Steer clear of terrible online trolls

The internet has exposed an offensive underbelly of society in which armchair critics take anonymous potshots at innocent people.

It is so prevalent these anonymous digital foul mouths have been given their own label — trolls.

If you have never been trolled online, you’re in the minority of people. The chances are if you have a social media presence, a blog, contribute to online forums, write letters to editors, or just appear in an image, you would have received some negative comments from people you don’t know.

This cyber-bullying has been so extreme in some cases, that the recipients have taken their own lives. It seems the human passion for public shaming is only increasing in the digital world, so here are some tips on how to deal with trolls if they take aim at you.

Trolls get their kicks by getting you angry and making you respond to their comment or post. They thrive on a victim and a public audience. So the simplest way to deal with a troll is to ignore them. If they cannot get you to bite they’ll most likely go elsewhere, because they can. Trends and interest change rapidly on an hourly basis online. So today’s hot trending topic is tomorrow’s digital dross giving trolls fresh targets to attack.

Depending upon which platform you are using — for example: Facebook, a blog, or a newspaper comments section — you can contact the administrator, report the abuse and ask for the troll to be banned or shut down. This may take time, but it is a good first step. The only problem with the internet is the speed at which people can create new false identities and start over again once an identity is blocked.

You can also turn the trolls comments back on themselves by exposing their behaviour to the audience in which they are trolling you. Don’t respond in a manner that stoops to the troll’s level or you risk feeding the troll and engaging in an unwinnable argument that will escalate, or having the “audience” see you as another irritant/troll rather than as the balanced, decent and aggrieved party. Respond rationally not emotionally, as it is very difficult to argue with facts and people who do, often look the worse for doing so, as they reveal their prejudices.

Frame your comment to the audience along the lines of “Wow. Looks like we’ve a troll attacking people on this site and trying to control the conversation. I suggest this forum doesn’t give them that power by ignoring their unproductive comments and continuing our discussion, or even take a moment to create a guideline for how we want to deal with trolls.”

Another option is to just get offline for a while. Shut your account for a few weeks. The world won’t change and your friends won’t abandon you just because you don’t post a comment for a while. You’ll probably find you’re more relaxed, as you’re not investing mental energy and time searching and responding to posts for the sake of feeling you have to belong.