On one of the social media platforms, I almost got caught by a story that stank of trolling and decided to demonstrate how I use tools from science to evaluate such stories and avoid the trap.
See, the trolling issue is not anymore just an angry anonymous human on internet hurling offenses. The troll issue is way more complicated. Trolls and their posts are used for political fights. Trolls are used to erode trust in the democracy. Various trolls also spread climate change denial, and multiple other conspiracies, pseudoscience, ideologies, or simply try to manipulate you in a way that will benefit their employer.
My solution is simple. I think about what is said in a post. Use critical thinking. Read the story several times. And in subsequent times pay attention to how a story is written. And try to answer the following questions:
- What is a real subject of the story?
- Which emotions is a story trying to elicit?
- Why that particular emotion?
- Which information is omitted?
- Does omitting of information advances the main moral of the story that author is trying to push?
- Is there illogical development?
- Is there a very convenient plot development for the main message?
- Is there a clash with the information you already know as true?
- Is there manipulation of the plot to elicit certain conclusions in the story?
- Does story mentions any information that might go against the main message of the story?
- So, is the story a real incident or troll post?
To answer this questions means re-reading the story several times, paying attention not to the message but how it is written. All these questions will give you insight into the motivation behind the post. The catch is, if this particular post advances your personal beliefs, you will not bother with such questions. You will attack me instead for daring to question the story.
I’m not immune to this either. It is just, I’m lucky. My core belief that my own knowledge is limited and that questioning stuff is a good thing. Most of the scientists share a similar belief.
The story in question is about a mistreated rescue dog. And the dog is the reason why I chose this one. I have a pet, a rescue dog who was mistreated by previous owners, so I’m familiar with the dog-recovery process and dog training procedures. And also disadvantage because I have a maternal instinct that kicked in during the first reading of the story. I got outraged by the story the first time I read it. Because of my dog. They got me. Only after thinking about it, I realized it is a troll post. So nope, my science tools do not make me immune towards such manipulations. I get caught too. That’s why I learned to pull back and think.
You can see the original post in series of images below. Originally it is one image containing a post about the incident and few selected comments. Comments are part of the story. They spell out the conclusions author wanted you to make, and conveniently ignore any bad sides of the described incident. I broke it down to several images so that text is readable.
The story and analysis step by step
The story itself uses dog just as a prop. The dog is barely mentioned. The story concentrates mostly on the ideology this particular troll is trying to push. And that one is that trans people are bad people. The text itself contains more discussion about the trans people and offenses than the actual description of the event and the dog.
The story is written in the first person, as a personal experience of a professional who is supposed to know how to handle mistreated dogs. So, professional got a new dog, who was severely beaten by several human males and ended being male aggressive.
This particular setup is quite plausible. My own dog does not like horses. Mind, we got him with wounds and scars all over him. So yeah, he was really mistreated and he hates horses. Why horses in my dog case? I do not know. No one knows who his previous owner was or what happened. We can only guess.
So trainer, a female, was leading a dog to a training field. The dog got petted by few female passers-by and they entered the dog training field. It was supposed to be an evening, a night. Amount of people petting a dog indicate that they are moving in quite a busy area. The story also gives credentials for the dog handler, setting her up as a seasoned professional who is training police and pet dogs for a decade or so.
We also get introduced to a villain. In this case, it is a trans person who clearly shows the biological sex, male. This person stepped over into a training field and entered the story.
And we have few eyebrow-raising facts here. The dog is supposed to be human male aggressive, yet trainer is leading it through a busy area full of people. The dog is new, not trained. Yet, it seems that it is quite ok for a dog to walk down the street where half of the passers-by might be human males. The fact that it got petted, means it was not behaving aggressively during the walk. Something does not fit.
