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How to Handle a Troll in Five Simple Steps

April 30, 2014

Fat HealthFat NewsDickweed

You may have noticed that the Anti-Fat-Acceptance and Anti-Health-at-Every-Size trolls have come out to play en masse over the last several weeks. They’re still flooding #notyourgoodfatty with hate-filled nonsense; they’re taking their nonsense to Reddit to the point that the Fat Logic subreddit has been nearly taken over by it; and worse of all, there is the terrible, scary trolling that Lindsay is dealing with.

I thought I’d put together some tips for dealing with and coping with a trolling.

Step 1: Know the difference between a critic and a troll

Just because we have strong opinions on the subject of weight, size discrimination, health, fitness, weight loss, doesn’t mean that the whole world has to agree with us.

A critic is someone who familiarizes themselves with the opinion they oppose, then enters the conversation in a respectful, curious manner. Even if they are unlikely to have their opinion changed, a critic still presents with an open mind.

On the other hand, a troll jumps into the discussion with both their eyes and their mind tightly closed. They not only aren’t knowledgeable about what they are railing against, they don’t care to understand. As a result, their “contributions” are often nonsensical, made up from whole cloth, and are design more to derail the conversation than to expand it.

Internet trolls bait for any comment that they can take back to their friends (in this case, usually on Reddit) to elevate their social standing and get laughs. It doesn’t matter if what they’re re-posting is out of context. As one said to me over the last few weeks, that’s just how they roll.

Step 2: Know that trolling is more about the troller than the trollee

I know this is hard, because what they are saying is often immensely personal and sometimes, like in Lindsay’s case, personally scary. Try to remember. though. that behavior like trolling is all about the troll. I mean that on many levels.

The troll is often not even trying to make a point — they are either trying to silence or cause pain, and they are doing it for their own reasons that have nothing to do with you. Trolling is an incredibly narcissistic activity that is carried out by people who are desperate for the sound of their own voice and for the social standing they gain amongst their peers. Hang out in #notyourgoodfatty on Twitter for a few minutes and you’ll see how they congratulate each other. If you have the spoons for it, go into the Fat Logic subreddit and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

Trolling isn’t about you. It’s aimed at you, because they need a target.

Step 3: Try not to feed the trolls

I know how hard this one is. When someone is spewing hatred and misinformation all over the place, and it’s about something that is important to you, the urge to engage is strong. If the person you’re engaging with is a true troll, however, for your own sanity, try to avoid feeding them. Think of them like stray cats. You might feel the urge to feed one when it shows up on your doorstep, but then the next time you turn around your house is surrounded by them all demanding to be fed. They swarm.

I enjoy a good debate. If you do too, try to make the distinction I wrote about above and find a critic, rather than a troll, to engage with. Sometimes it’s important to not only preach to your choir, but trying to preach to a troll is a losing battle that will drain your resources without any benefit.

Step 4: Take care of you

Self-care is important. When you’re dealing with trolls, self-care is especially important.

I have a little mental trick — I keep my trolls in pickle jars. I think about them there, all lined up. Every time they open their mouths, hyperbole falls out like glitter. Thinking of them this way not only helps me to lighten up about being trolled, it helps me to see the troll as something separate even from the person doing the trolling. It helps me to see that the troll is actually a person who is probably hurting from having this little hateful thing living inside them.

Step away from activism when you need to. Let someone else pick up where you left off until you’re ready to jump back in. If the trolls are affecting your mood or making it hard for you to take care of yourself, it’s okay to walk away.

Step 5: Recognize that trolls come from a place of fear

It’s easy to think that trolls troll out of hatred. In reality, it’s usually fear that motivates them. Fear of “others.” Fear of the idea that what they’ve spent their whole life believing (in this case that the struggle to control weight is necessary) might be unnecessary. Fear of something that they don’t understand. And that fear presents as anger. If you can recognize and understand that their fear is their own burden to overcome and has nothing to do with you, it makes dealing with their behavior a little easier.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2014 11:03 am

    To be fair, however, many organizations that care for cats advocate Trap, Neuter, Release. If you’re already feeding a stray/feral (and their offspring/friends), they remind you that you have an additional obligation to practice TNR in order to keep your local cat population under control in the future.

    If only there was a nonprofit willing to take on this task when it comes to trolls. 😉

    • April 30, 2014 11:56 am

      I love the thought of a Troll TNR program. Bring on the non-profits!

    • May 2, 2014 1:33 pm

      For the cats, I advocate using anesthesia and clean scalpels and sutures.
      For the trolls, I suggest we save money. We can have people donate their used razor blades and thread scraps, and we’ll have the troll chug some Night Train before performing surgery.

      • May 4, 2014 1:49 pm

        Do the decent thing and make it low-cal Night Train. You know how seriously the fat-haters take their dietary virtues.

  2. April 30, 2014 12:14 pm

    +1 use of Munchkin in this post.

    Trolling (like, consistently, and “for the lulz”) has been associated with several antisocial personality traits:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886914000324

    So yeah, it really is about THEM and their flaws. Not about you.

  3. vesta44 permalink
    April 30, 2014 4:29 pm

    “Misery loves company” is the motto of trolls – they’re miserable and they want everyone else to be miserable right along with them.

  4. Alex permalink
    May 1, 2014 1:41 pm

    Hi Shaunta-

    I’m sorry you were treated so poorly during the AMA. People living on the fringes are usually the loudest. I was taught that there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone as long as you aren’t disagreeable. Which is a sort of prologue to talking about the fifth step you’ve listed here. Behaviorally, there are only nine innate emotions. Those being joy, sadness, fright, dread, horror, panic, anxiety, acute stress reaction and anger. Anxiety and fear are closely related, and I think perhaps you have triggered anxiety and anger more than fear. Fear is associated with the fight-or-flight response, and that doesn’t seem to be the case with trolling.

    Just so I’m crystal clear, I have ZERO problems with what you, or what you do. I only discovered you through the AMA. Body acceptance is a difficult road, and I wish you luck in your advocacy.

    (I did check out the fatlogic thing. There’s a lot of self congratulatory talk there)

  5. May 3, 2014 5:31 pm

    Ahahaha I love that Munchkin card.

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