Anatomy of a Trolling

Truth GI got trolled at a talk I gave, and it was kind of hilarious.  Here’s what happened:  A few weeks ago I was giving a talk at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign called The Positive Body.  The talk was open to the entire University as well as the public.

When I got to the part of the presentation where I discuss the research around the failure of dieting, behaviors rather than BMI as the best predictor of future health etc. a hand shot up.  Someone sitting in the farthest corner of the very back row, reading questions out of a notebook.  These are all the red flags of a troll. Though it doesn’t happen often, this has happened before – someone comes with the intent of interrupting my presentation as often as possible and debunking what I’m saying.  It’s fine with me because it allows me to show that I’m a professional, to engage them respectfully, and they invariably help me strengthen my position. Plus they encourage questions from other participants – win, win, win.

When I got home I found out that this guy was from a specific fat hate site and that he and his fat hate buddies had spent literally all day prepping- them telling him questions to ask, everyone speculating about how I wouldn’t be able to deal with the interruption. Everyone forgetting, apparently, that I’m a professional who does this for a living and they are just a bunch of bullies in a forum on the internet.

His account to them of what happened was a fascinating, if not altogether accurate, testimonial.  I thought that they would make a lovely post to give people an idea of what this kind of trolling typically looks like.  If you are reading this and you are one of the people who helped prep this young man, I’m sorry to say that I think he failed you.  Even having written everything down in his notebook he still wasn’t able to properly match research to questions, and though it wouldn’t have changed the outcome if he had, I thought you should know that he wasted your time and efforts.

Trolling 4This actually never happened.  What I said was that health had many components and that we are not in control of all of them.  Then I listed off the examples of including genetics.  He asked a question about staying at the same weight but didn’t include anything about genetics in the question.  I don’t want to accuse the young man of lying so I’m just going to assume that his recall is as faulty as his listening comprehension.

Also, I couldn’t help but notice that even in his own internet forum, where his behavior is celebrated and supported, he still remains anonymous.

Trolling 3

I fumbled alright, because – as often happens when you’re reading questions that someone else told you to ask – his question didn’t make sense.  The study I was discussing was Matheson et. al. I had just finished explaining that smoking and drinking were variables that were studied within the research.  A confounding variable is an extraneous variable, the presence of which affects the variables being studied.  I fumbled because I was trying to decide if I wanted to stop the presentation and give a remedial vocabulary lesson to this dude or just move forward.  I told him that it was explained in the study, which he could read, and moved on.

Trolling 5Poor guy, it seems like he just had a lot of trouble understanding what was going on.  (My apologies for his ableist slur, it seems sadly par for the course.)  My explanation was that when the body loses around 10% of its weight a number of mechanisms kick in with the express purpose of regaining and maintaining weight – including changes in hormones like ghrelin, leptin, and metabolic changes, and that studies have repeatedly shown, and an NIH panel of experts has confirmed, that almost everyone regains their weight within about 5 years and this changes might be why. There is a more full explanation here. 

trolling 1“Dances with Diabetes” Man, what this dude lacks in reading and listening comprehension he sure makes up for in hilarity, amirite?

This sort of happened.  Though it wasn’t I who got mad.  It seems to me that at this point he was quite frustrated (maybe because his questions were helping me support my position and he couldn’t really understand what I was talking about.)  Perhaps because of the frustration he forgot to mention that he was asking the question because studies show that people’s accounts of their caloric intake are not accurate, so he just said “Have you kept a food diary?” in a way that seemed frustrated, accusatory and inappropriate for the space, and so he just came off as angry and rude.

In his account, he left off the second part of my sentence.  What I actually said was that my eating disorder had made me a virtual calorie calculator, and that yes, I had kept a food log.  He said “you did?” I said “yes” he had no follow up. I can’t confirm that he shook his head in disgust because I couldn’t see him well – hiding, as he was, in the corner of the very back row.

After that a reader in the audience talked about how she has two fat sons and gave me a lovely thank you for my work.   The group applauded and, though I had remained calm an composed in the face of views that didn’t agree with mine, he proved himself incapable of the same, slinking out under the cover of the enthusiastic applause.

The moral of the story?  I’m not really sure, maybe it’s that if you’re going to send people to troll my talk you should probably try to find someone who can keep up with the conversation.  These are complicated issues and there’s no shame in struggling to understand but if you came to the talk to repeatedly interrupt and try to debunk it then you might want to have a really good grasp on what’s happening.  In my talk the previous day to a group of wellness care providers several people there were childhood obesity researchers and, despite our disagreements, we had very productive discussions, some of which we’ve continued over e-mail.

For me the fact that I’m upsetting people who are benefiting from the status quo is a sign that I’m doing the right thing, so I consider these incidents proof positive that I’m doing the right thing in my work.

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Published in: on December 8, 2013 at 7:30 am  Comments (34)  

34 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Brava to you for handling the troll like a pro! Regardless of how open his mind really is, I have the hope that you planted a seed. Well done, Ragen.

