Care and Feeding of Trolls

JordanMy Big Mouth, Writing. Practice.8 Comments

Don’t feed the trolls, we writers remind each other when a new piece goes live online.“Trolls” is the term we’ve given those bottom-dwellers who hide behind anonymous names and avatars and fill up the comments’ sections with their outrage and disgust. They tend to get personal, attacking a writer’s character (what kind of idiot thought this up?) and premise (the problem with this article is…) with little logic and lots of outright name calling. Having difficulty with your parenting? Stupid people like you should never have kids! the troll shrieks. Writing about the complexities of marriage? You are ugly and your partner should get out while s/he still can.

Do you write about controversial issues of race or gender? There’s a troll for that. Well, then, you must be safe if you write about kind, gentle fluffy things like cute animals and babies? Nope! There’s also a troll for that. In fact, according to some friends in my writer’s group, the trolls are particularly vehement in anything to do with animals—even if you’re pro-animal. In troll-ese, you are probably too dumb to own an animal, much less live. And while you’re at it, if you can’t figure out how to properly feed your pygmy goat, well your kids are probably running around feral in their own filth. Call CPS.

Just like the 80s movie Gremlins, which gave me nightmares for a week straight as a kid, if you feed your cute cuddly little Mogwai after midnight they turn into havoc-wreaking, sticky-fingered murderous demons who want nothing more than to destroy you.

Don’t feed the trolls.

For the trolls lie in wait like ticks looking for a warm-blooded mammal to walk by. Where do they come from? I wonder if any of them even have jobs.  Does the troll class consist of people who have never left home, the independently wealthy, are they hired by the publications themselves to keep clicks coming? One has to wonder.

Still, despite everything I know about the care and feeding of trolls, I didn’t listen. A piece of mine was published at the the Washington Post’s On Parenting section, which the teaser headline “Forever a First-Time Mom” and “What it Means When You Have an Only Child” when you click on the link. (Comments were much kinder on my piece Why I’ll Plan to Hover When My Son Becomes a Teen at Stir Journal and Jo March Saved My Life at DAME Magazine)

Like most of my parenting pieces, I fall on my sword and examined my own less than perfect behaviors as a parent, dissecting them in order to better understand both myself and my own interactions with my son. It was also a meditation on the fact that as the mother of only one child—I never get that second chance to do it again, learn from subsequent children.

The trolls descended. They questioned my intelligence. Told me how ridiculous I was, and how whiny and annoying. One woman went on twitter to suggest that only children lead lonely existences (despite plenty of research, and my own experience, to the contrary) and my poor child was doomed. When I tried to point out that some people can only have one child, she put virtual hands on hips and went after me again:

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Why did I engage?

Because on that particular day I didn’t think of these trolls as nameless text on a screen; I imagined actual people sitting at their computers somewhere writing these words with intention. Did I not really exist to them because they hadn’t met me in person? Could they not put themselves in my shoes and imagine feeling hurt by such statements. Despite myself (don’t feed the trolls!!) I got mad. As did writer Lindy West recently, when she confronted the troll who was using her dead father’s name.

So I engaged them, and just like with small children, engaging only made the trolls shoutier.

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The moral of this story is that sometimes sitting back and letting people trash you feels just as bad as ignoring them—and that once in a while you make a human move to stand up and be heard even though you know you’ll just be stoned in the midst of it. Because you feel like fighting.

But, at the end of the day the golden rule is there for a reason: energy you spend fighting with your trolls is just that—energy spent that you can’t get back.

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JordanCare and Feeding of Trolls

8 Comments on “Care and Feeding of Trolls”

  1. Ernesto San Giacomo

    Trolls appear everywhere on-line wherever a keyboard can be used. News comments, facebook, twitter, MMO’s (there’s a lot there).
    Please don’t feed the trolls!
    Trolls are real people (if they can be called people). I’ve come to the conclusion that they are miserable, bitter beings who want to spread sadness everywhere.

  2. Lady Jewels Diva

    The natural instinct to jump to your own defence is first and foremost, I know, I do it all the time, and sadly, you’re writing your comments before your brain can stop you and scream “noooooooo, don’t”.

    I’ve defended myself and then regretted it. And gotten into stoushes I really didn’t need to get into.

    Other times, when being trolled, one swift “try having the balls to state your own opinion instead of shitting on others for having theirs” tends to make them stop.

    And yes, it can hurt like hell just sitting their while they shit all over you and make you feel like shit. It’s hard to walk away and quite frankly, I don’t think we should walk away from it. It’s abuse, why should we walk away from abuse and not stand and defend ourselves? It’s a very confusing thing to decide on.

  3. Carol Nicolas

    How sad that people spend their energy putting others down. Don’t let the trolls get to you, Jordan. You’re a good writer, and I appreciate your thoughts.
    — Carol

  4. Estelle

    Jordan, I’m so sorry you had to deal with this. The worst trolls I ever had was from a piece I wrote for mamapedia several years ago. I was told not to engage; I actually deleted comments I had made in response. Then when I wrote for The Washington Post On Parenting the editor told me specifically not to read the comments. I guess being a writer it goes with the territory. The point is though, they don’t know you, so it’s meaningless. Hugs.

  5. Justine

    Hi Jordan —

    It’s very easy for people to tell you not to respond, and to never take it personally, when they’ve never experienced this poison themselves. The good news is that over time + with enough exposure it stops getting under your skin. But you do have to figure out your own way of reframing it, to step back and see it for what it is and even, sometimes (or very rarely) (or very very very rarely) feel a touch of sympathy for the troll because you sense the confusion, fear and pain that is driving them. Happy people living fulfilled and meaningful lives don’t do shit like this.

    Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing: the larger point you need to make, the wound in the culture that you need to help heal.

    Troll comments can be useful. You can engage a troll in order to make a point that is not meant for them but the readers who are open to what you have to say, and might find your response helpful in a future dialogue of their own. You can engage a troll in order to practice and refine your argument, especially if you suspect that you’ll be encountering the same bullshit over and over again, or that they are saying things (however distorted) that other, saner people also believe but know enough to keep to themselves. Just because this stuff doesn’t surface in polite company doesn’t mean it’s never there. The important thing is not to sink to the troll’s level; to slip behind what they’re saying and deconstruct it, challenge the assumptions framing it, call them out on it (and again, you’re not doing it to change their minds, which won’t happen, but because you want to make a point that serves your readers). If you explain or defend, they win, because it indicates that you’re taking them seriously. Treat their comments like a text to analyze like an assignment in English class — or, yeah, ignore, ignore, ignore (and that *does* get easier over time, even if it sucks in the meantime). For every person who hates what you’re saying (and hates you for saying it), there’s someone else who needs to hear it and loves you for having the ladyballs to put it out there. Not everybody can. xo

    1. Jordan

      Thank you, Justine. I needed all of that, because I’m not so good at just shutting up and taking it 😉 Also, I love “ladyballs.”

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