Trolling in 2020

I used to have a theory about online interactions. If people identified who they were, then they were much less likely to behave poorly online. Facebook’s open nature, with people clearly being identified, would tamp down the tendency of people to turn into trolls.

Maybe that was true at some point in the past. It doesn’t seem to be true today.

Today, I see people much more comfortable to say whatever pops into their head, with the only limiting factor (for most bad comments) seeming to be the likelihood of people ever meeting in real life. Facebook is simply so large, and some of the comment chains so big, that I believe people feel comfortably anonymous to the point that having their actual identity attached to a comment is no longer a deterrent.

Case in point: a friend’s brother posted a video of him and his wife announcing their adoption of two children. It’s been quite a popular post, with the video getting millions of views. He’s got Crouzon Syndrome, which left his face somewhat deformed. While many of the comments were positive, some people took jabs at his appearance. Other people then took even worse jabs at the people who had made the original jabs. In my book, both are clearly out of line.

First off, making snide remarks about how someone looks is so juvenile, I don’t think it deserves a response. If people have managed to limp through life deluding themselves into thinking they’re funny or justified by doing this, that says much more about who they are themselves than it does about who they’re trying to make fun of. I’m sure people do this to other people in person as well, because some people are just horrendous. It still makes me sad. (Especially since barbed comments have a way of sticking with us for far longer than compliments. I could get 100 good reviews of a book. The one that’ll stick with me is the one that hated it, however. Because we all suffer from impostor syndrome to one extent or another. We’re all worried we’re not nearly “with it” as other people think, and those mean comments (we then worry) are just what everyone’s actually thinking. It’s not true, but it’s hard to get your subconscious to believe that . . .)

But then there’s this mob mentality that comes out as soon as someone steps out of line and says something mean or out of place. It’s like people take any rude or out of place remark as justification to be as mean and spiteful as they want to be. It happens all the time on Twitter. It happens when people write things years ago that might have made sense at the time, but no longer are seen in the same light. Any straying from the accepted, and the mob shows up with torches and pitchforks, ready to kill the beast.

Do some of those original trolls “deserve” the treatment they get? I suppose you could argue they do, though I’d say certainly not to the extent that’s dished out on them. Every time this sort of back and forth happens, I think it gets worse. Each side begins to feel more and more justified saying mean, spiteful things to the other. And because all of it’s happening online between people who almost certainly will never meet in person, it’s only that much worse.

When you consider that some of these “people” might be nothing more than sock puppets created to further split a divided nation apart, you begin to see how easily manipulated this whole approach is.

So what can we do about it? I have a few suggestions.

  1. Don’t have conversations with strangers online. Don’t make or read comments about news stories or social media posts, unless they’re about posts made or shared by your actual friends. If a friend links to a story, I’ll comment in their individual linked post, but I won’t comment or read any of the comments in the original post it links to, if that makes sense.
  2. If you have something extensive to say, make your own post. Dealing with the fallout of back and forth bickering on your social media wall can be really draining, and it’s unfair to stick that all on someone else. You get to dip in and out of another person’s feed at will. They don’t get that luxury.
  3. Don’t feed the trolls. If someone shows up and makes a snide remark to you, let it go. Or do what I do, and just post a GIF of someone doing an eye roll. Usually that’s all those comments are worth.
  4. Delete comments that are out of line on your own wall. It’s your feed. Weed it. If you wouldn’t tolerate someone saying something in person, don’t let them get away with it online. Not when it’s on your own wall. (When it’s on their wall, see my next comment.)
  5. If I find my interactions with a person are being negatively affected by the way they behave and speak on social media, I hide that person. I don’t unfriend them, I just remove their ability to continue to damage our relationship. I know this one might be unpopular with some. (They’re showing they’re a terrible person. Why would I still be friends with them?!?) I have only unfriended someone once, and that was because they continued to pepper my wall with comments I vehemently disagreed with, even after I had hidden them. My hope is people I’ve hidden will somehow come around by reading my posts. Unfriending them shuts off that possibility. Just call me a cockeyed optimist.

These rules have helped me stay sane on Facebook. I’m not nearly as active on Twitter or Instagram, so I have no idea how well they’d transition to those platforms. But I do know you need to come up with something that works for you, whatever it is. Something that helps guide you through what can at times be tricky situations to maneuver. What rules have some of you developed? I’d be interested in different approaches.

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