Are You a Troll?

Humans are a socially connected species. We generally like to share things with others, assuming that what we share will be positively received. This is because we have a strong desire to be liked. We especially want OUR ideas to be liked.

We live in an increasingly modern world, where social connections are built by people being able to “follow” you on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. They are able to click “like” on the things you share with ease. They might even add a positive comment or two. These things make you feel good. Almost like validation that what you are doing is right.

There is a corollary to this.

Confirmation Bias

Have you ever heard of the confirmation bias? As a consumer psychologist and researcher, I am intimately familiar with the threat of this bias.

The confirmation bias states:

“Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.”

The second layer of the equation comes from our desire to seek out things that confirm what we believe, and reject those things that contradict what we believe. The danger of this bias is that we naturally tend to seek out things that we agree with, and avoid things we disagree with.

When you think about it, this makes sense. As an illustrative example, when I am watching my liberal friends post or share on social media, it is usually in support of “left” or liberal supporting ideologies and denouncing the “right” and their “backward thinking.” The converse is also true.

And, to make things even more complicated, once somebody has made up their mind, it is unlikely you will get them to change it.

Makes sense so far. People like to be liked and tend to share and agree with those that share their point of view. Once they form an opinion, they are unlikely to change.

The problem is, all of this makes it incredibly challenging to have a meaningful exchange of ideas through the very channels that are supposed to support this exchange of ideas.

The Answer Lies In The Platform

What is the purpose of sharing?

On Facebook, when you are sharing a picture of your daughter, should someone ever share a negative comment? No. Never tell someone that their baby is ugly. Never.

On Instagram, if an “influencer” is sharing a product, is it ok to talk about the product? Sure. I can see value there.

On Amazon, in the customer reviews, should you share honest and candid feedback? Absolutely! It helps others make an educated and informed decision.

On LinkedIn, when someone is sharing a customer experience strategy that lacks backbone, should people challenge it? An emphatic yes.

LinkedIn, by design, is to develop and cultivate a business relationship. How are we to move the proverbial needle forward in any discipline if we are afraid to challenge the status quo?

Therefore, the question on LinkedIn shouldn’t be, “should I challenge ideas?” Rather, it should be, “HOW can I challenge ideas in a meaningful way that contributes to the greater conversation.

It all goes back to the purpose of sharing. Are we simply looking for people to agree with our viewpoints? If that is the case, why share at all. People like you already agree with you. The secret sauce is in hearing and attempting to understand seemingly contradictory viewpoints.

This begs the question, what happens when someone disagrees with you? Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable and defensive?

Let’s Agree to Disagree

There comes a time when you have to disagree.

I have to admit, there have been times when I should have disagreed with a comment, article, or author, but didn’t. Maybe the author was twisting facts, falsely associating correlation with causation, or otherwise plain wrong. Candidly, I didn’t want to deal with the “fallout” from the author or their audience.

But, as a professional, I should be vigilant for “fake news”, bad data, and otherwise harmful information. I should challenge this.

But I am not immune to the fundamental problem; a fear of people thinking I am simply disagreeing for the sake of disagreement.

I don’t want to be labeled a “troll” simply because I disagree.

What is Trolling?

Are you a troll?

I am not talking about the kind that lives under the bridge.

According to Merriam-Webster, trolling is

to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content

Let me be crystal clear; merely disagreeing with someone is not trolling. Disagreement is a necessary part of healthy debate. And a debate is predicated on differing points of view. If the concept of social sharing is to start a discussion, then let’s discuss. Let’s free ourselves from the fear of disagreement and confront this head on.

The problem is that many people are uncomfortable with confrontation.

But I would argue that disagreement alone isn’t the problem, it is the manner in how we disagree. There is a right way and a wrong way.

Making an Argument

If you are going to take a position on a subject, there are a few guidelines that you should follow. Think of these as rules of a boxing match. This isn’t the comprehensive list, but provides a good starting point:

  1. Take a position on a topic or subject. Understand that your position is based upon assumptions that you established. You should be clear about your position and the assumptions.
  2. Support your position with evidence. The quality of the evidence matters. Remember this: bad information in, bad information out.
  3. Modify or defend your position by considering contradicting evidence. Consider that another viewpoint might be based on alternate assumptions. Be willing to pivot based upon different variables or assumptions. But don’t be afraid to stand your ground. In the end, it is ok to not come to a consensus.
  4. Challenge the position, not the person. This is important. Trolls attack people. Don’t be a troll.
  5. Does your position have something meaningful to contribute to the conversation? Things like, “I agree,” or “well-stated,” do nothing to move a conversation forward. Conversely, “you are wrong,” and “I disagree” without some evidence to support it are worthless. If you have nothing to add, don’t say anything.
  6. Above all else, be authentic. Don’t try and be something you are not. Also, do not inject self-serving statements that only create the illusion of engagement.

Ultimately, the final question is, are we sharing information so we can get some sort of validation, or is the purpose of sharing to learn more, connect, and better understand the world around us?

My vote is on the latter.

Next time you want to challenge an argument or idea, and they accuse you of “trolling,” share this article with them. It will do wonders in the open and free exchange of ideas, making us a stronger collective.

Challenge me. Question me. Make me stronger.

Of course, I welcome discourse and debate on this topic; just don’t troll me.

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This article originally appeared on

Dr. Ari Zelmanow is a consumer psychologist and behavioral scientist who leverages combines consumer insights with behavioral science to improve people, processes, and products. Check out his latest adventures on Twitter or LinkedIn. Or, if you are feeling really adventurous, schedule a call with him here.



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Dr. Ari Zelmanow

I transform research into revenue | Metro Police Detective turned Growth Detective for Product Teams | The Sherlock Holmes of Consumer and Market Behavior