What Is Concern Trolling And How to Deal With People Who Do It
“While I support body positivity and loving yourself, obesity is a real issue that claims lives and I worry about your health.”
“I know and believe that women should be allowed to wear and post anything they want online, but I’m just worried someone might do something bad with your photos.”
“I know that reservations are all about equal representation, but I’m just worried a doctor who hasn’t worked hard enough might be unsafe to go to.”
These statements, while couched in the soft language of care and concern, are examples of concern trolling — which is disrupting regular conversation by offering unwanted/irrelevant advice to fix another person’s problems or dictate their life choices.
Often, people concern troll — either unconsciously or with spite — because they have thoughts that are contrary to socially ‘right’ opinions, but pretend to conform so they can raise ‘concerns’ without being found out as someone who’s prejudiced. While concern trolling as behavior is an old phenomenon, it especially thrives in discussion-heavy online settings.
Perhaps the best pop-culture example of modern-day concern trolling is the terse relationship between the Kardashians and Jameela Jamil. Previously, Jamil spent loads of time slut-shaming and critiquing the Kardashians for becoming famous “via their bodies.” But recently, Jamil has begun critiquing the Kardashian’s use of weight-loss teas and appetite lollipops, and their full-body coverage makeup line as (rightly) unfeminist. Once, when Khloe Kardashian put up an Instagram story meme that suggested girls were obsessed with eating and losing weight — Jamil screengrabbed the meme and said on Twitter:
“This makes me sad. I hope my daughter grows up wanting more than this. I want more than this. Sending love to this poor woman. This industry did this to her. The media did it to her. They fat-shamed her into a prison of self-critique.”
Jamil, in this case, is concern trolling the Kardashians. She has adopted the language of concern and ‘wokeness’ to channel the same rage she has always expressed against the family, only now it’s for seemingly all the right reasons. She gets to antagonize the people she doesn’t like by cloaking her hatred against them in ‘woke’ and thoughtful speech. She could either be doing it because of intentional hatred, which is possible due to her past history of dislike against them — or she could just be a feminist-in-learning who just isn’t aware of her passionate critiques of wellness culture coming across as concern trolling.
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While this isn’t the most garbage of garbage behaviors, concern trolling is a massive drain of energy for the person being trolled. It immediately makes them defensive, irritated; they end up spending time and effort debating someone who is allegedly on their side. The defensiveness and irritation are then used by the concern troll against the person being trolled as a sign of them being ‘unreasonable’ or aggressive. The implication is that since both parties are on the same side, any contrary argument to what the concern troll says is an overreaction.
Though this behavior is accidental manipulation at its best and gaslighting at its worst, calling out a concern troll on their bullshit can be dicey — not all concern trolls know they’re behaving problematically; some of them are people who perpetually play devil’s advocate on any issue, and others are sincerely uninformed. There’s no way to tell if Jameela Jamil is being mean intentionally or unconsciously — there’s always plausible deniability for the former because of the latter. Plus, regardless of intent, the tone and the effect remain that of fake worry and care, and cause the same damage.
The best way to avoid mental exhaustion by the keyboards of concern trolls is to spot their bullshit and ignore it. Reacting to their contrarian opinions is a one-way ticket to being called unreasonable or shrill. As for those who feel the need to play devil’s advocate with all situations, maybe slow down and ask yourself why?
And then there are those who provide facile commentary on people far more famous to try and increase their own profile. What’s that phenomenon called?