Also, a villain stepped over in a training field? Over what? The story does not tell. Fence? Not likely. Did you ever visit dog park? There is no way to ‘step over’ the fence. It is high enough to prevent an average dog from jumping out and even tall basketball player could not just step over it. Dog training fields usually have a fence, similar to those in a dog park, especially if they are located in busy urban areas. And this area is busy. It is hard to believe that seasoned trainer would dare to bring a new, not-trained, troubled animal to a non-fenced field in the area where the public can access, where kids can approach. One mistake and dog will end up put down. Fences on a dog park and dog training fields also serve to keep humans away.
And we now have some authors thoughts about gender preferences and animal perceptions. A very elaborate discussion talking about how animals do not care about how humans dress but their biology. We also get a good description of the trans person. We do not know a breed of a dog, but hey we know how trans person looked like. Interesting priorities, because breed of the dog is more valuable info in this incident than how trans looks.
This part is followed by some short description of the incident. Handler told a person that she cannot pet a dog. Trans kept on insisting to pet a dog.
This part of the incident is plausible. I had countless people approach and ask to pet my dog. People do that.
What I find strange is that dog reactions are not mentioned. Because, abused a dog, without any previous training, would start to make some kind of fuss the moment when a male approaches. In reality, the handler could not lead the dog down the street without it becoming aggressive. Remember, story established that this dog is new to the training and extremely male aggressive. Yet, no dog reactions. My dog, when we first met horse riders during a hike, reacted immediately when horses came into the view, around ten yards away from us. He did his best to lunge towards horses, started barking his head off immediately. Luckily, I had him on a leash. And I could not talk with riders, I was busy trying to control my dog. Yet, riders knew not to approach. My dog told them. See, for me, it was more important to control the dog, because I need to establish myself as a leader so that my dog listens to me and obey my commands.
Then we have trans heading towards dog, and handler trying to put her body between trans and the dog. Finally, in the story, we have some dog reactions that match what dog would really do. But, the handler acted like she has no experience with dog training. Instead of handling a dog, she stepped between dog and trans and started arguing, aggravating the situation.
And we still do not know the breed of the dog. See if the breed is big, then trans is really nutter, but if it is small cute one, then she’s not. Small dogs are usually untrained, bark at anything bigger than them because they are scared. So trans’ approach and reasoning that dog just needs to smell her, would be completely logical and reasonable.
I have a big German Shepherd. We had to train him. When we met those horse-riders the first time I had to drag my dog away. He was tugging on his leash, barking at horses. I tried to make him sit and stay — did not work. He was still barking, snapping at horses, ignoring me. Like a dog in a story. One of the riders was inexperienced and of course, she was on top of a very skittish horse. And we were on a narrow path in a forest, on a side of a steep mountain. I knew that I have to make my dog obey me or that particular rider is in a danger of breaking her neck. So I pinned my dog down, literally used my whole body to pin him to the ground. Only then he stopped barking and riders passed by us. The dog was not hurt, and I did end up with few scratches. But next time, when we passed riders my dog listened to me, sat down and just growled, quietly, at the horses. Later, even growling stopped. And believe or not, this is how the real professional dog trainer would deal with such situations. Ask them.
So now, let us go back to the dog from the story. We have a dog that is aggressive towards half of the human population, and if that particular dog cannot be trained out of the negative reactions, that dog might end up being put down. Dogs get put down for way less. And so-called professional handler is just trying to place herself between dog and attacker, allowing a dog to ignore her, continue with the ruckus. And she is not even attempting to control an animal? No. That is a reaction of a mom trying to protect a kid. Not a reaction of the professional handler. And this particular reaction is put here for a reason. It gives an impression of how brave mom is protecting a poor little child. It is supposed to tug on maternal instinct because it matches what average female would do with an untrained pet. The trouble is, that is a wrong reaction because dogs are not human children. Real professional trainers treat dogs as dogs, not as children.
One more thing. Every professional trainer will tell you that 70% of dog training is actually training the human owners. Meaning professional dog trainers know how to train humans too. This one from the story lacks that knowledge. Instead of controlling the situation and diffusing it, she is escalating it.
