The Rise Of The Progressive TrollsApril 7, 2017
When I started blogging, it was at the height of the control of policy and institutions in education by educational progressives, and I used to get a lot of personal attacks. It was seen as close to blasphemy to dissent, or even to express opinions like saying INSET is often a bit boring, that you can hear in almost every staffroom. There was very little professionalism or restraint from those who just wanted me to shut up.
As time went on, more classroom teachers joined Twitter, my following grew, and I saw less of that kind of intimidation aimed at myself, although I saw plenty of it aimed at newer voices, like Quirky Teacher. They’d be witch hunts every so often, when the great mass of progressives saw a target, but less in the way of actual abuse, and what there was tended to happen only when somebody lost their temper having already lost the argument. I mainly experienced a lot of tut-tutting from those convinced they had the moral high ground, and that even if they could not show my opinions were wrong, they were at least convinced my tone was not what it should be, and that their own motives, behaviour and compassion were beyond question. Every so often a troll, by which I mean somebody who hurls insults and threats on social media, would pop up and be blocked but it was the exception.
Over the last few months things have changed. Having spent years trying to claim the moral high ground in the debate, a new faction seems to have emerged. The progressive trolls. They have appeared to tell us that traditionalists are evil, selfish fascists up to no good (although they sometimes claim not to be terribly progressive themselves). They congratulate each other on being blocked, and subtweet personal attacks and conspiracy theories about those who have blocked them. They put a lot of time into telling anyone who listen that traditionalists are extremely right-wing.
Some of it involves holding grudges about previous exchanges on social media:
Some of it seems to be pure personal hatred:
And some of it, like the great angle hoax, or this attack on a blogger for having his daughter with him in his avatar picture, is just odd:
There are also blogs full of similar stuff out there. I probably wouldn’t have written this today if one of them hadn’t been picked by one of my fellow blog reviewers for Schools Week. Those following the link on the Schools Week site would have seen that the best of edu-blogging included one of the tweeters quoted above, making comments such as:
Edu-Twitter has become quite a dark place in recent times. There are a vociferous minority of, predominantly UK, teachers who exalt a particular brand of right wing ideology that sits uncomfortably with the more enlightened majority in the profession. These neo-traditionalists, or pseudo-trads, take their inspiration from Michael Gove and have a very narrow view of the purpose of education. Their over-zealous evangelizing, tendency to “troll” those who disagree with them, and to “hunt in packs,” is akin to the methodologies adopted by Nigel Farage, and his far right UKIP, during the BREXIT referendum.
…Fortunately, the the pseudo-trad nonsense seems to the exclusive domain of the political right in the UK…
,… those who can’t teach fall back on the dictation of notes! Moreover, those who teach with methods advocated by pseudo-trads almost always have the most discipline problems in class and always blame the students. Perhaps they might be rather more reflective, and then they might realise that they bore their poor students and thus they are the cause of the subsequent misbehaviour!…
…By being more evangelical than Ben Carson, those on the educational right, are shutting down debate and stifling creativity.
Before this stuff goes any more mainstream, I’m going to make a helpful suggestion to Twitter’s progressives and non-traditionalists. This is not meant as criticism, just the advice I’d want given to me if there was similar behaviour happening on the traditionalist side of the divide. If you want to stop these trolls dragging your side into the gutter, and ensuring that newcomers to Twitter don’t encounter this shower of hatred as their first experience of online arguments against traditionalism, you may wish to consider doing the following.
- Like, retweet or follow people who are repeatedly abusive, even if they are on your side.
- Pretend that this is happening on all sides. Or, if you believe it is, don’t claim that without providing evidence. As things stand, the most “offensive” traditionalists are mainly getting told off for having the wrong tone rather than this sort of abuse.
- Treat accusations of fascism or far right sympathies as a normal part of political debate. It isn’t.
- Join in when schools or individuals are subject to criticism that could have been better made at the level of ideas.
- Blame the victims. Too often, progressives see this stuff and explain that traditionalists have brought it on themselves by being too arrogant, or for promoting their ideas, or criticising other people’s ideas or behaviour.
- Tell people that they need to debate with those abusing them online. Nobody loves a debate more than I do, but if somebody is being abusive or making crazy allegations, nobody should feel they have to answer.
- Have a go at the victims for how they react to the provocation. If people are being abused or stalked by somebody who they think is unwell or dangerous, then, if asked, they should be able to say that without being accused of being insulting to their troll. A disturbed troll saying “this traditionalist said I was a disturbed troll” is not the victim.
- Do not excuse trolling behaviour from people on your side, even if you think it is out of character. It really doesn’t help the victim of a personal attack to be told how the person insulting them is lovely or (and this is an odd one) “brave” and it probably doesn’t help the troll either, if it is only a lapse, to have it excused.
And on the positive side:
- Challenge people on your own side when they resort to personal attacks.
- Be careful to draw a line between disagreement/criticism and insults/threats. Too often these situations deteriorate because people imagine they have been insulted and insult back. Always check that you don’t confuse being offended by somebody’s ideas with them being offensive.
- Tell me if you are getting this sort of trolling back from a traditionalist. I’ll do what I can to support people being abused online whatever their views.