On being a woman in the USA.

Dear Trolls: Thank You

(image: getsatisfaction.com)

(image: getsatisfaction.com)

The title of this post might seem confusing. I mean, who thanks trolls? Those angry, disturbed individuals who dedicate themselves to spewing hate (especially, it seems, woman-hate and feminist-hate) all over the Internet are hardly contributing members of society, are they? I mean, I can’t begin to say how they spend their time when they’re not trolling, but when they are?

Under “normal” circumstances, I’d say no. They generally contribute nothing to a debate, relying on sweeping generalizations (often, in the case of anti-feminist trolls, repeating MRA talking points) to make their arguments. And they aren’t here to change hearts and minds—they mostly seem not to care about convincing anyone of anything, telling their own stories, or improving life on Planet Earth in any way.

And yet, because they exist and target women with violent language and hate (and even rape threats and death threats), and because most people (who aren’t women bloggers on the Internet) never encounter them at their absolute worst, their 31 flavors of bullshit can sometimes serve a higher purpose. When we treat that BS as an illustration of the challenges we face, I believe we (as bloggers) can show readers how little power trolls actually have (only as much as we give them, generally) while illustrating for our readers (and other trolls) the weakness of their arguments.

So with that, I’d like to thank my trolls for all these reasons:

  • Thank you for targeting me, because that tells me that I’m doing something right. Otherwise, why would you bother?

    download

    Apparently a famous troll.

  • Thank you for challenging me: by countering your lazy arguments I not only hone my own reasoning skills, but illustrate for my readers (and the rest of the trolletariat) just how lazy they are and how easily we can deconstruct and disprove them. If nothing else, our exchanges serve as a signpost: All viewpoints are welcome here when presented in a civil manner, but trolls will be dealt with (more on which in a bit).
  • Thank you for being just vile enough that you distinguish yourselves from regular people who disagree rudely, allowing me to easily identify and disregard you. This doesn’t mean I won’t reply—just that I don’t give a shit what you have to say. It takes far less energy, and my reserves always seem low these days. So again, thanks for making it easy on me.
  • Thank you for those instances when you take the time to write a comment so pointless that I can disregard it completely. I get a lot of comments on some of my posts, and I like to respond to them all when I can—it’s extremely considerate of you to allow me to filter you out of that process. I do wonder why you bother, though—did you really think “You’re a stupid cunt” was a) a contribution, b) ever going to appear publicly on my page, c) remotely original?
  • Thank you for stepping up every single time we need an object lesson on white male privilege and/or MRA/anti-feminist/woman-hate. Whether here, on Facebook, or on Twitter, it’s like you show up just to prove my point. In any conversation about the challenges women face in a patriarchal society, one of you will show up with your cries of “Fucking feminazis!” and “What about the MEN???!” How do you keep a straight face? I can tell you that I do not. I LMFAO on a regular basis, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what you intended.
  • And thank you for those laughs. The chuckles, the cackles, the all-out guffaws you provide when you show up in a conversation about women and wave your pathetic little flag–when you hurl insults as though you believe each one has any impact on me other than annoyance and audible eye-rolls. Thanks for the entertainment. I mean that.

Now, a few methods for…

Dealing with Trolls

Some folks will tell you that ignoring trolls is the best policy. Those folks have apparently never dealt with bullies, or they beat the odds somehow, because as Rocket J. Squirrell famously stated, “That trick never works.” For one thing, more trolls will come, and some will teeter on the dividing line between troll and just rude fucking asshole (i.e., making an argument, not just spewing bile). You won’t be able to ignore them all (trust me, I’ve tried) and dealing with them decisively shows other trolls what they can expect when they visit your blog (or Facebook page or Twitter mentions).

Kitten Setting

Some of you know that my favorite method of dealing with trolls is the Kitten Setting. It takes time and energy, so I don’t always employ it, but when I have it has been hilarious and pretty rewarding. Fun, even–and that’s not a word most people associate with trolls (except trolls themselves, I imagine).

 

Respond

In general, I don’t recommend engaging trolls. It’s an energy suck and there’s usually no point. They don’t show up to debate but to distract and derail and intimidate. However, as I’ve stated above, sometimes a troll writes something I feel is worthy of a response. Generally, this is not because he (and it’s nearly always “he”) contributed something intelligent to the conversation, but because he’s repeating MRA talking points I want to counter publicly for readers and trolls who happen by. Sometimes I don’t have the energy for this, and I let the comment through hoping my readers will take it on. I’m rarely disappointed—my readers are super smart and trolls are lazy so it’s usually short work to take them apart, and I’m so grateful to those of you who step up and do that. Thank you.

Kill Them With Kindness

This is one of the most challenging methods for me because in order to be kind, I have to feel compassion, and when it comes to trolls that takes some reaching. But understanding that most of them are a) young men or boys, b) social misfits, and c) disturbed in some way has helped me to find that compassion at times, especially when a troll lets slip a teeny hint of humanity. Sometimes I just have to say “I’m sorry you’re so messed up, but you can’t play here anymore.” And leave it at that.

