If you haven’t had this delightful experience yet, you will sooner or later. Technology is maturing faster than we are, so Internet trolls have become a fact of life.
When my first article was published at xoJane, e-gremlins called me a jobless, spoiled, trust-fund baby. I was pegged as a psychotic, shitty writer, who’s only ever written sub-par, self-published novels and articles.
The comments made my stomach knot like a mall pretzel. I sobbed. One minute, I wanted to crawl back into my mother’s uterus. The next, I wanted to fight — to scratch my way out of the trolls’ black and white pit of negativity. I read the soul-sucking comments over and over for six hours.
I decided I wasn’t prepared for a war with faceless, nameless, word-wielding trolls, who relentlessly stalked me on my social media profiles. So I decided to play nice, which resulted in some of the trolls feeling bad for their comments and one admitting that her reading comprehension was poor.
But Stephen King says, “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”
We all know that trolls aren’t polite. They spew smoke and hurl fire. Their words leave you blistered, red, and peeling, but as you slowly heal, your skin becomes tougher and your scars fade.
My cyber-bullying experience taught me valuable coping skills. Now I can mentally clobber any troll that comes my way, and you can too.
What’s psychology say about internet trolls?
According to a 2014 study from the University of Manitoba, there’s a correlation between trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality: sadism, narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism — the belief that ‘the ends justify the means’.
Whitney Phillips, author of the book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things [Amazon affiliate link], takes trolling a step further. She writes that e-gremlins worship “Lulz” — antagonistic laughter at the “logical rape” of their victims — which is a longer, girthier, and more pleasurable version of “Laugh Out Loud”. Their typical victims are society’s underdogs: women, people of color, members of the LGBT community, Republicans, and Christians.
However, Phillips points out that internet trolls are not reinventing the wheel. “Trolls’ strategies for getting attention are similar to the strategies employed by sensationalist media outlets that can include blogs, Buzzfeed, the Daily Mail — the Daily Troll, as it’s referred to — that deliberately try to get people to click on stories: knee-jerk, sensationalist, exploitative coverage of often tragic stories,” says Phillips in an interview with the Los Angles Times.
Psychology confirms what bloggers have known since 1994: Internet trolls sit on their high horses mulling over individual, tiny, fetishized details. Trolls see parts. They don’t add up all of the facts. They don’t picture their victim as a whole person who they can crush mentally, physically, or spiritually. It’s not that they can’t see the whole. They’re in a privileged position, so they don’t have any reason to think about it.
Psychological deficits and privilege aren’t the only reasons trolls scour the internet, devour articles, and post poisonous comments. There are two other fundamental reasons why people troll:
- They lack real-life stimulation, so they get their fix by targeting you online. It’s pathetic, but trolls are deeply insecure. When you respond to their words it gives their life meaning. Remember if they had something better to do — say, spending time with loved ones or working — they wouldn’t have the time to push your buttons. I look at it this way: if they’re targeting me, they’re leaving some other writer alone, at least for a little while.
- They’re attention whores. Trolls want to be center stage. They drooling at the mouth hoping you’ll tweet their comments to your followers or that’ll you write a juicy blog post about just how “dumb” they are. Short of murdering your mother, they’ll do everything and anything they can to get you to react.
So the real question is: How do you deal with e-gremlins?
Every person’s writing journey is different. You need to take into account that trolls don’t know you personally.
For example, I’ve never self-published anything, even my “psychobabble thesis.” I wish I had a trust fund, but I grew up impoverished — more than 150% below the federal poverty line. I may be treated for OCD, agoraphobia, depression, and generalized anxiety, but I worked “normal” jobs as a secretary, Americorp Vista, and elementary school teacher before getting bit by the writing bug.
I’m also not a “ridiculously skilled” person doing the starving artist thing. Because I’m a freelancer, I have the freedom to help my mom, who is in kidney failure, hemodialysize at home, which greatly increases the chances she’ll live stronger and longer. I get to choose my own clients, projects, and work hours. I love it, and my family gets by.
