When it comes to dealing with conservative bullies, David Hogg has too many to count. The Parkland shooting survivor has been caught in the crosshairs of right-wing commentators ever since he became an activist for gun control reform. But so far, the 18-year-old has been handling the attacks with impressive deftness, becoming a role model for young activists everywhere. Hogg, a high school senior, is winning against haters more than twice his age — and his strategy is something everyone can learn from.
For context, here are just a few ways that trolls, conspiracy theorists, and the far-right media have tried to smear his character: InfoWars and Breitbart compared Hogg to Adolf Hitler; internet bloggers falsely accused Hogg of being a paid crisis actor (a trending video claiming Hogg was "bought and paid by CNN and George Soros" racked up more than 200,000 views before YouTube took it down); and in a rather mean-spirited tweet, Fox News' Laura Ingraham mocked Hogg over his college rejections.
In day-to-day circumstances, the average teenager isn't experiencing an aggressive smear campaign against them. But that's exactly what Hogg is dealing with. In a video for Vox, the Parkland student shared his tips for beating the bullies.
"Honestly, I figured a lot more of our attacks would be against our policies, not really against me," Hogg admitted in the Vox video. He later quipped on the ridiculousness of these accusations:
They've gone from saying I wasn't at the school at the time to saying that I'm a crisis actor to saying that I'm a 27-year-old that has a facelift to saying that I'm actually 135 years old and that I'm a, like, shape-shifting lizard, essentially. [...] I mean, I don't know about you guys, but last time I checked, getting a facelift doesn't make your acting career any better.
Hit with an onslaught of frustrating, right-wing conspiracy attacks, Hogg decided there was a better method than trying to defend himself against each and every fake claim: Don't take the bait. According to Hogg, getting embroiled in the swamp of conspiracies will only distract you and drain your resources. In other words: Pick your battles wisely. Not every troll is worth a response.
And for the trolls who do elicit a response? Rather than rise up in anger, dismiss them with humor. "We just joke around a lot, and that's how we're dealing with a lot of this and kind of coping in some weird way," Hogg told Vox. Laughing off the conspiracy theorists and slinging jokes at their haters gives Parkland students a way to respond without giving their naysayers too much credit. Humor is also a way for the Parkland students to show they're not ruffled by the negative attention, while simultaneously keeping their cause in the news. "Not only do you get a laugh, but your followers get a laugh, and you get a follow, too," Hogg added.
This strategy works particularly well for the more extreme commentators like Alex Jones, who are already on the fringe. For mainstream bullies, Hogg says you should hit them where it hurts the most: their bank accounts. Take Ingraham for example. The Fox News host thought it would be a good idea to go on Twitter to put down Hogg after he got rejected by a few colleges. In response, Hogg tweeted a boycott list of what he said were Ingraham's top advertisers, including AT&T, TripAdvisor, Nestlé, and Hulu. Since then, at least 15 companies have pulled their ads from Ingraham's TV show. Ingraham later apologized for mocking Hogg and invited him to appear on her show.
These three strategic responses — ignoring, joking, and boycotting — have helped Hogg and other activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School overcome their critics. And if that doesn't work, kill them with kindness. "Whenever somebody calls you a dick or whatever, just say 'I love you,' honestly," Hogg advised in the Vox video. "That's what this world needs. We don't need anybody else being super mean to each other, like Laura (Ingraham) was to me, or anybody else."