How many of you were (or are) bullied in school? At home? At work? I know I was in grade school and junior high. And in some jobs I’ve had over the years.
It’s nothing new, I know. The strong or the powerful decide to pick on the weak and vulnerable. Why? Because it reinforces that they are tougher than you. Stronger than you. Bigger, meaner, more influential… whatever their beef, they get their kicks by picking on others.
And on the Internet, you don’t have to be more physically impressive than your targets to be a bully. There are trolls everywhere, lurking in the dark corners waiting to pick on someone with an idea that doesn’t jive with their own world view. They don’t have to emerge from the safety of the shadowy underbellies of their bridges to vomit their vitriol upon the masses. It’s like they have paintball guns loaded up with the gross stuff just waiting to fire at some unsuspecting comment, article, or video. The stuff sticks to everything, is tough to wash off, and smells bad leaving a lasting impression on anyone who gets peppered with it.
So what do we do about it? Fight fire with fire? Ignore it and hope it goes away?
This mess that Jennifer Hepler from BioWare found herself at the center of recently was apparently a perfect storm. I’m not going to dive into who said what or how the whole thing spiraled out of control quickly once the trolls got involved – there are plenty of articles across the Internet that describe the situation from multiple points of view. I’m not going to mention that she defended herself and spit the same style of comments back at the trolls, simply adding fuel to the whole thing. And I’m going to sum it all up to say that there is no world in which spewing such hate in any forum is a good thing. In my opinion more wrong occurred on the part of the many trolls as opposed to the few the crud was directed at.
There will always be critics. People will always say things that not everybody will agree with. And as soon as you start sharing your opinions with the world, you’d better be prepared for some backlash.
That said, you are entitled to your opinions – even if they’re wrong to somebody. I as an individual do not have to agree to them. And if I feel like putting the effort together to refute them or simply discuss them in more detail to figure out why you think that way, that’s ok so long as I do it in a respectful manner. There’s no need for yelling (ALL CAPS!) or swearing or any of the million other ways we as human beings try to tear each other down with language. If we can have a level, frank discussion about a topic – even if at the end we agree to disagree – then the process works.
Some people choose to communicate only through rude language, racial or sexual slurs, put-downs, slams, and other mechanisms for tearing down an opponent. Perhaps they feel uncomfortable actually discussing the issue at hand and would rather scream and yell about what they think about your mother instead. It’s a defense mechanism. They feel challenged by your words so have to throw up a smoke screen of crap to deflect them. That doesn’t make it right. But sometimes it’s helpful to understand possible reasons for such reactions to better deal with them.
We’re only human. We bring to the table all our hopes, dreams, nightmares, predispositions, misunderstandings, and mental blocks every time we talk to someone else. But there’s no reason to stoop to that level yourself. And if you aren’t prepared for some sort of backlash every time you share an opinion, you’re deluding yourself. It doesn’t always happen, but we never know what may spark a violent reaction on the Internet.
I feel for Jennifer Hepler and her family and friends. If those people who disagreed with her opinions about her job had responded in a more reasoned way, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation across the Internet. But when she reacted in kind out of anger, she didn’t defuse the situation any.
My Dad has a saying. “Get mad. Get glad. Get on with yourself.” And it’s a methodology I try very hard to adhere to throughout my life as an individual, a father, a husband, an employee, a writer, and every other role I find myself in. Am I 100% successful? Nope, I’m human. But it doesn’t stop me from trying.
If reason doesn’t work, anger won’t change things either. Do the best you can and move on to other things. But never respond angry. The trolls feed on the stuff and it doesn’t make things better.
So take a deep breath, let the anger go, and see what you can do to respond rationally. If no progress is made, then let the whole thing go as best you can. You may not win over any trolls, but you may keep yourself from becoming one.
- Troll patrol: I cajoled the trolls and paid the toll (thepunch.com.au)
- Gnoll Racial Powers from STUFFER SHACK (stuffershack.com)