A Field Guide to dealing with Trolls and Snippities

Troll baying seems to come in waves. Is it a lunar thing?

Image via Trey Radcliff

Lately, something has been going on. They’ve been making quite the cacophony out there in the social media zoo.

It’s not just the traditional trolls either. It’s everyday people who get all snippety about an issue and forget that online slam-downs are no different from screaming hysterically at a stranger in the street. It’s also Big Name Bloggers who feel they have license to get, well, plain mean.

Over the years I’ve truly come to weather the slings they throw from time to time on this blog, and now on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. Age helps – “sheer years on the planet” as I say quite often. Feeling comfortable with what I do does too. So does being bullied as a kid. I was ostracised most of my childhood until my intensity found a place on the planet. Again, sheer years on the planet!

I have a troll that follows me about. David Driscoll is his real name. He sets up fake Twitter accounts using pictures of cute, likeable 20-something women and goes after me for, yes, suggesting to others they might like to limit their sugar. He attacked me – for days? weeks? – for not responding to some comments from a dietician posted in response to a blog I’d written. FYI: I’d made my point already in my post (and didn’t feel I needed to say more), the dietician in question is sponsored by a major sugar-based food company (so I didn’t feel I needed to expend too much energy on her take), and – besides – I’d decided to contact the dietician direct and met her for coffee to discuss offline. Like real people do. We had a great coffee chat, didn’t agree, but kept it amicable. Like real people can.

Anyway, I’ve just done what I’m about to advise one does not do (see below).

Why am I taking time to write about this? Because I’ve been really concerned that readers here on this blog (and who follow me on social media) have been copping it from these Trolls and Snippities on my behalf recently. Some of you have – very kindly – jumped on to comments to defend me or  to defend an argument I make. Or a piece of blindly obvious logic. Or just to defend decency! Which has then seen you get sledged by this sordid lot. So I thought I might start a discussion on how to get us all more mindful and grounded with this kind of base behaviour. Please wade in. And, today only, any trolls that make a noisome fuss will be blocked. (I try to avoid blocking people, instead allowing them to peter out on their own.)

Me, this is my Troll and Snippities Deflecting Approach:

1. Ignore them. Much like dealing with a recalcitrant toddler: you encourage their good behaviour, ignore their bad. And hopefully they’ll mature through this kind of attention steering. As Brian Eno has said, “Attention is what creates value.”

2. Ignore them. Adding oxygen to their fire never helps.

3. Ignore them. When I was a kid and griped to Mum about the “girls at school” who stuck compasses into the back of my legs and accused me of having a mono-brow and having too many siblings (thus justifying four years in the library-at-lunch wilderness), she’d ask me, “Do you respect these girls, Sarah?”. No, I’d say, they’re idiots! “Then hold your head high,” Mum would tell me. I reflect on this advice often.

It’s important to “be our message”. Which is not the same as “being right”. There is no right. This is part of my message. So I have to live it.

4. Ignore them. Save time for more important things. There’s much freedom and lightness in knowing you haven’t expended energy on such an ugly cause.

5. Smile at it. I’m not sure if I’ve shared this before? I like to visualise Troll Sledges and Snippity Snark as so many balls coming towards me. I can try to hit them back. Or I can simply watch them sail on past me, before splatting! behind me. And I find this a little bit amusing.

Artful ignoring can be tough to pull off. But practice – and smiling – helps. It really does.

One more thought:

Trolls don’t disturb me so much these days, but the Snippities can. This is because they’re normal humans – dads with kids, young women with sensible jobs, not unhinged weirdos hiding behind avatars or fake Twitter accounts – who think they’re so in the right that their behaviour is justified. The fact that they think there’s a right way depresses me so much.

There is no right, and to hold to that is to hold humanity back from expansiveness.

Anyway, if you’re up for expanding on this topic with your thoughts on how to handle this vexing issue, please do share. It would be good to support each other and to get on a similar page. Oh, and a special shout out to the caring, passionate people who calmly, considerately and carefully defend me and my points (and decency). I salute you!

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