Getting comments on my blog used to be the highlight of my day. When I got an email notification in my inbox, I would rush to open it, thrilled that someone had taken the time to comment on something I had written.
These days — not so much.
Almost every day I receive an abusive comment on my blog, or an offensive personal email. The author is compelled to tell me how morally corrupt I am by calling me derogatory names. I am frequently told I should be ashamed of myself or I need to grow up. My inbox is not a pleasant place to be.
It is a situation I have never encountered in real life. I am fortunate to have never been bullied at school or at work. In fact, I am usually the one beating myself up because I am worried I have upset someone else by being too blunt and insensitive. No one has ever called me names, except for that particularly distressing period when my ex-husband and I were splitting up.
So, with a little help from my emotionally intelligent boyfriend and my online friends, I have had to learn how to deal with online abuse. This is what I know about trolls.
It says more about them than it does about you
There is that saying that everyone who irritates us acts as a mirror reflecting an unhealed part of our soul. When I get upset over something someone has posted on a blog or on Facebook, I pause to consider what tender part of my heart is hurting. I still get enraged about the control religion tries to exert on women’s sexuality but I try not to voice my strong disagreement while I’m still healing from my wounds.
I completely understand why my post about having an affair stirs up intense emotions. There are people whose fathers have cheated on their mothers, and husbands and wives who have cheated on their partners leaving a trail of pain and destruction in their wake.
I have never said I was proud of what I did — I said I wasn’t ashamed. There is a difference. Shame is a destructive and debilitating emotion that feeds off of guilt and regret. I take ownership for what I did and I’m not afraid to talk about it. I know there are many women who keep their infidelity a secret. I wrote that post for those women.
They wouldn’t say it to your face
People who use a fake name or write anonymously are not particularly brave. If a person can’t look me in the eye and say something to my face, then they aren’t worth listening to. I never take advice from faceless and nameless strangers who shout at me from behind their computer screens.
You don’t have green hair
If a person I walked past in the street starting pointing and laughing at me, I would stop to ask why. If they told me it was because I had green hair, I would shrug and walk away. I know I don’t have green hair, and the people who know me, think my hair is quite pretty so clearly the person in the street is a little nuts.
If someone wants to assert that I am a slut, then I’m going to treat that statement the same way. I know I’m not a slut, and so do the people in my circle of family and friends. If an accusation is untrue, it is of no importance.
Your online persona is only a small part of who you are
I will let you in a little secret — despite all my opinions about sexuality and relationships my real life situation is pretty much the same as yours. I’m a faithful, monogamous, ridiculously smitten girlfriend whose only transgressive behaviour is not being married. And these days, that is hardly groundbreaking.
If you want to imagine me wearing leather every night, swinging from the chandeliers and bonking anything that moves, then be my guest. The reality is much more boring and normal. I have wild ideas but I find no need to act on them.
All expression is good expression
It would be hypocritical of me to champion speaking out about taboo subjects and then silence those who have different views to mine. As much as possible I try to leave comments on my blog from people who respectfully disagree with me.
Even people who write nasty things have a right to voice their opinion. If I’m allowed to say what I think, then so are they. But if they are going to be mean about it, I just hit the “delete” button.
If you have to respond, be F.A.K.E.
Most of the time ignoring trolls is best way to go, but if you are compelled to engage, use one of the following F.A.K.E. responses.
A friend told me about this one. No matter what the person says respond with, “I’ve told you this before, no matter how much you flatter me, I’m not going to sleep with you.” I wouldn’t suggest using it on a blog post where you have no way of knowing who you are talking to, but it does work on Facebook if the person being rude is a friend of a friend.
Whatever you do, don’t argue — just agree with everything they say. Be warned though, it is difficult to pull this off without sounding sarcastic. “Thank you for your comment. I will take your feedback into consideration.”
“Thank you for reading and taking the time to share your perspective.”
“I understand where you are coming from, and I hear what you are saying.”
It is the fucking internet
The internet thrives on trash and nonsense, bad behaviour and poisonous ideas. It is pretty much a hyperactive three-year-old who needs a nap. When that three-year-old squeals at me in a high-pitched voice “You’re a poopy head,” I am not going to take it seriously.
What is your experience with trolls? Do they wound you or have little impact? What is the best comeback you’ve ever used in response to online abuse?