Guest Column: The age of the trolls

By Tim Rollins
Rockford Board of Education member, Subdistrict B

Ms. Jane Hayes and I finally found something on which we agree. In her guest column last week (“Free speech empowered,” Jan. 28-Feb. 3 issue), she decried the decline of investigative journalism. I agree that the nationwide (and global) decline in journalism is a mounting problem in our society, because, as the saying goes, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” In this case, the vacuum is being filled with people who are not journalists and do not understand and subscribe to journalistic standards.

Two years ago, Smithsonian ran an article (written by a real journalist) about Jaron Lanier. Mr. Lanier is one of the people whose work led to the development of the World Wide Web as we know it today. He now lectures about the evils of the “hive mind” that he helped create. (R. Rosenbaum, “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold 2.0,” Smithsonian, January 2013, at 24).

The following passage from the article stuck with me when I first read it: “As far back as the turn of the century, he singled out one standout aspect of the new web culture — the acceptance, the welcoming of anonymous commenters on websites — as a danger to political discourse and the polity itself. At the time, this objection seemed a bit extreme. But he saw anonymity as a poison seed. The way it didn’t hide, but, in fact, brandished the ugliness of human nature beneath the anonymous screen-name masks. An enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy, but an accretion of tribalism. It’s taken a while for this prophecy to come true, a while for this mode of communication to replace and degrade political conversation, to drive out any ambiguity. Or departure from the binary. But it slowly is turning us into a nation of hate-filled trolls.” (R. Rosenbaum, “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold 2.0,” Smithsonian, January 2013, at 28).

Ms. Hayes apparently now fancies herself a journalist. Innuendo is not journalism. If the Rockford School District requires students to sit in their classrooms with “no heat,” when did that occur, for how long, what were the circumstances, and how many students were affected? If the administration is “two or three times as large as it was under the former superintendent,” how many administrators were there under the former superintendent, and how many are there now? In what way is the Auburn Field House (which was built in compliance with all applicable accessibility requirements) “difficult to access for the physically challenged”? If we denied a student who was eligible for free lunch a free lunch (which would violate federal law), who was it and when did it occur? If we “place unqualified teachers in positions as favors,” who did we place, what were the qualifications of the position, what were the qualifications of the person who received the job, and what were the qualifications of the other people who applied who were not placed in the position? These are the sorts of questions real journalists ask, and these are the sorts of facts real journalists include in their articles. They are notably absent from Ms. Hayes’ columns. No, she is not a journalist, and I think Mr. Rosenbaum probably found a better phrase to describe her than I ever could.

What is particularly ironic about Ms. Hayes’ behavior is that she also fancies herself to be a supporter of public education. If we want our children to be successful, we need to instill in them critical thinking skills — the ability to ask good questions, gather facts, look at multiple points of view, and find good answers based on the best available information. Every day across the district, our teachers work to develop these skills in our students. Innuendo and rumor-mongering by someone who supposedly supports them does not do justice to their efforts, and does not in any way support public education.

Finally, if we want, as a community and a society, to solve the many problems we face, we need to do that through civil discourse that includes discussion of actual facts while we search for solutions. Otherwise, I fear we really will cede our society to the hate-filled trolls.

Tim Rollins is a member of the Rockford Board of Education, representing Subdistrict B. The views he expresses here are his own.

From the Feb. 4-10, 2015, issue

6 thoughts on “Guest Column: The age of the trolls

  • Feb 4, 2015 at 9:03 am

    I can not say that I am impressed by this man. He is supposed to represent my sub-district and he is more shameful than anything. Part of politics is being able to handle the criticism and observations of others. Part of our American ideal is to allow others to speak or put into writing what they believe is wrong with our government or wrong with how taxpayer funds are used. This generation of men lack character when they need to lower themselves to calling women names or trying to publicly humiliate someone who isn’t in an elected position. It is a small man that stoops to that level.

  • Feb 4, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I applaud those who tired of “civil discourse” and chose to be “hate-filled trolls” when local, regional, and national governments abused powers, mismanaged money and boundaries, and chose to oppress and arrest anyone who stood against them. It’s a small event now known as the American Revolution.

    I don’t think the superintendent is doing a bad job with a district that’s this large, but some board members really are abhorrent. This story is an embarrassing display of egotism and smuggery. It’s unfortunate that he is the spokesperson for the board.

