When trolls attack…

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Sometimes it feels like writers specifically have to cross a troll bridge every day.

Thing is…It takes a toll, and emotional one, on writers. It’s become so commonplace you can google it now. The internet search engines are brimming with articles on how to deal with trolling if you’re a writer.

Why you should continue to write even if you are being trolled. The writing cooperative.

Anyone can get trolled…. even the New Yorker. Huffpo

Why female writers get trolled the most. 2014’s Salon.

Each article tries its best to make sense out of the mess that has become our digital life, and it’s worth noting that this is in no way specific to writers at all. Game devs, movie stars, reporters; Anyone can get trolled. That much is true, but it’s somewhat true that you usually have to be either controversial or noteworthy. Right?

That used to be the common wisdom, but, if you run in the internet writer community, you’re probably hearing anecdotes that contradict that common wisdom. More and more authors are reporting trolling. All you have to be is noticed, it would seem.

What makes a troll?

According to CBS, a 2017 Australian study tried to make sense of the mindset of the internet troll, and determined they were usually sadists. I know, big surprise, right? Because they’re sadists, there’s a thrill in getting people upset over the internet that doesn’t make sense to regular people.

The best advice for dealing with this kind of thing really is to not engage. When it’s on a public page, it’s best to have a no tolerance policy and back it up with a solidly swinging ban hammer. Never be afraid to whack-a-troll. They aren’t there for intellectual discussion. It’s simple cheap thrills, and writers don’t get paid enough to deal with it. But, sometimes they bring friends and that can make it harder.

Everybody hurts

The emotional cost of bullying in real time is high. As any author is fully aware, words matter. Right now, it matter even more than it ever has because depression and anxiety are at all time highs since 2016.

There are, of course, no simple answers to why that is, and I would imagine the causes are many and varied. However, the result is a global population with rising levels of distress.

Keeping your sanity online means boundaries. Boundaries firmly drawn and staunchly defended are the only real means to deal with trolling in a practical sense. This means:

  • Comment sections with no tolerance policies enforced
  • Clearly marked web warnings to trolls about acceptable behavior
  • No exceptions to the above

That’s how you deal with the existence of trolls, but it doesn’t help you deal with the reality of them, a reality which sucks. It’s depressing to live in a world with so many of these kinds of people out there. Here’s the advice I’ve received over the years for dealing with the squicky internet moments:

Look for the helpers.- Mr. Rogers

One of his most iconic moments in the neighborhood came when he discussed scary events with children on his shows, and Mr. Rogers gave his viewers the advice his mother gave him as a child. When something scary happens, look for the helpers. You’ll see them there somewhere.

We may be adults, but this is still a fundamental truth and an excellent strategy for dealing with, not only our fears, but our sense of hopelessness at the state of humanity as more and more happens each day to make us doubt it. There are helpers all around, especially in the author community. It’s important to cling to that truth and pass it on to our children, our readers, and anyone else who will listen.

What can you DO?

One of my recent internet interactions included this lesson. An author friend, a sensitive soul, was so distressed at an article I had shared that she expressed it, and what her husband had asked her. He asked, as I think he must often, what is it you can DO about that? I don’t even remember what it was, but she donated some books. That part I remember.

It was a lesson I’ve used to find my feet again more than once since. Often there’s nothing to do, and that reminder is as valuable as the one to DO something when we can. We can’t fix everything, and we shouldn’t even try. However, as writers, we have a particular set of skills, and those we can use to put out into the world the images we want to see reflecting back at us.

Determining your worth

A troll’s two cents is probably worth about half that market value, and that’s the thing everyone has to keep in mind. Trolls don’t actually have opinions. They have plans.

The purpose isn’t to change your mind about an issue. The purpose is to change your mind about your own value and the value of your actions. They want you to feel hopeless and powerless. Therefore, the way to best defeat the internet troll is to ignore them and go right on about our business. It’s all about manipulation, and you win when they aren’t successful.

Everyone gets a bellyful of bullying, and you will occasionally give in to the temptation to interact. It’s a bad idea if you’re feeling less than confident. This is not, absolutely not, good for your mental health, though it can at times make one feel better for a minute. That’s a fleeting moment, and not very productive, but we all give in sometimes.

When I absolutely have to engage and cannot (or, I admit, choose not) to disengage, I crack jokes and laugh at them. Oh, sure, they get worse for a while, but eventually you can feel the blood pressure rise through the screen, and they’ll disengage.

Disclaimer: This will not change anything. They will still be a jackass.

It’s really a colossal waste of time to argue with a sadist, so I don’t recommend it. The value you put on your time is in some ways an indicator of the value you put on yourself. Do they deserve much of your valuable time? It’s doubtful.

#WriterProblems

That hashtag usually refers to problems like who will empty our browser history when we die, but there are problems that are specific to our passion for writing. Dealing with the toxic environment of the internet is one of them. You will need a metaphorical hazmat suit.

The best shield I’ve ever had against the words designed to bring me down and hold me back has been the sure understanding of who I was and what I was doing at any given moment. Those moments I’ve felt weakened by the world were the moments where I lost my sense of purpose for a time.

The simple truth is that if you want to write for anyone beyond yourself you have to have a slightly thicker skin than normal, but mainly, you need a solid foundation in yourself.

The thick skin is for critique. The trolls get the boundaries.

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