Businessman Martin Shkreli appears to have reached an all-time low in life. After increasing the price of a life-saving AIDS medication by more than 5,000 percent in 2015, insulting a Congressional committee, and being arrested by the FBI for fraud, the multimillionaire is pursuing a new hobby of trolling frivolous collegiate meme pages on Facebook.
On March 6, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals posted, “ANY NEWS WHAT IS UP FELLOW STUDENTS (IM A STUDENT OF THE GAME)” in the group “Princeton Memes for Preppy AF Teens.” A day later, he posted, “o me o mi guess whos back” on the “Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens” page. At first glance, I thought that “Shkreli” was an imposter. But I looked through the account further and discovered that it was indeed the “most hated man in America” himself.
Notwithstanding the fact that a fully grown, supposedly mature adult is wasting his time on college meme pages, Shkreli’s apparition has raised a bigger question about how we treat trolls on the World Wide Web. At the time of writing, his post on the Princeton meme page had received 417 likes and 114 comments. Rather than engage with internet trolls like Shkreli, we should deprive them of the attention that they seek by ignoring their posts.
According to Urban Dictionary, an Internet Troll is “someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community.” The very fact that I resorted to Urban Dictionary to define this term demonstrates the foolish nature of such a being.
Although Shkreli’s posts are not necessarily inflammatory — like those of most trolls — he surely knows that his mere presence on this page will incite users because of his contemptible past actions. Aside from his posts, Shkreli has also initiated direct messages with students. In one thread that a student publicly posted in the group, Shkreli threatened that, “i will sue you just to meme.” In another, he invites a female student to “a candlelit dinner” and says, “u fine af lemme holla at u.”
Nothing is inherently wrong with two consenting adults direct messaging each other on Facebook. But his threat to sue could be alarming to some people who might interpret it as a serious statement. Moreover, there is a double standard in how we treat people online. If Shkreli were any other average person on Facebook, he certainly would have been shunned, especially after his creepy advances on the second student. Yet, he is welcomed and treated as an amusement. This perpetuates the belief among the rich that, as Donald Trump said in the bombshell Access Hollywood tape, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Trolls riddle the Internet; they are denizens of nearly every chatroom, comment section, and social media platform. Despite the fact that most web users know of their existence, we continue to allow them to hurt or excite us with their incendiary statements and argue with their outrageous claims. No matter how logical a person’s statement may be, trolls will find a way to negate it.
As a proponent of free speech, I wouldn’t advocate for the censorship or removal of trolls from the internet. But we, as an online society, should be doing more to halt their proliferation. Ultimately, a troll is seeking attention. Engaging with them in any way will only encourage them to post more frequently and with greater vitriol. It’s possible that I’m already giving Shkreli too much undeserved attention just by writing this article.
Instead of arguing with trolls, we ought to ignore them outright. We are not under any obligation to acknowledge them in an online conversation, so we shouldn’t. Doing this denies them the attention that they so desperately crave. Our responses only fuel their drive to post online. Neglecting trolls will force them to move to a different website or abandon their cause all together.
Further, overlooking them sends an implicit message that the online community doesn’t care about their posts. Arguments only gain legitimacy by confirming, rejecting, or interacting with other statements. Denying trolls of this opportunity will cause them to lose any standing that they may have on a website.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Martin Shkreli may be a rich hedge fund manager whose likeness was plastered across CNN for a week, but this stock jock is still just a lowly internet troll. The current practice of responding to him — as students are currently doing — will not solve the larger problem of internet trolling. However, we can shun him into silence. We can walk away from our computers and say that Shkreli hasn’t hurt us. But the patients who needed his company’s AIDS medication can’t.
Liam O'Connor is a freshman from Wyoming, Del. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.