Here’s the unfortunate truth: if you are a woman online who is public with her mind there will be trolls who will want to punish you for your dissenting opinion (or just punish you for having an opinion at all). I’m a straight-up veteran when it comes to dealing with social media trolls. I’ve been yelled at by everyone from Men’s Rights Activists to neo-Nazis. Yes, it’s true, the neo-Nazis are on Twitter and it’s gobsmacking how much hate and ignorance they can fit into 140 characters.
When I first started writing online (it’s been about five years, which feels like a long time and makes me feel like Grandma Internet) I was always so shocked when an Internet troll would crawl out from under its bridge and try to eat my face off. I wish I could say that now the anonymous randos can say whatever they want and I don’t even flinch. But that would be a flat-out lie. I absolutely flinch. I think I’m always going to flinch a little. But I don’t cry into my pillow for, like, the rest of the night and some of the following morning. Progress!
Here’s my best advice for dealing with social media crazies:
You’re Better Off Not Engaging
So they fire the opening salvo. If you respond, it’s a war. If you don’t respond, they’re just the jerks trying to pick a fight with someone who doesn’t consider them worthy enough opponents to fight. When you don’t respond, you keep all your power. When you do respond, you validate your troll as an opponent and give them ammo to fight you back with.
So you REALLY have to decide if it’s worth it to respond. And you have to know that they’re DYING for your response. You fighting back is exactly what they want. Do you really want to give your troll, who has just said such gross and unacceptable things about you and what you believe in, exactly what they want?
If You Do Respond, Shut Them Down Quickly And Be Done With It
So maybe what they said was just so untrue that you have to say SOMETHING. I get it. Some MRA activist called me oversensitive and unhinged for a piece I wrote about body image and I had to say that this dude taking the time to find me and yell at me on Twitter was what felt oversensitive and unhinged to me. I know, I know, I should have just taken my first piece of advice and not said anything at all. I said I was a veteran when it came to dealing with Twitter trolls, I didn’t say I was a Jedi Master. I’m not Obi Wan Kenobi-ing this thing just yet. I’m still figuring out my social media light saber.
In my defense, that was ALL I said to this dude, and I ended my one sentence response with a #blocked. Which brings me to my next point..
Block and Unfriend, Unfriend and Block
If someone is bothering you on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Tumblr/Whatever Newfangled Thing You Kids Are Using Now That I’m Way Too Lame To Know About, just block or unfriend them and be done with it. You don’t need that person in your life. Be done with your troll!
Try Not To Dwell And At The Same Time Know That It’s Okay To Feel A Little Bad
The week that followed this neo-Nazi group harassing me on Twitter (it was pretty bad) I had all these nightmares about being kidnapped by terrorist groups and being trapped in haunted houses, and it took a while for me to connect these unsettling dreams with the unsettling experience I had on Twitter. I wanted so much to have a stiff upper lip and shine it all on, but when someone harasses you, it’s hard not to feel it a little bit (or whatever, a lot). Do what you have to do to process and then do your best to move on. The trolls want you to be angry, they might even want you to be afraid. You might feel these things. And that’s okay. But try to move past those feelings when you’re ready.
Be a Pollyanna and Try to Find Something Good In All This Nonsense
My friend, social media empress Amanda Nelson, got a lot of grief from Men’s Rights Activists for using #yesallwomen in her tweets. She responded brilliantly to her detractors by telling them that for every hateful tweet they flung at her, she was going to donate five bucks to V-Day, a group that raises money to fight violence against women. It absolutely got her trolls to shut up AND several people on Twitter vowed to match what she raised. She took garbage and turned it into gold. It’s an inspired way of finding positivity in the negativity of trolling.