I guess it’s a function of maturity, but I don’t care about internet trolls anymore. Back in 2011, a troll on twitter started up a fight with a physician whom I admire. The physician wasn’t paying attention to his crude remarks — including a photoshopped image of her — so he was lashing out in a very weird way. When I pointed out to him that he should cut it out, he focused on me like a laser. So I decided to care…
A few months later, after the troll in question made a huge ruckus, I had to scale back my online activities. I wasn’t allowed to state where I worked or what I did for a living, all because the troll scared my employers. He scared them into thinking that he was going to sue because — in his opinion — I was “attacking” him while at work. (I didn’t. I wrote the “mean” things I wrote about him while comfortably at home.)
Today, I would do things much differently, and not because of the way my job then reacted. Big, old institutions will always act defensively when someone waves around the word “lawsuit.” I would do things differently because I’ve come to not care in a personal way about people posting stuff online. I only care about what people I know personally have to say, and that’s pretty much it.
For example, there used to be a time when a certain “kid” would mouth-off about vaccines, and I had this urge to correct him. Then he revealed his true colors (misogyny, racism, and white nationalism), and it wasn’t fun anymore. It wasn’t scary, either. It was just kind of, blah. When someone says or writes something incredibly racist, what’s the point of pointing it out to them? They probably wrote/said it knowingly, either to get some sort of reaction or to just be a jerk. Nothing I say or do will change their minds, so why should I care?
This has been my approach to trolls lately. Yeah, I’ll exchange some opinions with some of them, but I generally stop engaging once we hit a point of no return. If they write something that is completely indefensible, the conversation ends. There’s just no point in arguing with someone who writes that there’s some global “reptilian” conspiracy or something just as stupid.
I mean, I do like to engage in some tête–à–tête once in a while, but only if it’s worth it. Beyond that, I usually ask myself who these people, anonymous strangers online, are and whether or not a discussion with them is going to add anything to my life. If they won’t add anything to my life, then they’re not worth my time… And, man, do I wish more people felt that way (and acted on it).
In the end, the only way to take power away from the trolls and the bullies is to not pay any attention to them. They feed off getting attention for some weird reason. No attention, no problem. Sure, they might escalate things to get attention, but that usually backfires and ends up in criminal charges or civil penalties. Just don’t react, and the problem takes care of itself.
For the rest of you who are someone and who do mean something to me, don’t be jerks.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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