Now we get an escalation of the story. Professional trainer offered the explanation that put trans into a full-blown aggressive stance. She is screaming at the handler, using bodily intimidation, and the dog disappears from the scene. The only mention of the dog is that situation gets worse. The story instead lists the offenses and accusations trans said. In great details. Like the whole point is to get reader enraged with offenses, instead of presenting what is going on with the dog and how professional handler should handle a situation like this.
Yeah, and this particular twist really shows what is real motivation of the story. To make you outraged against trans. Because dogs bark loud. You cannot carry a conversation if you have a dog barking their head off next to you. Moreover, so-called dog trainer still is not trying to control the dog, just to protect it.
But it is true that situation would get worse when a stranger yells on a dog’s human. I had my dog start growling and barking at the people I did not even perceive as danger. On the other hand, that’s awesome characteristic, because I do not get bothered by any Mormons or Jehovah’s witnesses.
We are nearing the end of the incident. Now handler is saying how she is trying to keep a dog away while walking backward, staying between dog and trans, and the trans is following and screaming at her.
And I have to ask myself what? Why walking backward? How does she hold an aggressive dog who is trying to kill an attacker behind her backs? People usually do not realize that aggressive dogs really go for a kill. That’s why you get recommendations to do your best and immobilize the attacking dog and not just try to scare it away. Even the dog half my dog’s size would end up jerking your arm forward or scratching you severely with bared fangs. Maybe you could do that with Chihuahua sized dog, but then you would run danger to step on the dog. You would actually end up stepping on a dog’s paws even with the larger dog. That dog would not stop trying to push you out of way, go around you, and kill an attacker.
The whole situation is weird as described. She has a new dog, not trained one. She is moving with an untrained aggressive dog in a way that can injure dog and provoke it to attack her. She is not behaving as a pack alpha here, but as a mother protecting a human child. Very interesting choice of the ‘trainer’s’ reactions.
And now incident ends. Crazy enraged trans who completely ignored dog’s aggressive behavior suddenly is capable to hear the phone with all that noise and answer it. And our handler uses that opportunity to run. The ending paragraphs have a bit more musing how trans is crazy.
The dog barks are loud. With the dog like mine, when he barks, no conversation can be held, and to hear a phone, not likely. But let us be generous and assume that trans had a phone on vibration next to her body. The fact that such strong escalation in the story ended up so conveniently makes me go WTF? The author spends most of the story building up the tension, escalating the situation, illustrating why trans people are bad. And all ends with a simple phone call and run? Hmm, it is just a bit too convenient.
The story did not actually end there. The post is a screenshot of an original post plus some comments who continued ridiculing the villain, generalizing about the trans people. I never found just an original post without those selected comments. So I have to assume that comments are the essential part of the story.
The selected comments were for me first signal that something is off. Few of them were really over the top. Commenters claimed that trans from the story did the attack on purpose so that she can appear a victim and blame females for being bitten. No kidding, that was the gist of the comments.
We have a stranger yelling at the human barely controlling a barking aggressive dog in a busy public space. That means witnesses. Witnesses who will see bigger human attacking smaller one and dog protecting its human. How can the heck attacker appear to be a victim in that situation?
This is how I answered the questions.
1. What is a real subject of the story?
Describing how trans people are bad.
2. Which emotions is a story trying to elicit?
Outrage towards the particular group of people. It is done by portraying representative of such people as unreasonable, aggressive, and dangerous.
3. Why that particular emotion?
I cannot answer this, because I do not know the exact motivation of the author. My best guess is introducing the division into a movement for gender equity. The post is targeted at the human females who do not have experience with dog training. The whole incident with the dog is described in a way to elicit outrage at the clear endangerment of the poor little creature and its protector.
