Out in the Open

Former Twitter troll credits Sarah Silverman with helping him see 'how important talking is'

David Weissman used to troll people online whose politics didn’t align with his own. But after engaging with comedian Sarah Silverman, along with others, he now sees the importance of listening and dialoguing with the ‘other side.'

Comedian helps conservative supporter make 180 by engaging in civil conversation about politics

David Weissman switched from being a Twitter troll to asking questions and wanting to learn more about his political 'enemies.' (Submitted by David Weissman)

This story was originally published on April 12, 2019.

David Weissman was an online troll who used to send Twitter mobs after anyone who didn't support U.S. President Donald Trump.

The 13-year army veteran says he was a conservative supporter who perceived his engagement online as social media war.

"Every time you logged in, you'll see how the other party is trying to impeach the person that you elected. It's very, very intense," he told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay. "It's like, 'Hey, these people are really trying to destroy America.'"

Weissman felt like it was his mission to take down liberals with what he believed were the only facts.

"Like Ben Shapiro always said, 'Facts don't care about feelings.'"

'Softened my heart'

But his perspective started to change when he engaged with comedian and well-known democrat, Sarah Silverman on Twitter. She responded to Weissman's trolling attempt in a way that surprised him.

"We started talking and it was civil. There was no name-calling, no insults. And I kind of realized, 'Woah, I'm not used to that.' And that's what made an impact on me," he said.

Their online conversations continued with Weissman asking questions about liberal beliefs to better understand the "other side", while Silverman and her followers responded with their perspectives.

"That kind of softened my heart … to actually have a discussion instead of arguing all the time.'"  

The exchanges helped him realize that Silverman, along with other Democratic supporters, weren't the enemies, but people with different values. As his curiosity grew, Weissman continued initiating conversations with liberal supporters on and offline.

Instead of blocking or lashing out, comedian Sarah Silverman responded with compassion to David Weissman's trolling attempts. (Sarah Silverman/Facebook)

When the troll becomes the trolled

His shift from being a troll, to expressing openness and willingness to engage, didn't sit well with some of Weissman's online allies. Eventually, they turned on him.

"It was kind of surprising. This was before I made any decisions about being a Democrat or leaving MAGA and ending my support for Trump. I was just discussing it. I was just dialoguing. And for some reason, they saw that as a threat," recalled Weissman.

He says he was called a traitor online by some of his friends and political allies.

"People were freaking out like, 'Oh my gosh, he's becoming a liberal. He's a Democrat,'" Weissman remembered. "It felt like, in a way, karma."

'The eagerness to learn from others' matters most

Although Weissman ultimately switched political sides, it was his behavioural shift online that allowed him to understand other perspectives. He credits talking to people who didn't judge him, or tell him he was wrong, as crucial to changing how he engaged online. 

"It was patience and understanding of where conservatives come from that led to a dialogue," he reflected.

But he also acknowledges that it's sometimes best to block trolls, especially those who aren't ready or willing to engage in a respectful exchange.

"I think that's what matters more ー is the eagerness to learn from others. I was very, very lucky that people were engaging with me."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode, "Switching Sides."


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