If you have spent any time at all online, you’ve probably come in contact with a troll. If you haven’t yet, you will; they are as inevitable as they are obnoxious. Unfortunately, with online activism comes a never-ending parade of trolls, each more vile and offensive than the last.
How you deal with trolls will say a lot about you to those who witness your interactions with the trolls. Allowing yourself to be caught up in name-calling, angry/abusive behavior, or continued back and forth can undermine any message you may be trying to share. It’s where the adage “don’t feed the trolls” came from.
However, in many cases, it can be hard to identify a troll from a simple, everyday, ignorant human. Here’s how to tell the difference.
How to Identify Trolls
Trolls thrive on anonymity. They often have a social account that is used simply for trolling others. It may not have any actual identifying photos – just stock images or meme graphics.
Generally, they follow pages and accounts that align with their beliefs, whatever they happen to be, and the posts on their timeline are re-shares from these pages. These accounts may be brand new or several months old, but generally, they don’t have much of a history.
Their entire goal is to be able to say whatever they want online without anyone knowing who they are. This includes being intentionally sexist, racist, homophobic, or even threatening.
On the other hand, ignorant humans will generally be real accounts – even people you know (or think you do).
They have years-old accounts, filled with photos of family and friends. They have life history laid out, including where they work, live, and spend their time.
While they aren’t technically Trolls, they can still participate in trolling behavior; although, when they do, it is a lot easier to name and shame them, and they certainly have a lot more to lose.
How to Deal With Ignorant People
Finding yourself in a conversation with an online acquaintance who has shown themselves to be ignorant or intolerant is a great opportunity to educate and enlighten.
If you have the energy and capacity to do so, it can be helpful to share your insight in a friendly and compassionate way. Many people have been taught hate from an early age, and it isn’t always their fault that they believe the way they do.
Approaching them from a place of love and understanding at the start, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and showing them some grace can go a long way in keeping the conversation a positive one.
Sometimes, though, ignorant people will continue to be ignorant and intolerant.
It is always okay for you to walk away from a conversation if your ability to deal with them wanes. But if you choose to continue to engage, understand that this person probably is not going to change.
Keep calm and allow yourself to be coolly detached from the end result. Stick to facts and key information, and don’t let the conversation get derailed to other subjects. If you feel at any point that you are just not getting through, it is always okay to leave the conversation.
At the end of the day, social media gives you the ability to unfollow, unfriend, or even block those folks you deem unnecessary to your life. But it also allows you the ability to call people out for behavior you might never see from them in person.
How to Deal With Trolls
Trolls are a completely different ball game. Because trolls are anonymous and only interested in creating chaos and controversy, dealing with them can be more of a headache than anything else.
You may find it easier not to deal with them at all, and no one could fault you. However, if you do find trolls infiltrating a conversation, here are a few tips for dealing with them.
Don’t feed the trolls. Skip over every comment they make and pretend they aren’t there at all. It may seem juvenile, but it can really save your sanity.
Take Away Their Platform
Allowing trolls into the conversation at all is giving them the ability to stir the pot. Instead, remove their ability to join in. Whether through moderation, manual approval of comments, deletion of comments, or even disabling commenting altogether, stop trolling before it starts.
It may mean more work for you, but if trolls are more than you want to deal with, it is a valid option.
Create a Community
As influencers, we have the ability to gather together people from all over the place, and when our communities are joined in a common cause, they can be a powerful force.
Loyal community members are best placed to help drive out trolls by keeping watch and dealing with trolls before they can take hold.
Curate Your Responses
One of my favorite tactics to use when clapping back at trolls is to have a file on my computer AND my phone with a list of my most common responses to the same old troll quotes I keep seeing online.
Every time I see them asking loaded questions or using the same arguments, I simply cut and paste my response to them. It saves time, and I know the response is exactly right every time, with nothing forgotten or misrepresented.
I also keep a list of links handy so I don’t have to go looking for specific articles when I want to cite them. Since trolls tend to use the same arguments repeatedly, sharing the same memes and quoting the same “sources,” I have found this file to be invaluable.
Take Fair Criticism
Often trolls are unconcerned with their own spelling or grammar mistakes, and it would be easy to take the bait and make fun of them. But let’s face it, it’s not helpful to your cause.
That said, inevitably we are all going to make a mistake somewhere, and a troll is likely to jump right on it, pointing out an error you’ve made. Rather than get defensive or clap back about their own inadequacies, fix your mistake, acknowledge it, and move on.
Those who are watching will notice that you are not afraid to admit when you’re wrong, and this goes a long way in showing a willingness to back down when facts demand it. It makes you more trustworthy to anyone who may still be on the fence or looking for good information about your cause.
At the end of the day, trolls are everywhere.
They are infuriating and frustrating for those unlucky enough to come into contact with them. Whether or not you choose to engage with them, remember that they take great pleasure in making you angry, so don’t let them.
Always remember that you can leave a conversation at any time, and your peace is not worth disturbing for one person’s enjoyment.
Katie Reed is an award-winning parenting blogger at amotherthing.com and a mental health advocate at katiereed.com. She is a mom of four boys and is working to make sure they grow up loving and accepting of every human they meet. Follow her on social at @amotherthing.