Trolling Part II – The response
Trolling is not fun for the person on the receiving end. How do I get through all of this? Most people do not get this amount of abuse online. I used to get very upset and angry at this kind of thing. Occasionally I still get angry, and I get angry when I see it happening to others. However, I’ve learned to not let it get to me. I’ve never really engaged in the self-examination needed to understand it until I was asked to write this article. Upon reflection, I’ve gained an understanding of how all this stuff works. In addition, I’ve adapted to the environment in several ways. Here’s what I have learned.
People behave differently online and behind anonymity: Being online provides the ability to distance oneself from the real world. People say things online that they wouldn’t say in person. Likewise, operating under anonymity or another name shields some people from repercussions that they would have to face if they were doing it under their own name. While not forgetting that some people have real reasons for anonymity, when it comes to dealing with trolls, I’m comfortable that my position, tweeting under my own name, is inherently a braver one and thus the more superior position.
Understand the trolls’ objectives: What is it that trolling is meant to do? Is it meant to silence me or hound me off social media? Is it meant to create confusion about whether or not I am telling the truth? Is it to make me feel bad? Figure out the objective and do not give it to them. If they are telling you to stop tweeting, keep tweeting. If they are passing on bogus information, put out facts of good provenance. If they want you to feel bad, really annoy them by doing something fun and interesting, and tweeting about it. Nothing annoys a troll more than a life well-lived while still keeping on-message.
People are paid to do bad things: It is important to understand that some consider social media to be a valid front for information warfare as part of a broader hybrid warfare strategy. You do not fight a war without soldiers. Some of these soldiers are mercenaries. Some of the people giving me a hard time on Twitter are clearly paid to do it. Revelations about the Internet Research Agency and similar troll farms have shown this to be the case. However, I realized that if I’ve done something to get onto the radar of a Kremlin troll farm, I must be touching a nerve. And as I never knowingly tweet falsehoods, but only things which I believe to be true, getting unwanted attention from paid trolls is an endorsement. As I mentioned in my previous article, those who are paid to push an agenda may be jaded to the point of believing that I am paid to do it too.
Some people are troubled: Other people have real or perceived problems and do things to self medicate. Some people online clearly have deep-seated personal problems. Lashing out online is a form of crude self-help. Some people seem to feel better by making someone else feel worse. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the people bothering me are not well and need help. You cannot take seriously abuse from a person with such problems.
Conspiracy theories are the product of lazy thinking: Much abuse has come my way from accounts spreading various conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are as old as the hills. Most of the ones I’ve seen fall largely into two categories. Some provide simple answers to complicated questions. Theories that ascribe a wide variety of problems, incidents and situations to the Illuminati (an imagined all-powerful secret society), the Jews, the Freemasons, or shape-shifting lizard people deny the fact that many things have complex causes and numerous variables. Other types of conspiracy theory provide complicated solutions to simple situations, where the theorist does not like the obvious answer. Engaging in conspiracy theory nonsense is, to me, a sign of intellectual laziness. The best way to process a conspiracy theory is to plot out how many people would have to be involved and how much time has occurred since the beginning of the conspiracy. If either or both are large, it is mathematically improbable, regardless of whatever other merits it may have.
Repeated exposure increases resistance: I have a thick skin. Getting the same kinds of abuse has, in my case, increased my resistance. It has not worn me down, and it has not intimidated me. It has had the opposite effect. Whereas I might have been a bit sensitive in 2013, by 2018 I’m fairly well immune to it. I’ve seen it all, and I know it does not do anything to me except to endorse my account as one worthy of notice. Once I started cataloguing abuse and putting it into categories, I realized that there were only a limited number of things that the trolls could really say to me, with the exception of one or two truly creative lunatics out there. (I was accused of being an Estonian fire extinguisher salesman; I have yet to see where the insult is in that.) I suggest this tactic. Serious study starts with categorization. Once you’ve realized that 512 tweets have called you “a fraud” and nothing has happened to you in real life, you realize that it is just hot air.
Don’t get into long duels unless you really want to: Having learned through years of life on Twitter, I now observe a stricter policy. I try to make sure that I get involved in arguments only where it can have an educational value for others. My advice to others is generally to walk away. Don’t follow my lead unless you are really well-armed for the fight and used to this sort of thing. Abuse does not need replies. Walking away from naked abuse is not the same thing as being silenced, however.
Use the tools that are there to help you: Although they are not perfect, there are tools out there that will help you. My advice is to make frequent use of the “block” and “mute” functions on twitter. I’ve blocked and muted thousands of accounts on Twitter. It has made my life less hectic. Where appropriate, report abusive tweets and content. I’ve reported hundreds, many of which were then suspended for violations of the rules.