  2. just thanks!

  3. Love it, and love what you do.

  4. “… if you’re going to send people to troll my talk you should probably try to find someone who can keep up with the conversation.”

    Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen in a hurry with an internet troll group. They’ll send another anonymous (even to them!) douchefart (see? that’s how you do a non-ablist, non-sexist insult, folks) who once again can’t even give an accurate rendition of the facts of what happened while he was trolling you, let alone understand what you’re saying enough to comprehend your answers to his little troll questions.

    On the upside, his douchey behavior may have helped convert a couple people to our side. Some of them actually understood your answers and are even now tossing their diet books and scales. And then there are probably a couple who are switching sides because they can’t stand to ally themselves with someone so pathetic as to sit in the dark in the back row and willfully misunderstand everything you say.

    So thanks, anonymous internet troll! You’ve just helped spread the word of HAES and body love!

  5. I am appalled that there is a fat hate website/forum out there, I mean, explicitly–of course I know about the fat hate that is out there in general, but that people would hate on you for your work–WTH? I can understand (I guess) people disagreeing over this issue, and asking you to support your position, especially as it goes against the prevailing message put out by media and the medical establishment, but being this deliberately hateful? Wow. Just wow! Glad you were able to prevail and provide the professional, courteous, and rational voice in your forum.

  6. By the way, I have been fat most of my life, so this was not written by someone who has been absent from the front lines, just someone who had no idea that people would be this deliberate and pro-active in their hate! LOVE your blog!

  7. You’re wonderful. Thank you so much for being as unflappable as you are, and for educating people on the realities of fatness and actual health. I really needed to read this today. Your strength continues to give me courage. The quotes in the image with Gandhi are very appropriate as well.

  8. Awesome. Yes, if people feel like you’re a problem they need to attend to, it definitely means your message is getting out there. Thanks for all you do, Ragen!

  9. Stories about internet hate spreading to RL situations really creep me out. Your preparation, poise, knowledge, and experience are impressive in the face of it.

    • Yeah, that’s because it IS creepy crawly behaviour. Any normal, well adjusted person would be creeped out by it.

  10. The paradigm is shifting and there are obviously people out there who can’t stand the idea. They have to try to cling to the hatred that makes them feel superior for as long as possible, and you are one of the main -possibly *the* main- people/person who is doing away with their smug stupidity and ignorance about health and fat people.

    My prediction: it (hatred of fat people laced with stupidity and ignorance) will get worse, then disappear in public because soon it will be part of mainstream thinking that fat people can be as happy and healthy as not-fat people (and considering that by those less-than-precise classifications, 65-70 percent of us are “overweight” or “obese,” this indeed may be good for our nation’s morale as a whole :P ). The haters will have to find some other group to hate. Hmm…maybe themselves!

  11. Somehow it never occurred to me that there would be a group specifically intended to spread fat hate that would go so far as to send somebody to a talk in order to provide harassment.

    I guess I somehow thought people would realize what a completely ridiculous activity it is and move onto something else.

    The fact that their guy can’t even accurately remember what happens just proves that they really have no interest in engaging in a conversation. Okay, that doesn’t surprise me, since haters usually don’t bother to listen to others. I wonder if anybody who read his descriptions realized how foolish he came across.

    I’m glad you are good at dealing with these trolls.

  12. It seems the trolls left intelligence out of the equation. If you’re going to send someone to troll Ragen, it might be a good idea to pick someone whose synapses fire at least half as fast as hers do.

  13. Ragen, you are an inspiration….keep it up :) From one Vietnam Vet daughter to another, thankyou!!

  14. I just hate that sick people do this to speakers. I’m going to pray that he and others like him are led to use their time to help — not hurt other people. It is just about being mean. Period.

  15. The only thing that shocks me about his behaviour is that someone would actually take the time to troll you in real life. O_o I know trolls are rife online, but I have always assumed they are too lazy to move into a public, real-world space.

    I feel now that my faith in humanity has been far too high. A big kudos to you for not letting him off lightly (or at all.)

  16. He’s clearly used to being able to make blanket statements online and having those statements reinforced as “truths.” Nice job divesting him of his belief that “everyone” agrees with his assumptions.

  17. Well done! I really appreciate hearing what happened. I am also curious about the disagreements you had with the childhood obesity people the day before. I am glad everyone stayed civil, and wondering where were their points of contention with your work or with HAES?

  18. Good job handling a difficult situation. What I don’t understand is the level of hate for folks that aren’t a stick. It’s not late being curvy is contagious. Does people being all different sizes really affect their lives? Our country is becoming less and less compassionate, and not sure why that people feel they have the right to judge others. Keeping fighting the good fight.

  19. Allow me to apologize on behalf of Champaign-Urbana. Nice job handling that.

  20. Have you got security at these things? Because there are HATERS out there and PSYCHOS. If they will send a troll, Lord only knows what else they may plot to send.
    Please, PLEASE stay SAFE.