Remember that you became a writer so your voice — not your trolls’ snark — could be heard. I recommend keeping a list of positive comments from your editors, other writers, and readers. When you’re having a bad day, pull it out and read it.
Remember the three rules from the 1984 movie The Gremlins: don’t give gremlins water, light, or food after midnight.
Why? Because they’ll go from Furby look-a-likes to scaly alligator-bat hybrids in a moment flat.
If you can buck your genes (i.e. your drive to respond to any threat in your environment) and realize some people will hate anything just to give their lives a sense of meaning, your trolls will crawl back under their bridges.
Kill with kindness
Before you reply to your troll, blow off steam by talking to your family or friends, posting to a writer’s forum (a special thanks to Linda Formichelli, Lauren Tharp, and Alicia Rades for lending their ears during my post-troll meltdown), or writing a scathing note that you don’t plan on publishing to your troll.
You can then defuse your troll, even if you don’t mean it, by making your actual reply something like “Thank you for your valuable input!”
Laugh it off
The next time trolls have you ready to rip all of your hair out, respond with a little humor.
For example, in my xoJane article, Stephen King’s name was spelled “Steven Kings” in the title. Readers complained that King was a horror writer not a science fiction writer. A humorous comeback would be, “I’m guessing you don’t want the Steven Kings 2015 Science Fiction Convention t-shirt.”
You can also chat with your blogging buddies and compare your #Trolltales. Try to one-up each other. You’ll find that the trolls’ opinions are not as earth shattering as you originally thought. Plus, the non-stop laughter will boost your immune system, increase blood flow, release endorphins — the body’s natural feel-good chemicals — and relax your whole body for a good 45 minutes.
How to Be a Supermom blogger Lisa C. Baker says,
[A friend and former editor] used to call me when he got hate mail. He’d actually gloat over it. He’d read it to me, saying, “Can you believe this? Listen to this one! This next one is awesome!”
I asked him why he enjoyed negative comments so much…and he told me he just loved the fact that people were REACTING to what he wrote. He’d struck a chord. He was influencing them. They were talking about what he had to say.”
Remember, the worst reaction you can get is indifference. I try to follow the 1/3 rule. I feel like I’m on par if a third of readers like my article; a third of readers hate my article, and a third of readers couldn’t give a flying flip.
Sometimes no matter what tactic you use, you can’t shake your internet troll.
You may be reluctant to block or report a troll because it feels like an impolite or aggressive act. However, if you’re offended by a troll’s comments, you’re probably not alone. There’s a very good chance that dozens, hundreds, or thousands of other readers are offended too!
You can block trolls to prevent them from sending you emails or seeing your status updates. Each social media platform is different, so I’ve provided quick and dirty blocking tips for a few below. [Note: these example screenshots feature lovely people I wouldn’t ever want to block!]
- Click on the profile of the person you want to report or block.
- Click on the arrow to the right of send a message.
- Click Block or Report, which is below Save as PDF.
- Click on the name of the person you want to block or report.
- Click on the ellipses (…) button on the far right side of their profile page, which is next to the video chat button.
- Click on report (You’ll be able to report the whole account, content, or another issue to the Facebook staff.) or click on block, which will automatically Defriend them.
- Click on the profile of the person you want to report or block.
- Click the blue wheel beside Follow.
- Click block or report. You can also mute the individual. They’ll be able to see your Tweets, but you won’t be able to see theirs.
If you have questions about how to block or remove people from your accounts on other social media platforms, feel free to ask below.
I’d also love for you to share your troll coping tips and #TrollTales with me in the comments or tweet me, @Poemgirl88, with the hashtag #TrollTales. If you do, you’ll get a free, “I survived the trolls” banner!
Feature image, top: “The Internet” by Martin Bregman, Copyright, Permission Granted