The Internet is such an awesome invention because anyone, anywhere can freely express themselves, be it through social media posts, YouTube videos, or blog posts. But the bad side of that equation is that trolls also have the ability to use their voices — except that they use them for hate. Knowing how to deal with racist trolls online isn't always easy, but that's where Franchesca Ramsey of MTV's Decoded comes in. Her latest video provides a number of strategies for handling trolls when they're at their worst — and perhaps more importantly, it reminds us all that we don't have to do it alone.
First, though, let's make sure we're on the same page when we're talking about trolls. Trolls aren't just people who have differing opinions from yours; they are people who make inflammatory comments for the express purpose of hurting others and causing uproar. As Ramsey puts it, "Trolls aren't just annoying; they're harmful to everyone who honestly wants to engage in debate." It's also important not to define trolls using stereotypes, since they aren't just angry teenagers living in their parents basement; they're just as often adults with jobs, families, and sometimes even children.
When you find one of these trolls, well, trolling on your content or social media feeds, it can be very tempting to start a flame war with them. But that's exactly what they want, which means that it's exactly what you shouldn't do. Ramsey herself says she's guilty of responding to comments that suggest she's racist against white people or race baiting "one too many times"; however, she has found that when she ignores these relentless haters, they tend to eventually move on to something else. Rule number one in the Internet rule book is clear: Don't feed the trolls.
But sometimes trolls don't go away when you ignore them. Sometimes they escalate things to the point of death or rape threats, leaking your personal information, or other terrible actions, both online and off. So how else can you deal with trolls? Here are five other strategies from those with personal experience and experts alike on how to cope with online harassment.
1. Determine Your Desired Outcome
Although you might want your abuser or troll to apologize or take back their comments, Working to Halt Abuse Online gives some smart advice on how to deal with harassment: Determine your desired outcome and be realistic. "It is not realistic to expect an apology from the harasser or any kind of 'payback' or revenge," the organization notes. It can also be tempting to want to take legal recourse, but you also have to realize the potential costs, both in terms of time and money, that requires. Before deciding on a course of action, brainstorm some realistic solutions for what you'd like to see come of your interactions and take steps to work towards them.
2. Keep Records
This is a great rule of thumb to use in any sort of online commutation or relationship, since records don't lie. Make a habit of taking timestamped screenshots of harassing comments, text messages, direct messages, or emails so that you always have proof. Try to keep your personal information as private as possible as you're doing so, though; don't give out your email address or phone number to just anyone, or there's a greater likelihood that someone could violate your privacy.
3. Contact Authorities
If the harassment gets out of hand, get in contact with the site that the harassment is taking place on and ask them to terminate this person's account. Even if nothing is done, creating a track record for that particular person will make it that much more likely that when someone else is being harassed by them, the site will take the complaint more seriously.
If things escalate to the point of real threats of physical or bodily harm, contact the police. Just be aware that the laws on online abuse vary greatly from state to state and country to country; you may receive a lot of help and an immediate response, or potentially little to no help at all from authorities depending on where you are. (It sucks, but it's the reality of things, unfortunately.)
4. Never Respond
Ramsey's advice is echoed by a lot of other sources, who say that responding is often the worst thing you can do. "As upsetting as it can be, recognize that it's extremely important that you DO NOT respond to this person. Engaging with the bully often only makes matters worse. They feed off their victim's misery and pain," Mary Kay Hoal of ABC News writes. If you feel the temptation to reply, write your response down on a piece of paper instead and then throw it away, so the troll doesn't use your words against you later.
5. Keep Things Private
For your personal profiles, adjust the privacy settings so that strangers can't lurk onto your feeds or follow you without permission. This way, you can control who sees your content and prevent unwanted bullies from taking over your newsfeed. With that, Stay Safe Online also puts forward the principal of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's not cool to violate someone else's privacy or harass them, so if you wouldn't want it to be said about you, don't say it.
Stay safe online, guys!