We’ve all read controversial things, and then scrolled down to the comments only to find ourselves amazed at the lack of requirements for commenters. We’ve all jokingly wondered if there should be a law regulating the use of the internet by “trolls” who’ve nothing better to do with their time than sit around and pick apart writers and their work. It would be great if trolls were required to have “internet licenses” to operate. But alas, they are not.
Recently, one of our writers found herself on the business end of an “internet troll” who went so far out of the way to contact the writer that the writer ended up being the recipient of a flood of emotional messages blasting her for being the sole cause of discourse between the commenter and the commenter’s adult child. (It should be noted that the writer didn’t actually write anything that pertained to the child or to the commenter, but she was guilty by association- she personally knew an in-law of the commenter through her professional work). After being repeatedly asked not to contact the writer again, the commenter persisted with personal messages, crossing the line between internet troll and stalker.
This situation is not unique, and as writers, we will all face a similar situation sooner or later. Some of us, sadly, may even have been on the troll side of this scenario. So how do we as writers, who are also readers, deal with it?
We practice “constructive commenting.”
Constructive commenting is exactly what it sounds like: commenting in such a way as to promote improvement. It is most important to utilize constructive commenting when you as a reader disagree with the writer.
When we read articles that really fire us up, we’re almost always tempted to fire back in the comments section about all of the things we felt were wrong with an article, and rarely ever is anything off limits. I personally experienced this, as a writer, a few weeks ago when I wrote “We Need a Hero.” In my follow up article “My Apologies: How I Got the Amazon Thing Wrong,” I noted that some readers called into question my ability to write. They did not claim that my skills were below par because they took issue with my actual writing, but because of my opinions. That confused me, to be honest. To have people make personal assumptions about me based on the simple fact that they disagreed with me didn’t make sense, but there it was, in comment after comment.
However, the comments that helped me change my perspective were the ones that didn’t take a position about my skills, but rather addressed the actual issue I’d written about. This brings me to the first step in “constructive commenting.”
Step One: Make sure your comment addresses exactly what is in the article, without making assumptions about the writer which don’t necessarily pertain to the subject matter. You know what they say about assumptions. They make an ass out of you AND me.
Step Two: Make sure you’re commenting from a place of knowledge, not emotion. In the case of the writer who received the persistent messages, the commenter based everything on the profile picture of the writer. The commenter did not take into account what the writer was trying accomplish, nor did the commenter bother to pay attention to the fact that the writer is a therapist. Instead, a series of emails was sent railing the writer about her “gay agenda” and demanded she change her position if she wanted to see any financial gain from her endeavors. So not only were the comments lacking in a basic understanding of the mental health field, but they were also very angry and manipulative in nature. By allowing the comments to be so angry, the commenter did not give the writer any reason to focus on anything other than the outrage and manipulation. Which brings us to step three.
Step Three: If you find you cannot comment without raw emotions, walk away and compose your response offline. Sleep on your response, and then take another look at it. Sometimes it helps to have a new set of eyes on your response. Probably 90% of the time I’m tempted to comment on an article I find ridiculous, I run it by two people, one left wing progressive freak and one right wing conservative nut. Interestingly, their responses to my proposed comment are almost always nearly identical. But that is a conversation for another day.
Step Four: Make sure what you’re saying adds to the conversation. What’s the point in sharing your comment if it doesn’t add to the conversation? That isn’t even a rhetorical question. Ask yourself, “What is the point?” If you can’t come up with an answer to the question, simply don’t comment. OR - find a way to add to the conversation.
So how does practicing “constructive commenting” help you to deal with the internet trolls?
It’s easy to forget the internet isn’t personal, especially with social media. When you exercise constructive commenting, however, you tend to be more aware of those who are not exercising it. Over time, practicing constructive commenting sharpens your ability to converse with writers, and other commenters. So when trolls come along, they don’t make much sense. It’s easy to read a comment that doesn’t make any sense and brush it off as nonsense (the very definition of nonsense is “conveys no intelligible idea”). When trolls don’t make sense, the comments don’t feel as personal, in theory.
Have you ever spent a day around intelligent adults, conversing about various subjects which are highly important to you? Imagine leaving that day and, while walking to your car, a six year old walks by and says to you, “You’re dumb and ugly too. And I don’t even like your shoes.”
THAT is what dealing with trolls is like when you’ve fine-tuned your ability to constructively comment. Part of you is taken aback at the absurdity of a 6 year old out alone without a grown up. The rest of you laughs wholeheartedly and notes that someone needs to be bent over his momma’s lap for a good old fashioned whoopin'.
Or- you know, whatever parental form of discipline you support.
Many Kind Regards,
Did you know that online writing is different than other forms of writing? Erin explains more here.
original image credit: Betsy Devine Flickr