For the past five years as a blogger and reviewer, I’ve received rude and nasty comments on social media. During that time I’ve had to endure unnecessary name-calling, negative remarks from anonymous angry people and messages from arrogant and condescending trolls. Yet, as the years have gone by, I’ve developed a thicker skin for these unexpected attacks.
The first time it happened to me was three years ago, and it was completely unexpected. I received some troubling tweets from a particular user. They guessed my age, my profession, my personality type, and felt entitled enough to tell me that I was reviewing opera performances the wrong way. Had it been constructive criticism I would have listened, but their comments were out of the blue and seemed patronising. There wasn’t anything particularly topical or untoward in my Twitter feed that evening, either, only that I was enjoying an opera performance at the Royal Opera House (with ‘Jonas Kaufmann’ singing the lead role). So, their troll-like behaviour was quite unusual given the timing.
The experience was unpleasant. I instantly replied back to the person, verified my age, blocked them immediately and that was that. Yet the main reason why I remember the situation so clearly is not so much about the words they used to offend or engage with me but, in fact, the profound effect it had on the Twitter community.
A couple of writers wrote about what happened on their blogs, some of my followers discussed it separately on different Twitter threads while others decided to contact the offender directly and start a discussion about his comments, mostly supporting my position. I also recall receiving many private messages from my followers checking up on how I was. It was a complete eye-opener, to know who out of my social media networks were genuine followers, willing to call out this person’s behaviour and stand by me. For me, it also demonstrated how vulnerable and exposed my position was as a reviewer. At the time, I didn’t realise the dramatic effect my reviews were having on people. Ever since then, I’ve been aware and on my guard.
Based on this experience, and many other instances, I’ve learnt that social media has allowed strangers, who we normally wouldn’t interact with on a day to day basis, to speak freely. Don’t get me wrong, the internet has its pros and I’ve made some incredible long-term friendships from social media. But before the days of the internet, there were no such thing as blogs, comments’ sections or Twitter threads. Now anyone can say whatever they like to anyone who has a social media presence, including celebrities and politicians. They can offend, upset, encourage, thank and praise anyone, and they can do it as openly or anonymously as they please.
Why do trolls do it?
The answer a troll would give us is put simply: why not? People who have the time to criticise will seize an opportunity and take it. Yet, their motivations aren’t exactly clear-cut. Some people fixate on particular people who have a large, loyal following. The troll could be jealous of this person, or hold an entirely different view from them but have difficulty delivery their argument in a diplomatic manner. However, in most cases, they won’t consider the person’s feelings and use abusive language when it suits them.
The alternative reason trolls exist is to impress other trolls. This is a strong motivator for many trolls, which is rarely discussed. This is why it is always best to not take trolls’ comments personally, especially when it involves obnoxious and rude language. The result of them acting like a troll is to gain attention, and this attention might not be targeted at you; it could be for other trolls who agree with their viewpoint.
Unfortunately, for anyone who has a social media presence on the internet, be it as an influencer or merely having a strong opinion, trolling is part and parcel of the territory. However, there are some guidelines on ways of dealing with trolls.
Dealing with trolls
There should be an option to report the user on Twitter, Facebook and most social media platforms. They will ask you provide details on why you want to report a user, and if they consider it to be very serious (death threats, harassment, verbal abuse) they may close down their account and take the investigation further with the Police. It should be noted that any form of harassment on the internet, also known as cyberbullying, can and should be reported to the police. Make sure to record every incident and get a crime reference number from the police.
Some people feel that reporting a user can be too much hassle. Others may be unwilling to discuss the situation out of fear. By blocking the user, you are ensuring the user cannot contact you ever again on your social media account. However, trolls can be unpredictable. If they exhibit signs of obsessive behaviour, they may try to find another method of contacting you on another platform such as e-mail. Reporting them to the police and/or social media platform can save you and many others on the internet from their online abuse.
3. Talk to friends and family
If you are suffering from abuse online, speak to someone you trust. They can advise and console you.
I am not telling you what you should do here. I’m only providing suggestions on dealing with cyberbullying and troll-like behaviour. If you want to confront the user directly be aware of what you are getting yourself into. In most cases, they will continue to attack, name-call and criticise you. Confronting them could make the situation worse, so be sure of the potential outcomes. That said, I have done this before and the troll(s) went completely ‘tumbleweed’ silent. It’s your call.
Don’t engage with them at all. The silence you give them proves how indifferent and meaningless their opinion matters to you. Even if they keep on contacting you, they will eventually stop, as you’re not engaging back. Out of all of the options I’ve provided this might be the most frustrating and hardest to do, but this is probably the best option. Let them say what they need to say and don’t show them any sign that you care. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
Finally, don’t take it personally.
The best way to deal with trolls is to not take it personally. You must remember that if you give them a moment of your time, it is a moment wasted which could have been used doing something more worthwhile. I appreciate, however, all cyberbullying situations are different, though. Some can be life-threatening and detrimental to your work and personal life, so if you need to make a lifestyle change (e.g. delete your Twitter account), then so be it. Your safety is far more important.
The fact is, no one deserves to be treated poorly online, be it harassment or bullying. Just recognise that these people who choose to engage anonymously are cowards in disguise and those who choose to send you horrible remarks are trolling you because many respect you and what you do.
Some resources, organisations, charities and information websites on dealing with cyberbullying and trolling: