Years ago, while fishing with my father, he suggested, “Let’s do some trolling.”

I was clueless.

“Trolling is throwing our bait behind the boat while we slowly motor down the river,” he explained. “We can cover a lot of water that way.”

“So, what bait should we use?” I asked.

He said, “I like to use the largest, most noisy one I can … something that is hard to miss. It’ll attract fish, even if they aren’t hungry because it will annoy them so much that they just want it to stop.”

He gave me this large, green-striped lure that had a spinner on the front and back, with lots of sharp barbs. It was one ugly bait. I tossed it behind the boat. Soon a large-mouthed bass, no kin to me, struck it.

That was my first introduction to trolling, which has these days taken on a different usage. Trolling is no longer just to annoy and catch fish but people. Yet the basics are much the same.

Throw something out there in the cyber-stream. The uglier, the louder, the more outrageous the better. Fasten lots of barbs. Pretty soon you will annoy enough people that they will take the bait. They’re hooked.

Now maybe you have not trolled in this way, but I don’t think I have met anyone who hasn’t been trolled. It’s a most unpleasant experience.

Facebook, Tweeter, online forums, and social media today are like this twisting river in cyberspace filled with trolls. That’s all they do. They seem to live to cast something out there they know lots of fish/people just can’t ignore. We take the bait. Our anger intensifies. We feel more stressed, as if we don’t have enough stress in daily living. The trolls love it. They thrive on it.

We have been told by reputable persons that even our enemies have been trolling us, using social media to further anger and divide us. They create false accounts and identities, even fake stories, scan social media for everything controversial and magnify it in every way they can. Of course, they are just exploiting our own divisions and fears. We have seen the enemy and too often it’s us!

What are we fish out in the cyber-streams to do with these countless trolls baiting us 24/7?

Do we stop swimming?

Well, we could do a little less of it. Most of us would find our lives and relationships greatly enhanced if we spent less time with our faces in a screen and more time face to face with one another.

Do we do the opposite – strike at every bait some troll sends our way?

Well, we can try to show them the error of their ways, to engage in a rational discussion, or to even pull them out of the boats and basements in which they are hiding, exposing them for what they are. But their aim is not to engender honest dialogue, but to upset, to anger, to stir things up, to make us think, do and say things we normally would not. They do not seek to create light…just heat…and we, too often, are the fish fried by that heat.

So, what can we do?

My father and I trolled in the same places for a long time and stopped catching so many fish. Dad was convinced that those fish got smart. They recognized trolling when they saw it.

We are going to have to become smarter fish if we are to keep swimming in these cyber-streams. Learn to identify trolls and their baits when we see them, to realize when we are being baited, lured to places we don’t need to go and to feelings we just do not need to have. We can ask questions like, “Who is saying this? What’s the source? What are they trying to do? Is it factual? Is it true? Are they trying to inform or infuriate? Does this post, this YouTube, this comment, this tweet, this story appeal to the best in me or the worst? Is it seeking to manipulate and use me?”

So perhaps the best way to deal with trolls is to see them for what they are and ignore them. There’s nothing a troll hates more than being ignored. Or, as a friend of mine said, “You don’t have to accept every invitation to an argument that’s extended to you.”

So, trolls, troll all you want. This Bass isn’t baiting anymore.

Bass Mitchell is a minister and writer living in New Market.