by Carmen Rios
A troll is an anonymous person on the Internet seeking to unhinge you, to use the essence of your heart and your spirit against you, and to make you stop what you’re doing. They might do this by derailing your original point, attacking you personally for taking on something challenging, or just plain being a total jerk all the time in prime Internet real estate like your inbox, your comments, and via indirect criticisms on their own blog. They’re rude, dismissive, disrespectful, and often lack contextual understanding about the issues you’re writing about. Sometimes your troll just wants you let you know how much they know about your chosen topic. Sometimes they are enraged by your sweeping generalizations about men. Often, they will try to take your character down with your piece.
But fear not, young feminist. You were right all along! And you’re going to defeat your troll. Because my name is Carmen Rios, and I’ve been around the block a few times—and lived. Here are the keys to Internet survival when it’s an all-out flame war.
1. Be Prepared
The ultimate response to a troll is making their response invalid. It’s being one step ahead, and playing the Internet game stronger, harder, faster, and better than they do. It’s making sure you acknowledge your knowledge gap and don’t leave out political opinions or opposing arguments. It’s making an argument so tight nobody can get a word in edgewise.
The ultimate response to a troll is being bulletproof. Do it.
But preparing doesn’t eliminate trolls. It only makes it easier to recover when they appear.
2. Give it Back
When you receive constructive criticism in the comments, respond kindly and thoughtfully. When you receive trolls, don’t.
You can smell a troll from like, twelve IP addresses away. The comment is overly simplistic, poorly considered, and occasionally misspelled. The commenter uses an avatar of a character you hate from a show you never watched and maybe misspells your name or calls you by it purposefully to patronize you. (Listen, Carman.) You can practically feel the gravity pulling at some dude’s kitchen chair as he leans back and congratulates himself for “destroying your anti-masculinist argument.”
You have two choices: you can respond, or you can grow as a person by not even bothering with those who engage in Internet performance art mechanisms for fun and who also, by the way, abuse the power of anonymity in virtual spaces. Should you choose to respond — and you should do so rarely, only when you’ve deemed it imperative to validate your troll — the best option is to respond in kind. Don’t bother with facts, arguments, or logic. Engage only in the lowest of low conversation. Respond to each point, and attempt to do so in one sentence.
Me: Feminism has made great strides for all people! This is such an important movement. I love this movement, and my dog.
Them: Lulz. Feminism is about the degradation and elimination of men.
Me: Feminism exists because you think feminism is about men.
Then walk away.
3. Don’t Go Looking for Trouble
Maybe you have Google alerts set up for “your name” (Carmen Rios), “your name commonly misspelled” (Carmyn Rios), or “the name of your blog.” Maybe you track your publication’s tag on Tumblr and Twitter. The point is, you’re doin’ your thing on the ‘net because you want two things: to make a difference, and to engage in 15 minutes of Warholesque fame in which you muse about your world and receive only fawning adoration in response. But inevitably, when you’re in the middle of combing your silver wig, you will get a Pingback that unsettles you. One which troubles you deeply. One in which someone does not appreciate your work.
Wow, someone actually dug up that article you wrote in 2008 just to criticize your choice of stock imagery! The pain here is miniscule: the worst part is your ongoing struggle not to do anything, because it’s no longer even valid to regard comments on your five-year-old personal essay.
You’re going to do something. Oh my gosh you wanna say something so bad. Stop.
I challenge you to instead participate in a something called “defensive affirmation.” It reminds me of Kanye West.
Step One: think back to the last time you hated on someone famous.
Step Two: realize that they didn’t know, or care.
Step Three: commit yourself to emulating that famous person you once hated, if only because they’re more famous than you and therefore their behavior is indicative of celebrity Internet etiquette.
Step Four: close your browser and write a rap song.
4. Revel In It
You may hate them and they may hate you, but it’s undeniable: the relationship between author and troll is one of virtual symbiosis.
If a troll calls you out for misrepresenting a political situation because they voted for Ron Paul (this has probably happened to you), allow it to serve as a reminder of your wide audience (aka your success). When a troll speaks indignantly and unforgivingly about the content you’ve chosen to curate, let it serve as a justification for an even larger collection. Valid or invalid, a troll’s criticism can always serve to inspire. You might even exact revenge in the form of reminding your anon that you have a platform, a supportive audience, and a strong heart, while all they have is an IP blocker and a hacking addiction—without you, they are nothing.
5. Move On Dot Org
You came, you read, you sighed heavily. It’s over. You were trolled. You’re going to think about the lulz had at your expense over coffee that afternoon, and dinner at your favorite restaurant will be interrupted by an email containing an anonymous hate comment. It’s going to come up. Live with it!
When someone tries to be a downer or hate on something you care about, cut to the chase and learn to deal. Read the criticism, process it, and then recover from it. This is the Internet: there’s content and there are a lot of people ready to write one-liners about that content. If it didn’t work that way, it wouldn’t be interesting – and we’ve all been both the haters and the hated. So move on. Get over it.
Haters gonna hate. They’ll regret it when you’re famous.