Lately, I’ve been coming across bloggers and vloggers talking about hateful comments they get, and how painful it is, and how to deal with them. Since this is something I have years experience with – as a “user”, a site mod and eventually a webmaster – I eventually learned a few things about this the hard way. Many of you who deal with online haters may have some misconceptions about them.
Who haters target
If you feel alone when haters target you, don’t. They target anyone who offers progressive ideas, creative thoughts or empathy.
Who haters are
Haters are pretty consistently against anything progressive or creative, or just people succeeding or having fun. They align themselves closely with traditional ideas, because they aren’t comfortable with change. And sometimes they’re just envious of you.
But what they most want is your attention, because if you’re paying attention to them, you can’t be out there changing their world. That’s right – they are the ultimate derailers. They just want to stop you in case you might get around to putting some of your ideas into action.
This isn’t just true of activists, either, which is why this is not an Activism 101 post. The internet is a big social equalizer. You’re never sure who you’re talking to, and the fact that women and minorities can find a place to voice their opinions – whether it’s about last night’s reality TV lineup or radical social change – really bothers some people.
It would follow from that assessment that most trolls are white men, and in my experience, that is absolutely true. But don’t fall for the myth that they’re all young white guys with a lot of time on their hands. When a Usenet group I belonged to in the 90s got trolled, the group tracked them down. Turned out they were a bunch of middle-aged white guys trolling from their office computers in Texas. The group let their employers know how these guys were spending their time, and terminations followed.
Why you need to ignore them
Your first instinct is probably to counter their hateful comments, or at least call attention to the low quality of their thoughts. You’re afraid others will agree with them. But get over that fear. Other haters certainly will agree with them, and nothing you can say to or about them will change that. Your best strategy is to continue talking to non-haters in the group, as if the haters don’t even exist. They cannot stand this, and they usually respond by amping up the harassment for a bit, and then moving on when they realize they can’t get the attention they were seeking.
Giving them any attention at all makes them the winners, in their minds. Simply ignoring them makes them feel like losers, and they cannot stand feeling like losers.
Something that may help you ignore these people is to remember who they might be. The next time you run into a troll, consider the possibility that they are:
- Prisoners. Yes, many prisoners have internet access, and a lot of time on their hands. Odds are at least some of the net trolls you have met or will meet in your lifetime will be prisoners enjoying internet access and free time on your tax dollars. Why reward them by making that free time more fun for them?
- Children. I used to assume it would be obvious when I was talking to a child, but it’s surprisingly not. And adolescents in particular can explore a lot of viewpoints and presentations before they mature. It’s not that easy to tell a hardened middle-aged misogynist troll from a twelve-year-old who’s just trying on society’s misogyny for size. Since I for one do not want to find myself saying to any twelve-year-old ever the sort of thing I’ll cheerfully say to a middle-aged misogynist, I find it better to just ignore them. Kids lose interest very quickly when they’re not getting the attention they wanted.
- Extremely entitled people. Now, it might sound like these are exactly the people we want to be tangling with, but we are the last people on earth they will ever listen to. It’s just not worth it. That’s why I created this site.
In short, engaging with haters is like fighting with a pig: you get muddy and bruised, and the pig has a good time. Actually, maybe that one line should have been the whole of this article, because I don’t think I can put it better than that. You are just indulging them by acknowledging their existence, so why acknowledge it?
To this day, I struggle to take my own advice. We get comments to which I want to email the person something very foul or even threatening, and the Hathor staff has had to sit me down on more than one occasion. But the more we follow the “What troll? I didn’t see a troll” policy, the fewer trolls we have to deal with. It really does work.
Got questions? Post them, and we’ll try to answer.