In Australia, we are currently going through a heated same sex marriage debate (oh joy…) For reasons not worth discussing, our illustrious leaders are putting the debate to a popularity test – all eligible voters have the option to express their opinion (Yes or No) on a piece of paper. Politicians will spend a lot of money having the opinions analysed then do whatever they want – because there’s nothing legally binding about an opinion poll.

The point of this is not to be political (got sidetracked for a moment…), nor to share my opinion one way or the other. Because let’s face it – no matter what I post, your personal opinion on same-sex marriage won’t change. And that’s the crux of every debate and argument – right?!

At the end of the day, we can engage in heated debate until the cows come home, but we will all leave with the exact same opinion we had when we arrived, except now we’re pissed off. I realise some sit on the fence and don’t have a strong opinion either way, so they can perhaps be swayed in an argument. But most of the time, we all know what we believe and that belief doesn’t change.

Which brings me to Trolls.

I don’t get it. Why do people troll? Why get nasty and spiteful and agro? There are things I believe in passionately, subjects I have strong knowledge and opinions on, and there are times when I feel completely bamboozled by beliefs diametrically opposed to my own. But never – never, ever – would I engage in disrespectful debate.

First of all – why bother? Yelling at someone. Belittling them. Telling them their opinion is wrong/stupid/uneducated, will not clarify my own point of view. It just makes them feel defensive. And makes me look like a nasty piece of work.

Secondly – anything and everything can be discussed in a respectful manner. Which doesn’t mean agreeing with everything, or biting your tongue, or timidly saying almost nothing. Debate can be lively and heated, but still respectful – by focusing on the topic, not the individual.

If you have a strong view (most of us do) on same sex marriage, then by all means discuss it. Let’s all discuss it! But don’t get personal. Don’t tell me, You’re blah blah! because I believe something different. Don’t start down the path of, All the Yes crowd are stupid! All the No supporters are ignorant! It’s not true.

I love to hear opposing views – but I don’t want to be judged or belittled for my opinion, I just want to understand yours more. I’m not going to fight and argue and carry on, because I’m confident and comfortable with what I believe. I also know me yelling at you won’t change your mind. It will in fact, make you more set in your own belief.

So trolls… ‘Keyboard warriors’ who sit in the safety of their lounge room and tell someone they suck because of an alternate point of view. They pop up everywhere. On every side of every debate.

It’s easy to think if you’re in the Yes camp, all the haters are in the No camp. Or vice versa. But that’s not true. Most of our friendship group is likely to have similar political, social and religious beliefs, which means most conversations we have, are from people with a similar belief set, so we tend to discuss rather than argue an issue. With social media trolling, it’s vicious remarks made against your own belief set so without an objective view, can make it seem as though all the haters are on the other “team”.

There are always haters in all camps. They tend to have the loudest voices and do damage to the cause they purport to support. Which makes the cynic in me wonder… Is gaining more support for your own view best achieved by secretly attacking your own camp so vehemently, the opposing side look like the “baddies”?

I love living in a country with free speech. (To be fair – I’ve never lived in another country… But I don’t imagine there’s much to be said for a country that quashes the voice of its own people). The downside to free speech, is I have to listen to things I don’t agree with. I have to hear ignorance, prejudice and hatred on my television screen and in the streets. But that’s okay. I’m glad those people have the freedom to speak whatever they want and I will never support someone who holds the same political/social/religious belief as myself, belittling, terrorising or demeaning those who hold an opinion contrary to my own. Spewing forth venomous hatred does my own cause no good.

While the marriage equality debate has brought up no controversies in my personal Facebook feed, plenty of other things have. I received political hate replies during the US elections – I’m not even American! I’d like to meet the trolls and say, Hey! I have a different opinion to you! Doesn’t make me a bad person – just makes me a person with a different opinion to you! Then I’d slap them with a dead fish…

Online trolling is one of the ugliest consequences of the Age of the Internet. I’d love every one of those trolls to come face to face with the people they’ve maligned and see if they have the courage to spew forth the venom when they’re live and in person. Because I bet they wouldn’t…

Don’t know me in real life, and wondering where my vote lies on the marriage debate? First – it shouldn’t matter. Whether I passionately believe Yes or No doesn’t change my core value as a human being. Still curious? I’m a strong supporter of the Yes camp, but a stronger supporter of free speech – so don’t hate on my friends who vote No. I disagree with their opinion, but don’t devalue their humanity or right to an opposing view. And shame on anybody who can’t value someone with an alternate opinion.