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There has been much in the news recently about the malicious effects of trolls on political dialogue in our country.

A troll is an ugly critter that lurks under bridges and threatens the 'Three Billy Goats Gruff.' So the word seems to be an apt metaphor for people who post malicious material on social media.

There is another equally apt meaning of troll : 'to fish by trailing a baited line behind a boat.' Internet trolling baits readers with 'stinky' provocative comments intended to catch them up with misinformation.

The Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election indicted 13 Russian trolls who set out to 'catch fish' among our electorate and thus, sway our elections or at least, stir up the level of anger, distrust and discord among us.

If we take the bait, then there is no need for Russia or other meddlers to tamper with the ballots we cast in order to influence our election. We will have done it for them, by allowing trolls to influence our views.

Malicious propaganda, foreign and domestic, is nothing new to politics. But its power is greatly expanded through social media, which make it easy for those who take the bait to share it with their media contacts who, if they swallow it, can spread it to their contacts.

Recently Facebook has been called to account for allowing trolls to set up sites and do their dirty work. I think most Americans, if aware, do not condone such trolling. And yet, millions unconsciously take the bait and become part of the problem.

I was pained to see some typical troll material printed on the Opinions page of this paper recently. Such material has characteristic earmarks: its language is inflammatory; its views are extreme and negative; it tends to discredit our institutions (courts, Congress, FBI etc.); it implies that all working in public service are liars bent on destroying the Constitution; it alleges far-fetched conspiracy theories, e.g., that 'the Establishment' intends to take over the world.

It often states as fact data that is easily shown to be false.

The opinion letter I refer to states, for example, that Pew Research found that 24 million fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election, all of them for Democrats (a bit of troll-bait passed on by the President himself).

One only needs to Google 'Pew research on voter fraud 2018' to find this article: 'Pew research author: Zero evidence of fraud in 2016 election.'

Read it.

If one is not internet savvy, one can just try to imagine by what method Pew could determine which way any of these alleged 24 million felonious voters marked their secret ballots. Obviously, there's no way anyone could know.

The First Amendment gives us a right to express opinions, no matter how harmful or absurd, and even to lie if not under oath. The First Amendment does not obligate any newspaper to print these opinions. A good editor should not facilitate the spread of misinformation and malice.

My question now is, why does the JG-TC allow troll bait to be printed on its opinions page?

Peggy Brayfield, Charleston

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