We’ve all encountered trolls face to face in one form or another (middle school, anyone?), and it’s impossible to miss their presence in the comment section of online articles and social media posts. It’s easy to spot them when they’re trolling other people, and it’s easy to tell the trollee to just ignore them. When you’re the target, however, you’re more likely to feel their presence than to be able to clearly see what’s happening; you’re also less likely to be able to just ignore them. (Hint: That’s a good way to know you’re being trolled.)
I’ve had plenty of brushes with trolls in “real life” but only recently had my first real brush with online trolls when one of my blog posts was shared on Facebook by a page with almost 8,000 followers. It logged 245 shares from that page and got over 1,000 shares via the share buttons on my blog. It was great! However, some people disagreed with my content and said so in the comments – both on the FB page that shared it and on the blog itself. That’s fine. They’re entitled to disagree.
The fact that people disagreed with me didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the nasty way in which some of them expressed their disagreement. They let me know in no uncertain terms what they thought of me. It also surprised me that I was surprised. I mean, I know what a comment section can be like.
It was interesting to observe my reaction to the whole thing. I could feel myself being baited and challenged, feeling frustrated, being hurt, getting angry, and wondering if some of them had actually read any part of the post at all. At the same time, I sincerely felt that they had a right to disagree with me, to run their business differently than I run mine, and to have different boundaries than I do. They also have a right to make assumptions about me, judge me, and to not like me.
When dealing with trolls, you often can’t win for losing. But not winning doesn’t have to mean losing. There is a middle ground. Call it a draw. Call it Zen. Call it agreeing to disagree. I like to call it maintaining my sanity.
Here’s a not-so-secret secret: Trolls want to be fed. Some trolls know exactly what they’re doing and they’re intentionally baiting you. The rest don’t do it on purpose, but that doesn’t make them any less rude, stressful, or trollish.
While their motivations may differ, most trolls want the same thing: Attention. They usually get that attention through some form of reaction or engagement. Engagement is troll food. Even well-meaning engagement (“I just wanted to explain, educate, etc.”) can be all the food a troll needs to take the trolling to the next level.
This isn’t to say that trolls will never stress you out. Of course they will; but you can keep their influence to a minimum with a few simple guidelines:
These have helped me deal with the trolls in all areas of my life. Don’t get me wrong, some of them still p**s me off, frustrate me, or have me doubting myself for a while. For instance, with my blog example above, even though I could clearly see the commenters biases and assumptions, it still rankled me. I sat with the comments for a couple hours before doing anything. I then decided to not reply to any of the comments. Was that the “right’ thing to do? I don’t know if there is an absolute “right” thing to do in cases like that, but I do know it was the right choice for me at the time. I had plenty of replies at the ready, but many of them wouldn’t have added anything positive to the conversation and the others likely wouldn’t have changed any minds. Since I don’t need validation from people I don’t know, I left it.
What other advice would you give to someone dealing with a troll problem? Let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget to share… There are handy buttons just below this post ↓↓↓