    • Yes! I was thinking and worrying about the same thing! Please be extra super careful and safe Ragen

  21. Okay, I’m sorry, but his replies were priceless. He tried at every turn to discredit you, but even on his own blog he couldn’t spin it so he came off as achieving his objective. Didja notice his phraseology there??

    “So there was that…” (which is a neutral statement for, “Yeah, I can’t really admit that I lost that point, so I’m moving on…”)

    Then: “So that was a +1 for fit, I guess…” (read: I don’t think I won there either, so I’m moving on again…)

    Then: “Some thing retarded (what are you, 14?)…I’m having trouble putting it into words…”(well, yes you are because you can’t find enough words to support your pointless point. Here’s a set of words, though: YOU LOSE, FUCKNUT).

    And then he left because he felt “fatter”, after hurtling out a middle school-level insult: “Dancing with Diabetes”. Well, I just might have to tip my hat to you, Sir Verbal Sparring Master. And just so everyone know, he left shaking his head in disgust. Right there, folks…that’s the mark on gathering he meant to leave. EVERYONE TAKE NOTE–HE’S SHAKING HIS HEAD!! He done schooled me, Ma! Quick, where’s the nearest treadmill and SlimFast shake dispenser??

    God almighty. Some people are alive only because it’ll illegal to shoot them.

    • lololol

    • I noticed the Spin Failure, too. He basically conceded that Ragen schooled him, curbstomped him, took him to the cleaners, and brought back a reciept, but then tried to finish it off with, “and that’s how I won the debate.” Pity for him I doubt anyone reading either Ragen’s account OR HIS will reach the same conclusion…

  22. Loved that you maintained your composure and stayed professional the entire talk, *cyber high five*

  23. Well done Ragen! What a great crash test dummy he he was. It’s so sad to see there are people like this so disenfranchised with their lives that this is what they do in their free time. A few sandwiches short of a picnic for sure.

  24. Trolling negated; mission accomplished.

  25. I am in total agreement with jayem, what the hell business is it to them if you want to be happy with who you are, and not beat yourself up.
    That is what boggles my mind the most, that to their twisted way of thinking we should apologize to them for not being someone they would sleep with, because that is all that matters, our brains our hearts and souls they do not count it is whether we are sexy enough for them to even be in the same room with.
    It is not about health or love of body, for gods sake I see plenty of skinny people who exercise and take good care of themselves with diabetes and heart disease and hypertension.
    Apparently we get to be the mirror that reflects back their biggest fears, ironically my biggest fear is that pit of snakes in Indiana Jones, but to each their own.

  26. Ent1. I think these people are unhappy because you challenged the status quo, where thin people are empowered! You suggest that they haven’t accomplished anything, which makes them upset & angry (like children)! 2. This hate group sent unarmed person to a battle of wits! They COMPLETELY underestimated you. You so rock! Thank you for all the work you do & all the nonsense you put up with because of it!!

  27. I suspect the overt haters are somewhat easier to handle than the ones who are killing us with kindness. The haters’ mission is obvious. They need proof that what they bought into was real or that they are one of the holy ones because they were never fat. It helps them feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, there are all the rest of the people who also chastise us for being fat but honestly believe they are trying to help us. These include family and friends. But, that is a whole other topic, and Ragan, I know you have addressed it in the past. Those folks can hold the really hurtful beliefs that may even go unexpressed but showsin their eyes. I am so grateful for the Ragan blog and the size acceptance community to counteract all forms of anti-fat people.

  28. Given how pissed off I felt when I was reading his comments, I don’t think I could have been near that graceful under that kind of pressure. Many swear words came to my head immediately. I think my blood pressure may have raised quite a bit as well! Bravo to you for being so professional and knowledgeable. We surely appreciate you being out there to represent our cause!!!!

  29. Thank you very much for being out their on the front lines and in the public eye. It comes with a lot of hate that you don’t deserve. Your work means a lot to me and I find you inspiring and impressive!

  30. Love your work, and thanks for doing it. I gave a fat positive talk at the same campus (actually did 3 days worth of talks) in the late 90s. Kudos to that school for bringing this topic to light.

    Had someone asked the innane questions this guy did, I would have been lost. The questions were idiotic, and his recount of them could not even clarify what he was saying. Each question, almost, required a remedial lesson, which obviously no one else needed.

    I’m wondering though, I rarely got attacked. Have things changed that much in 10-15 years that these trolls are common place at fat positive talks? Or, Regan, is it because you dare to speak out as a large person? I am “normal” wt (whatever that is), and tho I’ve been blasted, it was not like this douchefart (as one person called him).

    You came to the University of Florida and I am sorry I could not attend, but my interns did, and they raved about you.

    Your thoughts on why these folks with, I guess nothing better to do in their lives, are doing this???? And they are “organized,” (in quotes)? They have SITES that discuss this crap? What the hell?


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