A couple of weeks ago, I gave an optimistic run-down of how to deal with snarky commenters, with advice like “it’s not personal”, which is true. But that was easy for me to say, because that was before I got trolled. Messages on Twitter saying I was stupid, childish, an idiot, a terrible journalist, even an email with the subject “Stalking” and the opening line, “Dear Erica, I am not a stalker.” Odd way to start an email, don’t you think? I got the same wave of dread I get when someone starts a sentence with “I’m not a racist, but…” That never ends with anything remotely ok, does it? Like, “I’m not racist, but I don’t eat salad.”
Sure enough, the email went on to tell me the name of the street where my parents live, where my brother and I went to school, where my stepdad works. He seemed to think that because he got the information from a public site, there’s nothing creepy or threatening about emailing it to me. Let’s see how that logic stands up when I send him some hair I found on the floor of a salon.
Being trolled is different from dealing with snark. You can block trolls on Twitter, but you can’t block the treacherous part of your brain that’s aligned itself with Them. You wonder if they’re right, if you’ve been rubbish all along, if you’ve now blown your chances of a job, if you should think about other careers just in case They turn out to have more clout than your editors – though not TOO much more, you hope, as they wouldn’t just want you jobless, they’d want you dead – oh god, I hope none of them are crazy enough to turn up and throw eggs or bleach or shards of glass at me as I arrive at the office…
Alright, so I’m a catastrophiser. If every writer who’d ever been trolled turned up to work to the news, “A selection of the 0.0037% of readers who comment on articles said you suck. You’re fired. Thank you for your sucky service”, journalism would not be a difficult industry to get into. At all.
Anyway, I thought this merited a slightly more in-depth examination of the types of trolls you may encounter. Once you know their tricks, they’re less scary…
“Electus”: The troll who gives choices
When I said I don’t know the intricate differences between bathroom cleaner and kitchen cleaner, an Electus troll commented, “Oh my GOD. Are you stupid, or just patronising?” Apparently, those were my only options. Which was a shame since, as ever, I was joking.
The wrong response: “Dad, I asked you to stop commenting on my articles.”
The right response: Report them. Personal abuse is not worth answering. And you can’t always trust yourself not to respond with a choice of diseases you’ve invented.
“Familius”: The troll who knows you
The Familius troll is an expert on working out who you are, what you believe and how you think – and all from an 800 word article! I think we can all agree that’s mighty insightful.
This goes double for women. If you’re female, the Familius troll will invariably argue that your gender matters greatly and colours everything you say, and many will be able to explain why you’re single (even, interestingly, if you’re not). And if you’re writing about unemployment they not only know (assume) that you, too, are jobless, they can tell that you’re a useless and unemployable sack of yoghurt and you watch Jeremy Kyle in your pants. (That one really hurt. I was missing Jeremy Kyle at that very moment. She didn’t have to rub it in.)
The wrong response: “YOU DON’T KNOW ME! I’m a complicated human – here are some examples of my complexity and depth…”
The right response: “This is all very informative. Wrong, but informative.”
“Trogla-duh”: The troll who doesn’t get jokes
Many believe the Trogla-duh doesn’t understand jokes – hence the “duh” in it’s name (from the ancient Greek ‘duhus’ meaning “hapless, joyless idiot”) owing to the way this particular species of troll takes one of your jokes or throwaway lines, and repeats it back to you in a humourless way to detract from your credibility.
For example, if you were having trouble with your smartphone, and you were to write, “I dropped my stupid, hateful phone down the toilet, and laughed with abject glee”, the Trogla-duh would inform you that a phone cannot be hateful or stupid as it is inanimate and you are a terrible, blabbering moron for thinking you’d taken revenge on it, and they hope you DIE. TODAY.
There is little truth to the ‘duh’ part of the Trogla-duh legend. In fact, the Trogla-duh actually scans articles for attempts at humour so she or he can pretend your joke is a) meant seriously, and b) causing a sharp, spiky tumour to grow at the very crest of their sphincter. So you can understand why they’re so upset with you.
The wrong response: “Shut up, Trogla-duh, we both know you’re not that stupid.”
The right response: Wait for the comment thread Ferris Buellers to slide in and say “It was a joke, idiot.” If they bother – you certainly shouldn’t.
“Apolotroll”: The troll who says sorry
A few times I’ve replied to trolls with a joke or a friendly response, and have been pleasantly surprised at those who assured me they “meant no disrespect”. One person said halfway-kindly, “I made a pejorative assumption about you, and now you’ve responded wittily I realise I was wrong.”
As I mentioned last post, you’re not real to the trolls. They have no empathy when they post things they would never say if you were in the room – that you’re “stupid”, “shallow”, “sloppy” or other nasty words beginning with ‘s’. They don’t think about the cold punch you feel in your chest when you see what they’ve said about you to the entire world. They don’t know you have to live in your head with them shouting at you next time you try to write. They don’t realise what they’re doing isn’t just rude, disrespectful, and sometimes threatening, it’s actually humiliating; because nothing appeals more to the grubbiest parts of the human psyche than watching someone else get dressed down and jeered at in front of an audience.
When you engage, you’re real. Most don’t reply back. Those who do, more often than not, turn into civilised humans and feel embarrassed, as if they were slagging you off in the pub and you’ve walked up behind them.
The wrong response: Finding them, slipping them a sleeping pill, slathering them with glue then rolling them around in the hair you swiped from the floor of a hairdressers, taking a photo, putting it on the internet, labelling it “STUPID SHALLOW SLOPPY PERSON, HERE IS THEIR NAME AND ADDRESS AND WHERE THEY WENT TO SCHOOL” then saying “I meant no disrespect.”
The right response: Be gracious and say thank you. These trolls are not the enemy, they’re the hopefuls, the ones transitioning from troll to human. We must nurture them.