If you interact online, chances are you have witnessed trolling and trolling behaviors. You may also have been targeted by these behaviors as they show up in comment sections and social media platforms.
A 2016 poll of over 1000 Americans reported that 25% of respondents were victims of online harassment or knew someone who was. Of the victims of this abuse, 20% were scared about this impacting them professionally, 20% were scared to leave their homes, & 29% were scared for their lives. Experts believe that these situations are only going to get worse.
There are no agreed upon ways to deal with trolls. A quick Internet search reveals a broad array of tips, tricks, and techniques to help you, or help others. These techniques run the gamut from ignorance to confrontation. Your own use may vary as you consider how you would handle confrontation, bullying, and hostility offline. I’m still studying these behaviors, and this post represents what I’ve learned up to this point.
How to respond?
Most people believe that two factors motivate trolls and trolling behaviors:
- They’re bored.
- They want attention.
While you can’t control whether you will become the target of a troll, you can decide if you will make yourself a troll’s victim. The key is knowing that the troll is looking to embarrass, humiliate, ridicule, demean and shame you. You have choices about how you will react.
One mindset that comes up often in this area is that the best response is possibly no response at all. A common refrain is “don’t feed the trolls.”
You may be drawn into anger, fear, resentment, or some other emotional reaction from the attack. If you chalk it up to a “mean person being mean” then perhaps you can move on and ignore it. If this comment or behavior is on a public site, take a screenshot, document for later, and move on. If it is on your site, take a screenshot for documentation, delete it, and forget it.
Notice & name the behavior
At an early age, we learn to identify mean, or nasty people and these behaviors. As part of the socialization process in our classrooms, we identify these behaviors, and have choices to make about calling them out in public.
I taught 8th grade, and then high school for several years in economically challenged areas. We saw our fair share of hate, violence, and bullying. Much of this behavior was a defense mechanism, but often times it was an attempt to pander to their audience…other students in the classroom.
In this same capacity, some people recommend identifying the behavior, and calling out the troll by name. Identify their behaviors and hope the other members of the community will step up as well and say/do something. In The Guardian, Tim Dowling describes this plan of action. “Trolls thrive on anonymity.” By taking away that power, you may make that troll think twice about leaving nasty comments on your website, blog, or social media account.
There may also be a “report abuse” function if this is a public space where you can send this along to administrators. Once again, take a screencapture and document these behaviors.
If you decide to ignore it and move on, take some time to check the levels on your emotions and feelings. We all like to think that we’re made of teflon and these things don’t bother us. But, over time, these comments and attacks can impact even the strongest among us. Take time to read and reflect on the positive feedback and comments that you’ve received. Talk to the family, friends, and colleagues that value your work and focus on the good work, feedback, and interactions that you have.
You may also use this as FUEL. Julie Holloway identifies this as an opportunity to allow this to fuel your own fire. She breaks down FUEL in the following capacity.
F – find humor in every obstacle or situation (big smile)
U – unleash something new + amazing in your own business
E – enjoy your mocha + your own great moments (@#$%@ them)
L – love on your clients + your biz even more
Examine your perspectives
Regardless of your response to the trolls and these behaviors, keep in mind what people are looking for is attention. This may be to make themselves feel noticed, silence you, or push an agenda. They settle for pushing buttons and trying to stimulate a reaction.
Please also remember that not everyone that fights or disagrees with you on the Internet is technically “trolling”. Some are invested in their beliefs and are merely stating them in a rude or obnoxious manner. They may also be stating their beliefs and if they run counter to your beliefs, you may see hostile intent where none was intended. For those that do present their points or an argument in a rude manner, this may be due to a lack of perceived relationship with you, or the anonymity of being online. In any of these instances, remember that mood, tone, and intent are often lost in text only posts and comments. Perhaps give it some time to think about the comments, or perhaps share with a third party to see if you should be offended.
We don’t always have to agree, especially online. If you think someone is trolling you, find yourself in an argument with a rude stranger on the Internet, or suddenly feel as though you’re being attacked with words, the best thing to do in all of those situations may be to just walk away.