win. It doesn’t matter if Maha or her regular commenters are persuaded, that’s not winning. Winning is modeling that you won’t back down and how to not back down for any chance readers, or casual or young readers who are not entirely persuaded to her side. This is a good way to drop links for those readers as well. Believe me, there a lot of moderate people out there and a few on the left as well who would breathe a sigh of relief if what has traditionally been called feminism died. I left the link for them. But I also left the comment I did with Cynthia’s link because it fed Maha’s (and her regular audience’s) paranoia, wasted her time, and likely raised her blood pressure. Why would I want to do that?
I would want to do that because it impacts the effectiveness of her product. She’s one voice in the noise machine, but Mahablog is semi-popular with the regular readership of true believers. So her voice has been amplified. If I can stir up paranoia in her or any of the members of her audience, I can directly impact their ability to capture more audience. You can’t capture audience when you go emotional, when you’re ire is so raised that readers can see the spittle lining the back of their computer screen. It also forces errors, like being more boneheadedly arrogant and snarky with your tone, thus alienating more audience share. The people on the left who are concerned about the gender gap results of 2010 will tire of this tone very soon, especially if they think it might cause Obama to lose. That’s exactly what we want them thinking. We want them coming down hard on that kind of alienating arrogance so we can wash it from the noise machine. We want them developing a tone of persuasion, backing it up with real offerings of what women need more of it, like more professional opportunity, equal justice, and equal pay, and of course, PARITY! We want them to take us seriously in more than reproductive issues, and part of that is addressing it with different strategies, thus the art of trolling for women.
There is a flip side to trolling in any of the ways I’ve described above. You have to be ready for it. This is not something you want to jump into lightly. You need to develop a plan. How will you troll? Not everybody can do what I do. I’m a trained researcher with 20 years of internet experience, and even more political experience, though mostly as an observer/volunteer for campaigns. If you don’t have this experience to back you up, start simple. Join Firedoglake or Daily Kos and start writing about the issues that matter to you that you think you can sell to that audience. Or start leaving subtly opposing comments to some of their big-name writers. Do it to change the tone.
As to the purposes, keep the opposite in mind for yourself. If you’re an overly emotional knee-jerk kind of person, this is definitely not the activity for you. Go join a campaign or start a blog if you want to help. But if you can maintain a stone-cold solid facade of reasonableness in the face of overt hostility, if you can take criticism without internalizing it, then you might consider trolling for women, or for whatever YOU want. I troll for women because I want to break the stranglehold of traditional left feminism and all its stalling ways and I want more women in office, I don’t care where they come from. Left-identified feminists DO care where they come from and they only want a limited number of “their kind” of women, ergo they are the barrier that I must break because they’re clogging up the pipeline. Thus I troll for women.
If you’re a true believer on either side, this might not be the strategy for you either. The purpose of trolling in politics is just what Sunstein said: group polarization. You want to encourage infighting and ineffectiveness. Because you must do this without outing yourself, true believers find it very difficult to pull off. They tend to get sucked in and forget where they are and what they’re doing. And once outed, you are likely to get banned. I got banned at Mahablog today, but I’d left a dozen comments there over the last six months using various accounts and IPs, so she can’t truly ban me, not unless she finds out all of my identities and bans all my IPs*. Considering I have access points all over my city, that’s unlikely. Which is another thing: the more access you have, the better off you’ll be surviving any forced errors you might make, and you will make them. But you learn from each one. (*By the way, she’ll get a pingback from me linking her and if she reads this, she’ll see that she can’t really ban me and will likely waste even more time trying to figure out which comments I left and hunting down IPs. Chances are she’ll ban a few people, thus losing more audience and I win. If she reads this comment, she’ll be in a pickle for what to do, and I’ll have stalled her momentarily, thus a temporary win. If she writes about this for her blog, I win again.)
As you can see, it can be quite an effective technique. It may be dishonest and devious, but it’s something I can do to affect change on the limited wages I earn. Without it and without this blog that a handful of people read each week, I only have my vote. That’s not enough for me. I have a voice and I have good ideas and I also have a vision for how we get more women in office before I die. We’ve been stalled out at around 17% since I came of age and I am 41 years old. I am not waiting anymore. Everything else we need will come with more women: equal pay, equal justice, more professional opportunity, and yes, more judgment-free access to BC. I will do whatever it takes short of violence to make it happen. I hope I’m not the only one willing to do so.