It's been a doozy of a winter so far - lots of snowstorms, lots of cold thanks to the polar vortex and lots of downtime for people to spend more time than usual on social media. Unfortunately, not everyone uses the time for catching up. With folks inside for the winter, the trolls have come out in full force on social media and blogs. The polar vortex and snow storms have made it open season for cyberbullies on social media.
Before I got involved in blogging, I always thought of the old folk story the Three Billy Goats Gruff, when talk of trolls would come up. If you remember each of the three goats would trip, trap across the bridge that was home to the evil troll that wanted to eat them. The greedy troll that kept letting the goats pass for the better meal…until a goat came by that was to large for the troll to fight and eat.
We even used to play our own version as kids. One person was the troll that would find a place to hid. That troll would jump out to get us if we passed through the wrong area of the campground. We never knew where the troll was hiding until it was too late…but we’d squeal and giggle and run until we got back to the campfire or safe place.
Present day trolls
If you blog or spend much time on Facebook, you know that we deal with a lot of trolls these days. A lot. They are lurking all over the place and we never really know where or when they’ll crop up. It could be on a blog post…or it could be out of the blue on Facebook, Twitter or other social sites.
Bam! They are there and your life takes a sickening turn for the worse.
I’m not taking about just the garden variety trolls. No, they stir the pot a bit, get a bit nasty by posting a few comments on your post or page and then they move on. I’m looking at some pretty nasty offenders.
The problem with these trolls is that they often take information and twist it…then use it to go after people they do not know. The trolls are after more than questioning you or your opinion…they defame, harass and do bad things to their victims. There is no warm campfire for victims to run back to. It’s nasty middle school bullying in its absolute worse form being conducted by adults – sometimes in anonymity, sometimes not. It is cyberbullying at its worse.
Don't feed the trolls
We have a saying in blogging – don’t feed the trolls. It means not to take the bait and to be polite and move one. You pick your battles. In social media, you sometimes need to go to war with the trolls – your reputation and so much more can be at stake.
On more than one occasion, vile trolls like this have attacked friends of mine in animal rescue.
In each case, my friends were blindsided – they didn’t know this person, yet they were being attacked in the worst possible way. They are people who have run upstanding rescues or advocacy groups that spend days at animal controls networking or rescuing animals on death row. They’ve put a lot of their own life on hold for this.
What happens then?
Along with the huge emotional toll this takes on victims, there’s the time, money, legal issues and other problems that trolls stir up. It takes away from advocacy or rescue or any other part of your life that is vastly more important then heading to middle earth to battle trolls…but sometimes you don’t have a choice.
Protecting yourself from social media trolls
No matter where the trolls attack, it's always a good idea to document and take screenshots. On social media sites, you can report people for harassment and abuse. On Facebook, you can also report people operating under an alias. It takes time and shuts people down, but the worst offenders always have another alter ego ready to go to war.
A couple of particularly vile trolls have made life so difficult for people I know, restraining orders have been filed – along with lawsuits – to try to stop more damage from being done. It was really that bad that it did have to come to that. For victims, this is time and money spent defending themselves after being personally attacked. It’s expensive and exhausting.
The toll of trolls in advocacy
But, if you are in the world of advocacy, there is a much bigger toll. If you are fighting trolls, you are not rescuing animals or working on anti-violence programs or helping out kids in need – whatever your cause. In animal rescue, that delay means lives lost because people are battling trolls and not pulling, transporting and rescuing animals. If you’re working with kids on the street, you’re not there for them when they need someone the most.
And, like many other areas of advocacy, a reputation can be destroyed in a heartbeat. You spend years getting people to trust so you can make a difference only to have a social media troll or blogger or someone from out of the blue blindside you with lies and innuendo that destroy all that you’ve built.
The heartbreaking part of all of this is that the nasty trolls – those that are destroying reputations – often claim they are advocates as well. But, under the veil of anonymity, it hard to spot who they really are. When the veil comes down, it’s not someone who has been an advocate; just an agitator.
So, my word of advice is this – when you see good people being attacked by trolls, don’t take the bait. Stick to your gut feeling, stick together and never, ever spread troll vomit. If you see something that is just wrong or bullying anyplace else, let the person being attacked know what is going on - they are often not in on the conversation.
Very recently, a pretty bad situation was shut down very quickly when people stood together against a bullying troll. Her alter ego was quickly stripped away. As soon as she was called out on who she really was, her power to bully was zapped. The victims became the big Billy Goat that was much too large for the troll to fight.
Although her post is aimed at teens and Cyberbullying, fellow ChicagoNow Blogger Carrie Goldman has some great tips on what to do to prevent cyberbullying and what to do after an attack in this post. She's our resident expert on bullying and has written a great book on the topic.
For my past post about negativity in advocacy, please read It’s not cool to be cruel: when advocacy gets mean.
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