blog,  Essay,  Pop Culture

The Problem with Online Trolls

If you reach any level of success and have an online presence you are going to have to deal with trolls. Congratulations! On one hand, this is great news! This means your message is getting heard. It also means that your message is clear enough that it has inspired opposition. If the greatest challenge for any writer is to get his or her voice heard through the cacophony online, then the day you start getting trolled because of your writing is the day you know you have broken through the noise. Well done!

Are Trolls Dangerous?

The problem with online trolls is not that they are dangerous in a physical sense. They can’t inflict any physical harm. If you are confident and self assured to begin with, they won’t inflict any emotional or mental harm either. The people who claim to have been violated by an insult are being over dramatic and probably trying to use the situation to generate noise to get a bigger audience. Noise gets noticed. It just does.

ALL CAPS Attack!

What is a troll going to do to you? No matter what they say, they are just typing words on the internet. They get extra angry and they go ALL CAPS. Big deal.

Do they think their insults and accusations are going to make you do something differently? Probably some do think they are so incredibly important that they have the power to change the direction of your life with a single tweet. That they can tell a totlal stranger in 140 characters something so powerful they will take action–even a self destructive action–as a result.

Yeah, probably not.

Marketing firms spend millions trying to engage the audience to a point of action. We are inherently lazy, and especially unmotivated when it comes to making our lives harder. You might get an ounce of effort if we think you’re making our lives easier but even then, probably not.

Trolls Are A Distraction

The problem with trolls is not what they say to you or even how they say it to you. The problem is that trolls are a distraction. Their intention is simply to get in between you and your goal. They are a diversion.

You came online to do something important: update your blog, send out some tweets, check on your subscriptions to read something that will make you think. But as soon as you go online you are confronted with your notifications. Half of these are from people who are engaging with what you are doing. These people have, in fact, been inspired into action by something you wrote! They are saying thank you or giving you feedback or asking questions, or challenging your assumptions or sharing something about themselves that they want you, specifically you, to know. These are all productive, valuable interactions. This is what you want more of. This is what you want to feed.

But the other half are notifications from trolls who are insulting you, trying to bait you into a useless argument, pretending they need clarification only to try to pull you into a different conversation entirely. Some appear more innocent, sending you links with no reference as to why you should read it. Should you read 7,000 words just because it flew onto your screen via a notification from someone you don’t recognize? That’s a big investment to read something that long. I wouldn’t read it. I probably wouldn’t even click the link.

If someone doesn’t have the time to provide context and explain why they want you to invest your time in reading something or participating in something, then you shouldn’t waste your time reading it. The same goes for people who do provide context but it isn’t convincing or it still doesn’t interest you, then say thank you and move on. You owe nothing to people online. You are not obligated to respond, answer, or even acknowledge anyone or anything that doesn’t interest you. Your time is valuable and limited. And that, your time, is exactly what they are after.

Your Time is Valuable

Successful people are busy. We have to protect our time aggressively because it is always a target of distraction. The entire point of trolling someone is to steal their time away from their objectives. The more time a troll engages a successful person in a pointless argument the less time that successful person has to spend on her goals. That’s exactly what a troll wants: to stop you from reaching your goals.

Successful people don’t suffer from a limited amount of money, support, friends or ideas. Successful people suffer a limited amount of time. And your time is exactly what trolls want to take from you.

For whatever reason (doesn’t matter): boredom, envy, frustration, your success has bothered a troll so much that he is trying to stop you from doing more of it. He is actively interfering with your work (or trying to). It is hard enough to keep the typical distractions of wandering thoughts, responsibilities, obligations contained, and now your success has attracted active pests who make a hobby out of pestering you.

There really are people with nothing better to do than be annoying.

There really are people who are so bothered by someone’s success they feel the need to actively obstruct it.

When you are online, always remember:

  1. Not everyone has good faith intentions in their interactions with you online
  2. There is no intelligence or maturity qualification process for getting a social media account
  3. Being a pest is a hobby and a sport to people who haven’t found a productive goal to chase. You didn’t come online to entertain them.
  4. You came online to engage, enlighten, communicate. You came online to work.

Ignore, mute or block? Which is best?

So, what do you do? Ignoring works for a while, but eventually you will find it’s the least productive option because you have to actively ignore. The notifications from trolls are mixed in with the notifications from people genuinely trying to engage with you. You have to sort them out.

At this point, I started to mute accounts. I thought this was the best response. I did not want to engage but I didn’t want to censor anyone. I believe in free speech so I felt it would be hypocritical to block someone from saying what they want to say, even if it had no value to me. Go on with your bad self! What’s it to me?

Turns out, it affects me. Here is why. When you ignore or mute trolls you are still giving them access to your platform. If your message is interesting enough to attract readers to engage with you, these readers end up having to deal with your trolls. And your readers aren’t going to enjoy that. Your readers have better ways to spend their time than swatting away trolls like mosquitoes just because they wanted to show their support, ask a question or engage in dialogue.

Dissent, Opposing Opinions and Challenging Questions

I have no problem with dissent. I quite enjoy it, in fact! I love to have my assumptions challenged. I really do. Sometimes it helps me understand my own point better, helps me develop sharper tools to express my point of view. Other times it reveals that I have missed something or misunderstood something.

I am not attached to being right, I am attached to finding truth. I didn’t get to where I am now: a vocal Trump supporter, an outspoken writer about sexuality, and an entrepreneur from where I used to be: a long time liberal democrat, a shy writer and a cautious wallflower because I shied away from challenges and dissent. I got here because I am like a moth to a flame of controversial subjects, dissident opinions, new experiences and challenges. My path has been paved in questioning my long held beliefs. My journey is riddled with moments of clarity when I had to admit I was wrong or misinformed.

But, not everyone online is engaging in a productive conversation. Not everyone is arguing in good faith. Trolls argue just to argue. They engage to distract you. They insult you to entertain themselves. They want to imagine they have affected you in some way is the highlight of your day. They are nothing to you, a nobody and yet they have made a demand on your time against your will and that thrills them. I know it’s hard to believe that people have so little to do that this is how they get their rocks off but the evidence is clear.

So, now I block accounts that repeatedly try to siphon off my energy and time. It is a relieve both to me and to my readers when a troll is blocked. Now we can actually do what we came online to do: to ask questions, to see something in a new way, to understand something new and to get shit done.

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