Pretty much any woman who has ever expressed her opinions on the Internet is familiar with online harassment. But we don't always know how to respond to trolling, which Google defines as making "a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them." Yup, sounds about right.
I first experienced trolling when I identified myself as a feminist on my online dating profile. Cue the accusations of man-hating. The anti-feminist troll squad also found me on Twitter when I started using the hashtag #EverydaySexism. Now, as a writer, I get trolled on a daily basis about feminism and pretty much everything else about me — and I'm not thick skinned. So, I've had to come up with ways to ameliorate the ego wounds trolls like to inflict.
Responding to trolling doesn't always mean writing back. In fact, for me, it never does. I once did an experiment just to see if I could reason with Internet trolls, and my requests for feedback only invited them to spew more insults at me. When I asked them if I could improve upon the writing they were unhappy with, they didn't respond, further proving that they only wanted to make me feel bad.
Luckily, there are several effective ways to respond to trolling that do not involve the trolls themselves. Here are a few.
1. Reach Out To Your Friends
One night, after dinner with two friends, I returned home to a Twitter user accusing me of "bitching" because I was "underf*cked." Not wanting it to ruin my night, I screen-shotted it and sent it to the friends I was just with. "The inside of his head probably sounds like a fart noise," one responded. Soon, I was laughing instead of feeling down on myself. Now, they're my go-to people to send every ridiculous Twitter comment I can't get over. Your friends can remind you that the shame is on your trolls, not you, and you may all get some laughs out of it.
2. Find A Supportive Online Community
For every person who disagrees with what you say on the Internet and wants to shame you for it, there's someone who agrees and wants to defend you. I'm part of a Facebook group for women writers and a Listserv for people who work with me, and when I've shared my trolling experiences with them, they've not only comforted me but also sometimes joined conversations with my trolls to defend me. Even if you don't have that kind of professional network, you could, for example, post about your experience in a Facebook or Reddit group for feminists. Trolling can make you feel singled out, but getting people behind you can remind you that you're not actually alone in your views.
3. Engage With Your Fans
Whatever type of reaction you feed will grow. If I have an article or tweet that gets a lot of attention, I will personally thank everybody who says something nice about it. As a result, the positive reactions take up more space on the Internet. Especially since these reactions are public, it helps me to know that any troll scrolling through my Twitter feed will see evidence that their negative opinion about me is not universally held.
4. Write A Response... Then Don't Send It
Some people have fun responding to their trolls, and I can see how it could be fun if they don't get under your skin. But if you want to cut off your engagement with them, one way to still feel vindicated is to write out what you would say to them. Sometimes you just need to say it to yourself in order to remind yourself you're in the right, and writing something down validates it.
5. Have A Friend Screen Your Messages
In addition to enlisting your friends to make fun of your trolls, you can also ask someone you trust with your password to delete your Facebook messages or emails and block your Twitter trolls for you, preventing you from ever seeing the harassment you've received. If you don't want to give away your password, you can also send a link to a search for tweets containing your handle and ask a friend if there are any users you should watch out for. The link will look like this: twitter.com/search?f=tweets&vertical=default&q=%40YOURHANDLE&src=typd
6. Use Websites Like Hollaback's Website HeartMob
The anti-harassment organization Hollaback has a new website called HeartMob that lets you share stories of online harassment and ask people to send you support or back you up. You can also publicly out your harassers this way. Their definition of "harassment" may not cover every situation, though, so you can also look around to see if there are other websites or organizations that might offer the support you need. Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz's Crash Override Network, for example, is another option.
7. Block, Report, And/Or Mute
On Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, and LinkedIn, you can block or report a user who is harassing you. Blocking will make them unable to contact you, and reporting will alert the website that the user is engaging in inappropriate behavior. On Twitter, you can also mute a user, which is like blocking except they won't know you've done it and if they're following you, you won't lose a follower.
8. Read About Others' Experiences With Trolling
Some people, like Marina Wantanabe (the vlogger who reads her comments in the video above), have spoken about their trolls so that people can either learn how horrifying this problem is or realize that they're not alone and learn some empowering comebacks. Other online personalities have written about their experiences with trolling and how they've dealt with it. In fact, I actually wrote an article gathering advice from women writers who have dealt with trolling that might provide some tips and comfort. Also, this might seem a little sadistic, but I sometimes read comments on other articles to realize other people are hearing the exact same things I hear. It helps me take it less personally. But comment sections also have a way of erasing your faith in humanity, so I'll leave that to your judgment.