Get Out the Ban Hammer

When a troll ceases to be useful and becomes nothing but a sad little voice constantly raging at me from his basement lair, I ban him. There are several ways to do this, including setting his email address as a filtered word or his IP address as “direct to Spam.” Either way, that troll can never darken the doorway of my blog again unless he’s willing to go to a lot more effort to harass me.

Report

Once a troll dedicates himself to an all-out harassment campaign on your blog, it’s possible an email/IP ban will fail as he will create new accounts from new locations in order to troll you. At this point (if you haven’t already) it’s time to contact your friends at WordPress (or your service provider) and report the little fucker. And if that fails for some reason, I recommend contacting the police. Cyber-stalking/harassment laws at this point are weak in many areas, but they don’t get stronger without precedent. Ultimately, if the laws in your location don’t protect you, it might be time to contact your elected officials and find out why.

Don’t Stop

In the majority of cases, it won’t ever get to that point. Most trolls are dedicated not to trolling one blog but to spreading their love all over the Internet. If you cease to become an easy target, chances are they will move on. Believe me, there is no peace in that thought for me. I don’t want trolls harassing anyone else instead of me (kind of like teaching women to prevent rape teaches us to make sure rapists rape someone else), but there’s only so much I—or any of us—can do. A dedicated troll will pursue his hobby until, like that poor, sad man in Texas, he suffers real consequences for his actions; often the best we can do is buy ourselves some peace and help our readers understand—as I’m trying to do now—that trolls rage precisely because they have no real power (though they may enjoy privilege) over us. They are a pimple on the ass of the Internet, and as such what they mostly do is annoy and irritate (and occasionally weep pus all over the place). They’re ugly and vile but mostly impotent (though they may have an agenda that is not), and I believe it’s important that we treat them as such and avoid expending our energies either arguing with them or worrying overly about the things they say. By this, I don’t mean we should ignore what they do. Just don’t let them drain your resources if you can help it.

Whatever you do, don’t let them intimidate you into silence.*

(Note: Trolls can do real damage, such as when they target traumatized people, bully young people telling them to kill themselves, or make threats that genuinely make one feel unsafe, which is where the police may be helpful—if you see something, say something.)

So here’s to eventually popping that zit and slapping a Band-Aid on it. But in the meantime, I hope the information above helps you in some small way to deal with the trolls you encounter. If you have a favorite method I haven’t mentioned here, I’d love to hear it.

In closing, just one more word of thanks to my trolls: for the laughs, the object lessons, and the challenges. For often making my point even better than I did. For providing the constant illustration of the fact that women speaking out are still a threat to men who fear that they have little enough power already and might lose even more. And finally, thanks for providing grist for yet another blog post to which you will no doubt flock and serve all these purposes all over again.

Thanks, trolls.

Love,
Rosie

*Sometimes you have to take a break or even stop what you’re doing altogether and practice self-care. Do that without hesitation! I’m not saying you should keeping doing what you’re doing no matter what it costs you—I’m just saying don’t give them power they don’t have. I hope that makes sense.

PS: For Twitter, there’s BlockBot. Seems pretty cool.

PPS: Honestly, I have a way harder time dealing with push-back from friends and allies than I do hateful bullshit, so in case you’re new at this, be prepared for that to hurt way more than anything trolls can say to you.

Update (11/13): I’ve made some minor tweaks to this article to clarify—and reflect minor changes in—my philosophy. Also, four months later, and zero trolls have hit this post. WTF, trolls?


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.

9 responses

  1. I’m surprised you’d point to “anonymous” as an anti-troll resource, considering how much trolling they do. And not just of bullies either.

    August 2, 2013 at 8:30 am

    • You know, I was just thinking about this and about whether I ought to qualify my statement. Anonymous is so many things–so many people–that you can’t really point to it as a whole and say any one thing and be right about all of the people who claim the title. And it is my understanding that Anonymous originated in circles of trolls. My experience with some of the #antibully anons has been positive. To be honest, I probably mention them here to warn trolls as much as anything–this is a resource I am willing to use if you insist on harassing me.

      August 2, 2013 at 8:39 am

  2. Great post. Love your spirit and your determination.

    If someone seriously threatens you — one guy at Open Salon threatened me with bodily harm — go to the police. Now. I did. The cop stared at me like I was stupid and hysterical until I kept explaining I write for the NYT and produce well-reviewed NF books and am not some dingbat but someone who has already been a crime victim in their jurisdiction and do.not.fuck.with.me.

    They actually did follow up and I got the guy banned from OS. It took some effort, but I will not be silenced by some bully. That is their goal. It’s not “just words” when someone is threatening to harm you physically. It is against the law.

    July 31, 2013 at 10:35 am

    • Absolutely. I agree, and I’m glad you said it. I should have.

      July 31, 2013 at 10:51 am

  3. Thank you for being you.
    Give ‘em hell, lady!!
    ~L

    July 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    • Thanks, Lexi! :D

      July 24, 2013 at 11:45 am

  4. Hear, hear! I’m looking forward for your thoughts on Zimmerman. I have to “kitten sit” after every time I think of that drone.

    July 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm

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