This particular guess is also motivated by the fact that female acting as a handler is presented as incompetent. My neighbor is a female who is also a professional dog trainer. She treats dogs as dogs, not children.
So yeah, my guess is the troll or its employers are against gender equity.
4. Which information is omitted?
For me, the most glaring one is the breed of the dog. It takes just one word, but it is missing. It would explain a lot. It would potentially cast completely different light to the whole story. But it is omitted. As you can see from the last included comment, the breed of the dog is actually important fact, because it would really shed additional light on the whole situation.
5. Does omitting of information advances the main moral of the story that author is trying to push?
Yes. Since the reader has no idea what breed, the villain can be attributed with nefarious intentions. If reader assumes the dog is big or mid-sized, trans might appear crazy, but then ending comes as help. A crazy person cannot be easily distracted by a simple phone call. Only a person who was acting crazy could, a person with nefarious intentions. Actually, my initial assumption was that we’re dealing with pit-bull, because those dogs need really to be retrained in situations where they do not like a half of human population. But if the dog is one of those ‘barking cats’ type then the size of the dog gives a completely different angle to the villain. And nefarious aspect disappears.
6. Is there illogical development?
Yes. A professional trainer does not act professionally.
7. Is there a very convenient plot development for our main message?
Yes. The ending is very convenient, and not very plausible in the light of the initial setting. Remember, trainer met people on the way to the field. Meaning there are humans moving around. In reality, there would be witnesses. So real ending would be different. Because even if we assume that villain had nefarious purposes, the existence of witnesses will spoil the plans. Not a phone call.
But the phone call ending is necessary because gives an indication that villain does not have a mental illness, and as such conclusion is needed for the main message of the story. And that is spelled for you in included comments, in case you missed it and made a different conclusion.
8. Is there a clash with the information you already know they are true?
Yes. The dog reactions are not correctly described. The professional trainer does not react as professional.
9. Is there manipulation of the plot to elicit certain conclusions in the story?
Big YES. The descriptions concentrate on attacker instead situation. Initial settings are forgotten so that we can have an appropriate phone-call ending. Dog handler behaves more like a mom than a professional trainer. Handler herself escalates the situation, so that reader can be served with more outraged behavior, swearing, and offenses towards human females.
I mentioned an edited version of this story to a real professional handler, concentrating on a dog and incident instead on a look of the attacker. I got an interesting take. Real pro concluded that person approaching might have a mental illness. And the best course of action is to control a dog, by covering its head and allowing the nut to pet animal so that it can go away. The tip was followed with a shrug of the shoulders and conclusion that handler in the story is not a good one because you do not take a new troubled animal in public until you develop a full trust between an animal and you.
Dog breed is not mentioned so that readers can get the impression that attacker is crazy, and in case they missed that particular conclusion, the accompanying comments spell it for them. The ending is chosen to indicate nefarious intentions, again if readers missed those, they got spelled out below description of the incident.
10. Does story mentions any information that might go against the main message of the story?
No. Everything, every sentence leads towards the main message, trans people are bad. Even parts of the original scene settings are forgotten to match the main message.
For me, this is the worse. The real life is never neat. The real life always has untied ends, facts that opponents of the main message could latch on as an excuse. But you cannot find real-life facts here, those are omitted. Remember, not even breed of the dog is mentioned. And that indicates motive here is not to share experience, but elicit an emotional response.
11. Is the story the real incident or troll post?
The story, as presented, is pure emotional manipulation. Maybe there was an original incident, way smaller in scope, way less dramatic, resolved by a person just giving up on petting an aggressive dog. I do not know. But the way story was written, presented as the screenshot with selected comments indicate that the motive behind this particular post is to manipulate people through the emotion.
At the end
A bit of thinking, questioning, and analysis will get you there. I repeat, when I first time read this, they got me. I got outraged. It is effective. And to me, personally, shows how important it is to try to control your emotions and do not follow up on your emotional reaction before you think about it.