Safely Engaging with Online Trolls

You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ‘em.

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Writing is a dangerous undertaking, especially when you write personal essay and editorials. There have been times I have hit the “Ready to Publish” button and knew full well that there would be comments. So many comments.

My first taste of writing backlash came ten years ago. I was one of the first bloggers for AZ Central, an online version of the Arizona Republic. I could write about whatever local thing I wanted.

I wrote a piece about what it was like to be in your early 30s, freshly divorced, and living in Scottsdale. To summarize the piece: it wasn’t fun.

The next week, a counter piece was written by an old, white, male blogger who raked me over the coals for daring to criticize our city. He made loads of assumptions about me that were far from accurate. Thanks for that, Howard, you troll.

I was pissed. How dare he! I felt the need to defend myself. This, mixed with a healthy love of a good argument, can make for an online apocalypse. Not a good idea for the faint of heart.

We live in an age where any ass clown with a computer can come at you for anything and remain completely anonymous. Well, isn’t that fun?

It’s enough to drive you mad but you can beat them at their game. Then you get to run around your living room singing “We Are the Champions” to your dog.

So, I pass on to you all my lessons learned the hard way.

I have a sick sense of humor. I find things funny that some people just don’t understand. There’s a party going on in my brain 24/7. You have a choice. Either come along to the party or sit it out. Doesn’t matter either way because the party is happening regardless. I do, however, highly recommend coming along.

This said, not everyone is going to get you. That’s cool. They may not agree with you. They may not understand that the tone you were using was sarcastic. They may not get the tongue in cheek nature of your statement. Don’t sweat it. You don’t own anyone an explanation. Period.

I love when someone tries to refute something I have said with absolute nonsense. I will actually research what they say for two reasons: 1) I am terrified they might be right and 2) if they are wrong, I will slay them.

I have learned one thing in doing this: for the love of God, make sure you are on point. This is actually hugely fun for me! I love research like you have no idea. Why? Because most people do not research. I like to bury these people in facts and data. They run away very quickly. Facts are like kryptonite to stupid people.

It’s not personal. These people don’t know you. They don’t know the first thing about you. What they are coming at you with is a culmination of their experiences. They are doing a horrible job correlating those to you. You don’t need to own their horrible experiences. Make them keep that shit.

There are times when I am so flabbergasted at something someone has written that I just stare at it. I read it out loud and still I can’t even wrap my brain around it. It’s just so damn bizarre and out in left field.

Walk by these folks. It’s okay to provide a response. Just don’t engage. I like to acknowledge their comment with a simple phrase I use when I just can’t even: “Your mom must think you’re pretty.”

I tweet out most my stories. When I wrote one about abortion, I had a loony woman and her litany of followers blow up my Twitter. I would have let it go but they were crazy QAnon folks who I found hilarious in a way that you find a dog with a cone on its head trying to get out a dog door hilarious.

Did you know you can scare of this variety of trolls with facts? Yes! Facts! Keep at them with well researched, irrefutable information and eventually THEY block YOU. So fun.

Writing about feminism and dating, you could imagine I get all kinds of fun comments on Medium and Twitter. Sometimes, you just have to laugh. I seek to amuse myself. It keeps me sane. Let me give you an example.

After posting an article about gender equality, I had a delightful 63 year-old Canadian gentleman try to school me on why men are superior to women. There were many tweets from my new friend. His mom must think he’s pretty. What happened next made me laugh for days:

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“Do you even lift, bro?” has become my go to in combating misogynistic commentary. It’s the best thing ever. Side note: life gets better when you can squat most of your trolls.

So there you have it. Go forth and win. If you need me, I got your back. I will drop your trolls like a squat.

Written by

Flaming pinball, nerd, music lover, wine snob, horrible violin player. No, I won’t stop taking pictures of my drinks. vanessaltorre@gmail.com IG: vanessaltorre

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