HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 28, 2018 – 12:00am
We have all had our own troll experiences and I know that they are almost always unpleasant and disturbing. No one relishes being insulted, called names, and threatened.
Everyone I know has tried to answer trolls by being civil, rational and reasonable. They initially show patience and even try to elevate the discussion. Very rarely has anyone been successful.
Trolls are the most despicable people in cyberspace. Often, they use fake names, fake accounts, post fake pictures of themselves and use the most foul language you have ever heard in your life. They also abuse you with threats of rape and murder of your family.
Basically, they try to push your buttons to make you angry or to silence you into submission. They want you to be afraid and watch your back, and protect yourself from further troll attack by not expressing views against the Duterte administration. They bully you into silence.
I have experienced being the favorite of trolls a few times. I would wake up and find my timeline and inbox teeming with hate comments because I posted my thoughts on issues that put Duterte in a bad light.
I have analyzed troll behavior for sometime. They often come in waves, always with the same message and some even using the exact same words. They are not spontaneously sent or expressed by ordinary people. These are concentrated efforts from troll farms calibrated to intentionally intimidate and to silence. It has been proven again and again that these types of trolls are paid to do this.
But I have also encountered “sincere” haters who take the time to harass people and get satisfaction from doing so.
One such person sent me a threatening letter. Amid the usual expletives, he said he would be happy to see me die. I answered him by asking him to apologize or else I would write to the company he worked for and tell them that he had threatened me. I noticed that he had listed two companies that he worked for on his page. He answered in a cocky manner challenging me to do it. I sent both companies an FB message with a copy of his threatening message to me. I suggested that their companies deserved better people to work for them.
Company no. 1 immediately answered and said they would look into it within the day. The other replied that the person was not connected with their company anymore, but his wife still was and that they would talk to her about it.
Within a few hours, company no.1 answered me to say that they had a meeting with the troll employee and decided to terminate him. I thanked them for the quick response but suggested a way for the troll to keep his job by asking if they would consider a change of mind in the event that he would apologize and promise not to do it again. They answered that they had already decided and it was the best thing to do considering that they were a service company.
From company no. 2, I got a message saying they had talked to the troll’s wife, and she wanted me to know she was very apologetic about what her husband did.
The next morning, I got another threatening letter from a young man who worked overseas. I told him that his message was uncalled for and I told him the same thing: that I would write to his boss and show the letter he sent. I also noticed that the company he worked for had its headquarters in the US. I told him I would send the same letter to the US headquarters to make sure that proper action would be taken to address what he did. US companies take these things very seriously.
He laughed and and said “sure,” as if to challenge me more and show he wasn’t afraid. So I sent the letter to his company’s email address.
I then asked him where his hostility was coming from and why he was threatening me. He said he was angry because I was always criticizing the President.
We then had an exchange about freedom of expression and I said that civility was important if we did not want our country to descend into chaos. I pointed out that we were both coming from a place of genuine concern for our country’s future.
When I sensed that he had simmered down a bit, I asked him if he thought his letter reflected the values that his parents had taught him while he was growing up. I said I was a father with a son his age. By this time, we had been chatting for about 15 min.
I noticed he had a sudden change of tone. He suddenly apologized. He said he had noticed that I had been talking to him all this time without using any expletives despite his lack of civility. He said he had been wrong about the impression he had of me. I acknowledged his feelings and said that politics can sometimes bring out the worst in anyone. We continued talking for about 20 min. I asked him if he wanted me to withdraw the letter I sent. He said it was alright and he would talk to his boss himself. He apologized again profusely. I readily accepted his apology with no fuss. Strangely, I was humbled by it. I said that this exchange was a teachable moment for me as much as it was for him. I learned that if we allow it, our humanity can shine through and destroy walls. I said I was ready to let the issue go. As a final gesture, he asked me if we could be Facebook friends. I gladly obliged and thanked him for his friendship.
Two days, later I received hate mail from an elderly gentleman who was connected with the Padre Pio Foundation. He cursed me and wished me ill will. I answered him and said that I was a believer of Padre Pio and that the Saint had affected me in many good ways. I told him his letter left me wondering why Padre Pio’s influence seemed to have affected him in a negative manner. I suggested to him that I would share his message on Facebook and open a discussion on how Padre Pio had affected people. I said I would be interested in hearing from anyone who may be able to explain how Padre Pio’s miraculous powers had gone awry with him.
After a few minutes, he wrote back and apologized. That was the end of that.
I am not sure if my proposition to have the conversation go public was the factor that made him change his mind. Probably not. I would give the credit to Padre Pio who most likely intervened and converted him.