Winders: Don’t let trolls distract you

Paul Mayne // Western News

After spending most of his journalism career in The States, most recently as executive editor of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald, Winders joined Western’s Masters in Environment and Sustainability program in 2009, and then the Western News as its editor in 2010.

I understand why the campus community was shocked at such a blatant display of racism.

An anonymous white student (or group of students) – among those ‘best and brightest minds’ the institution boasted about in recruitment materials and presidential speeches – decided to launch a White Student Union in reaction to what they perceived as an erosion of the white majority’s influence on society.

Once word got out, university administrators scrambled, student activists rose up and media pounced. In the heightened racial tensions of the day, who knew where this one act of ignorance would lead.

That was 1991. At Eastern Illinois University.

Flash forward nearly 25 years. The same trolls are seeking the same reaction from the same people, only now the trolls have better technology.

Last weekend, a group of supposed ‘Western students’ launched a Facebook page entitled Western White Student Union. Once word got out, university administrators scrambled, student activists rose up and media pounced.

But we were not unique in that particular moment.

Starting last Friday, White Student Union Facebook pages began appearing en masse across North America. According to Daily Beast reporter Kelly Weill, these accounts are all fake – or, at least, the on-campus clubs they claim to represent are fake. Racist trolls from message boards, along with a white supremacist website, fabricated the pages in an attempt to create racial tension on college campuses.

In 1991, I covered the same story for my university newspaper. At that time, race trolls were pushing back against affirmative action admissions at universities, all part of what their heroes – the likes of Allan Bloom, Roger Kimball and Dinesh D’Souza – began popularly expressing as ‘political correctness’ in the late-1980s and early 1990s.

However, most of those ‘white interest groups’ that first popped up across campuses – including the one at my alma mater – were nothing more than chum thrown into the racially roiling waters of the day. Rarely was there an intention to form the actual group; it was all part of a social experiment for burgeoning neocon minds.

Seems they haven’t changed the game plan all that much.

We can all agree, those who find such trolling acts enjoyable are sad little fools, perhaps denied the love that comes from another’s touch, or so burdened by their own tragic personal hygiene skills that human interaction outside the walls of their tin-roofed shed is impossible. We should pity them.

But there are lessons for the rest of us, too.

Listen, I love student activists and their passion and desire to make the world a better place. But you have got to quit being an easy mark. I know social media has given you the ability for hair-trigger reaction on everything, but keep in mind that it is OK to pause and think through some things before instantly reacting. You are going to need this skill later on.

Among your first questions: Am I being trolled?

They are playing games with you by using your reactions – and overreactions – against you. You are too easily baited and that’s what they want. The best thing a troll can hope for is attention – just ask Donald Trump. And when you give it to him, you empower him – just ask Donald Trump.

By downplaying, even ridiculing, the ‘White Student Union’ debate, we are not Neville Chamberlain handing over the Sudetenland here. There is no slippery slope. We are ignoring an infant acting out because he didn’t get a lolly.

There are real injustices that must be combated with your passion. I trust you to fix them for the sake of us all. This, however, is not one of them.