The Thing About Trolls

Not the cute “Hair Up” “Dance Dance Dance” variety. The Internet variety.

I have learned a lot about trolls over the past several years. Ever since I have been encouraging conversations about the local economy and small businesses in an online forum, I have been dealing with the most interesting people.

When one troll didn’t like the fact that there were rules in our forum, and he didn’t agree with them, he created his own forum, named it the same thing, just changed one word. And told everyone that his was a FREE forum, where everyone could post whatever they wanted.

At the time, this stole my joy. I was hurt, frustrated, angry. I wanted to know how to “fix” it and figure out what I had done to deserve such “cruelty.” To make matters worse, one of the members of this new group took a screen shot of a photo I had shared of myself and Craig at a Spring Training game, on the berm, with a subtitle — “This must be where the money is going!” Yep, the $12 ticket to the “cheap seats!” 🙂

I can remember how frustrated I was, but the key is, today, I can look back on them and recognize that they have made me better. I didn’t let the trolls stop me. But they did effect me. And, over time, I have learned how to deal with them. I found a way to accomplish what I feel I was put on this earth to accomplish — in spite of the haters.

The cool part is, at this point, all these years later, there seem to be fewer trolls lying in wait, ready to pounce. Maybe mom was right, if you ignore them, they will eventually find someone else to pick on. Sadly, there are people who find satisfaction in the anonymity that being a troll provides them. But you cannot let them win. Someday, I hope we as a society work to solve this problem, but in the meantime,

You cannot let them steal your joy, or keep you from your purpose.

So, whenever I deal with a troll today, I consider several things before I respond (if I respond at all).

First, what do I know about them? For me, personifying the troll, helps me try to see things from their perspective. If I can’t figure out what their angle is, I create a story for them in my head — Most of the time, it goes like this: “Wow, this person must be hurting. I wonder if she had a crummy childhood, or maybe he found out his mother is sick, or her husband is cheating on her.

This helps me put the situation into a little bit of perspective — even if it’s not really true, I need to realize that there is probably something underlying, and it’s not me. 

There have been cases when it has been me. Not necessarily something I am proud of, but when you’re dealing with real people — people you know and think you can trust in the community, the emotions become a little more personal.

There is one time, early on in the development of the community, that I allowed my emotions to get the better of me and I engaged. I reacted to the situation, and then, I immediately regretted it. I then publicly apologized — I did not delete anything, and I swore that I would never do that again.

So, what I do now, is consider the words I want to say — I might type them as if I am going to comment, or send them to myself in a text (I do this a lot!) But I do not engage publicly in a negative, argumentative way. I read their comment, and generally find a way to tell them that I hear them, but that it’s not something I agree with, and we can agree to disagree.

If it seems there’s no way to resolve the situation, I will let it go, without comment. Sometimes, this is not possible, because the troll is waiting for you. And, they might escalate it to call you out and ask why you haven’t responded. In these cases, I normally, send them a private message, and comment (for the sake of the peanut-troll gallery) that I have done so.

You might be asking why I care, why I engage, why these people matter.

The answer is, they might not matter to the end result, but the path toward connection and transparency requires that we acknowledge that there are those who will disagree with us. They have the right to their own opinion. And, by refusing to lose our cool, or worse, shut it down, delete the account, and let them feel the satisfaction of “winning,” we are sending the message, that what we are doing, what we’re working to do is bigger than them, and, over time, this message will be what people remember. And the trolls will eventually grow tired. As long as we don’t give them what they want — which is usually the satisfaction that they brought you down to their level.

Taking the high road, and yet, allowing yourself to stay connected and accessible, is the hardest choice — but in the end, I believe it is the best choice we can make — if we’re doing work that matters.


Also published on Medium.

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