  • Feb 4, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Rollins has some nerve writing this column as a representative of the School Board. Does he speak for the Board as a whole? I don’t believe Ms. Hayes ever presented herself as a journalist but rather a concerned tax payer. As for the innuendo Rollins refers to, it is NOT innuendo when there is truth in the statement. In fact, a child was denied a free lunch and in fact, a school did make students sit for hours in their coats while the heat was broken, Both issues were reported on in social media. Just because they were not released in a District News Memorandum does not mean they did not happen. As for placing “unqualified teachers in positions as favors”, perhaps Ms. Hayes was referring to Mr. Rollins own wife who sailed into a position this January. We can’t debate qualifications of personnel who may have applied for the position, nor his wife’s qualifications, as Mr. Rollins suggests because those documents are personal (as he very well knows).

  • Feb 4, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    Mr. Rollins (and all commenters past and future),

    Perhaps you do not realize your troll reference seems aimed directly aimed at Ms. Hayes.
    Now, how is that civil discourse?

    I remind you of the RPS code of conduct, which seems to have been ignored or followed in this discussion.

    Excerpts follow:

    From The Discipline Creed… (all caps from the creed)



    From Student Rights and Responsibilities…

    – To be given the opportunities to be heard as well as have witnesses and/or an advocate speak on one’s behalf.

    – To be treated respectfully and as an individual.

    – To resolve problems and issues while providing dignity for all.

    – To recognize when personal actions are interfering with the rights, personal space, feelings, and property of others.

    May we all work towards courteous, respectful behavior to foster a climate of achievement.

    Take care,

    Paul Gorski

  • Feb 6, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Tsk…tsk… tsk… Shame on Mr. Rollins.
    Using his publicly elected position of authority as a bully pulpit to name call those who question or criticize his actions and decisions. Apparently, you are an excellent human being when it comes to”lawncare”(; but a complete narcissist when it comes to handling any type of criticism of your “job performance”. Yes, Mr. Rollins. Your JOB PERFORMANCE. You were elected to the school board based on your campaign promise of a commitment “to the betterment of the school district”. You were not elected to the school board in order to use your position as a private HR Firm to place friends and family members in paid positions within the taxpayer funded public school district. You were not elected to your position to ensure friends and family members receive taxpayer-funded contracts by doing work for the school district. Your detractors do not need to meet the burden of proof you have demanded. One simply needs to google your name and there you have it! All the evidence needed to verify that your family members and friends are benefitting from our tax dollar funded public school system. I spy Campaign workers! Now employed. Spouses of friends! Now employed. Wives! Now employed. Children! Now employed. All employed at RPS.
    Come on Rollins! Come on man! You know the public does not have access to personnel files! So, why the false demand of the one person who is willing to publicly criticize you? Did you and the Mrs. enjoy sitting at the computer one night in your big, fancy house overlooking the river, with a glass of wine and smug grins on your faces while composing your response to Ms. Hayes’s guest column? Did you two enjoy tag-teaming a fellow citizen and taxpayer, who bravely and publicly questions your decisions and actions, with name-calling and mud slinging?
    Mrs. Hayes references the recent attack at the Charlie Hebdo, Paris, office in her guest column to show us how important investigative journalism continues to be during these times when the plutocrats run the show. Charlie Hebdo employees were threatened for their writings and printed criticisms of the powers that be. These brave investigative journalists paid the ultimate price for their freedom to speak and write-they were executed. Critics of the Rockford Public School Administration and Board of Education face the same kind of fate; although, not a literal death. Critics of the administration suffer a figurative death, the loss of their livelihood. Threatening people who dare to question or criticize the actions and decisions made by you, your fellow board members, and the administration is not, in fact, the course you want to take, if you truly are committed “to the betterment of the school district”( Perhaps you should jump out of that tree and stop the cookie production ( and start to pay attention to the people who elected you; because we are the same folks who can demand your “resignation”.
    Wishing you and the Mrs. the best of luck on your campaign for reelection to the school board this April, 2015 Mr. Rollins! Oh!!! Wait! You don’t need luck! You and Makulec and Harner made sure that you would be running unopposed. So much for democracy!

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