From international and local politics, to the latest television shows and Marvel movies — everyone’s a critic these days.
Everyone has something to say about everything as, after all, we’re all entitled to our own opinions. Discussions, as a result, have become more prominent among social media platforms over the years. As popular and useful as critical interactions may be, however, there lies the ugly counterpart of discourse: the existence of trolls.
Trolls, the scum of social media, are some of the worst people on the great wide web. They can be as harmless as people who think “your mom” jokes are still good comebacks, but they can also be vile to the point of sending minors graphic, textual descriptions of sexual violence.
Many civilians engage angry, attention-seeking trolls leading the internet — what should be a space that promotes freedom and diversity — into becoming grounds that grow fear and conformity. In the face of overwhelming online comments teeming with of misogyny, racism, anti-intellectualism, among many other things…what’s an internet user left to do?
Determine Your Opponent
First things first, do not be so quick to point a finger at someone who disagrees with you and cry out ‘troll’ or immediately call them ‘bayaran’ (sell-out or shill)!
Note and accept that you cannot and will not change a troll’s mind. Trolls are the type of people who would rather believe satire blogs than legitimate news sites (which they accuse of bias) because it reinforces their opinions instead of the facts that challenges their worldview. Trolls are terrified of intelligent discourse, as it requires some semblance of rational thought.
If someone challenges your opinion, however, respond once and ask them why they think differently. You’ll know if they’re a troll usually within two replies. This is because some people genuinely want to create a conversation. It’s through there that you can reach a friendly state of intellectual compromise.
Remember that while you are entitled to your own opinion, you can’t just make up your own facts; that’s not how freedom of speech works. Trolls don’t accept this; people who think differently from you, however, can be persuaded or can persuade you.
Remove the Power of Anonymity
Now, say that you have determined that the person against your point of view is actually an internet troll. Internet trolls are often in it for the reaction that they cause. Sometimes, it’s because they actually are shills who get paid to spark online outrage in favor of certain groups. They thrive off of chaos, take pride in knowing that they have hurt you without fear of personal consequence to themselves.
Against this, the most common form of defense is the age-old trick of “just ignoring them”. This, however, is pretty much as useless as just letting bullies keep on bullying because they’ll “get tired of it eventually”. While you don’t have to give them the benefit of the attention they want, you have more options than to just sit there and do nothing.
If, through a little internet sleuthing with Google, you manage to find the name, photograph, and enough contact details of a troll, you can report them to the proper authorities. Some countries, like the Philippines, have anti-cyberbullying laws that protect victims, heavily fining and imprisoning perpetrators of the crime. This is not always possible, but a report to the server administrator and block from your social media accounts is sometimes enough to send the message.
Don’t give your trolls your platform, no matter how tempting it is to give in for the sake of proving you’re in the right. Trolls also want you to be afraid of speaking out so you can fight against that when you keep speaking out about your causes with informed opinions. Cite your credible sources, build your audience, listen to differing opinions, and engage in intelligent conversations — that’s one way to snuff the trolls out.
What Are You Fighting For?
Additionally, at the end of the day, know that there is one universal truth about interacting with trolls: you can’t win. There has never been a case where, even if you pull out all of your facts and footnotes to prove your correctness, someone has changed a troll’s mind.
An internet troll has already made up their mind. They often use ad hominem arguments to deflect how they have no argument, or past mistakes to shame you, not because they want to be correct, but because they want to hurt you. Some particularly nasty trolls want you to be so afraid to speak out ever again, in fear of future incidents, so they feel like they’ve won.
Ask yourself, before responding to your troll: are they worth it? Are they worth the time and energy of fact checking when it’s clear from the word go that they will not listen to any other voice but their own?
If they seem genuinely interested in the topic, go forth and educate! They might surprise you, educate you on their perspective, and help you understand the world from beyond your safe bubble. If they’re just in it for the temporal bliss of “lit” notifications for a few hours with a few likes and retweets, then you’re better off doing other things.
You can rest on your laurels for now, dear friend. Save your screenshots and live to fight another day.