These women engaged with their nastiest bullies, and they ended up receiving sincere apologies!
About a year ago, I wrote about how to deal with trolls. My chief recommendation echoed the conventional wisdom on this subject: don’t feed the trolls. In other words, ignore them. Don’t engage.
I still think that’s the optimal way to deal with trolls; however, I’ve come across a couple of interesting stories lately from people who did the opposite — they engaged with their nastiest bullies, and they ended up receiving sincere apologies!
Cambridge University professor Mary Beard shamed one of her trolls by name to her extensive online network. But then, she did something surprising:
Beard . . . said she had now taken to writing job recommendations for Rawlings so he didn’t suffer in the long term for “one moment of idiocy.”
“He is going to find it hard to get a job, because as soon as you Google his name that is what comes up,” she said. “And although he was a very silly, injudicious, and at that moment not very pleasant young guy, I don’t actually think one tweet should ruin your job prospects.”
She added: “In general, I am more concerned to be sure that people don’t use the internet in this way (or don’t do so again) than to seek ‘punishment’.”
Properly chastened, her troll publicly apologized for his nasty comments.
More recently, the popular radio show This American Life aired a segment in which writer Lindy West described how her most hateful troll reached out to her after she wrote a long, heartfelt essay about his hurtful online behavior and how it affected her. They even spoke by phone:
“How’d that make you feel?” she asked.
“Not good,” the troll answered. “I felt horrible almost immediately afterwards. You tweeted something along the lines of, ‘Good job, humanity.’ For the first time [in a trolling], it wouldn’t leave my mind. I’d put out this Internet hate and forget about it. This one would not leave me. It would not leave me. I thought about you, I knew you read it. I thought, ‘how would she feel?’ I truly am sorry about that.”
Obviously, these two stories are unicorns when it comes to anonymous online haters. I’m not advising that everyone reach out to their trolls and attempt to befriend them. I personally have no interest at all in getting to know mine.
Still, they are interesting food for thought, and they demonstrate that there truly is an exception to every rule.
For more traditional advice on handling online bullies, check out this video from The Nerdist’s Malik Forté:
While the video is specific to online gaming, the five strategies Forté outlines work for blogging as well. We could rephrase them as:
- Control your community. Set your blog to private or make all comments go to moderation, so that you control who gets to engage.
- Kill them with kindness. Forté suggests just replying to trolling as if the troll had actually said something nice. I never thought of this, but it sounds like it would be fun to try!
- Ignore them. Delete their comments, don’t respond.
- Troll them back. He admits this isn’t great advice for everyone, but can be satisfying if you’re at your wit’s end.
- Go offline. While I would never suggest you should let a troll drive you away from blogging, sometimes we do forget that we can take a break from the online world! Go outside for a run in the sunshine, get a night’s sleep. That troll will seem much less important in the morning. 🙂
Have you had any surprising or unusual interactions with commenters? Any tips I missed?