Layne is an active freelance writer. She enjoys staying up to date on trends, media, and emerging topics.
Tips for Disarming Trolls or Cyberbullies
Trolls—the most unsavory part of the World Wide Web. They come in all shapes and forms but hide behind the veil we call the Internet and the computer screen or phone screen. They have a sense of safety—slewing horrible statements and accusations at the public, often abusing free speech, and getting away with their bullying tactics. Some wonder how such horrible people could exist, how angry they must be, how miserable and depressed of a human being they are. . . but surprisingly, trolls come from all walks of life! Sometimes, they are even bots!
10 Best Ways to Handle an Internet Troll or Cyberbully
- Know what/who you're dealing with.
- Keep safety in mind.
- Don't take it personally.
- Know that they're probably wrong.
- It's not you, it's them.
- Write them a comment . . . and don't send it.
- Report them.
- Find your people.
- Dig deep, deep down for empathy.
- Never respond.
Anonymity Gives the Troll Confidence
It's the anonymity factor that gives the troll their power. In fact, some studies suggest that trolling can be quite addictive. There are millions of reasons why someone would exhibit this behavior—from conflicting political beliefs, to wanting attention, to being lonely or bored, or just out of the sick enjoyment of hurting others.
The Only One Who Likes a Troll—Is the Troll
But the big question is, so what do you do about them? Do you respond, ignore them, reveal them, block them? The truth is, most trolls wouldn't say what they are saying to someone's face—they'd be too embraced, too shy, etc. to go through with it. It's important to note that. Now, let's go over the 10 best tips for how to deal with the infamous internet troll:
1. Know what/who you're dealing with.
Is it a bot or a human? Is it a bored 14-year-old staying up til 3 am wanting to start something or is it a 50-year-old who is prescribed to some steadfast belief. We don't always know the troll. You can, however, figure out who you are working with with by noting some subtle clues:
- Note language trends: Note their spelling, language, comment patterns. Do they write like they are of a younger generation (e.g. "GOAT"), do they use punctuation that suggests they are from the UK (British English), do they use advanced vocabulary or do they frequently misspell? How do they refer to topics—noting keywords can tell you a lot about the type of person you are working with.
- What are they obsessing over: What is it that the are obsessing about? Did you post something about gay rights? Did you post something about vegetarians or meat eating? Did you post something about a conflict abroad? Seeing what triggers them can tell you a lot about their M.O.
- What is their profile like: Sometimes bots or troll accounts are very minimal. For instance, on Instagram, they have no followers. That profile was created as a junk account. Bots tend to be inhuman in their response and just blast the same thing on the same topic (political accounts, for example). If it is a personal account, they will likely have their identify out proudly. Determine if it is an authentic account or not.
By observing these factors, you will be able to figure out what type of person you are dealing with . . . if it is a person at all.
2. Keep safety in mind.
Before you even respond to or address a troll, keep your safety in mind. Nowadays, everyone's information is everywhere and people love to blackmail. As much as you would love to tell someone to flip off quite literally, you never know what their agenda is.
Some people are extremely malicious and will go to the end of the world to make your life a living hell. We have seen this a lot with cyberbully–often driving kids and young adults to the point of suicide. It's horrible. Never compromise your identity, your safety, or your integrity for the satisfaction of responding to a troll.
3. Don't take it personally.
This is the hardest part of dealing with a troll because they try to make it personal. They will pick at every aspect of your identity and beliefs to try to get you to cave in and engage in stupid back-and-forth. Think about how much time you would be wasting by doing that . . . maybe 1% of the time if you're dealing with a real human, you can respectfully agree to disagree, but in reality, it will go nowhere!
Trolls are mean to be mean. It's not that you've done anything wrong—you are just being you. Unfortunately, too, the world is full of rejection and criticism. Often people criticize from places of low self-esteem. Hey, don't let it get to you—if they are bugging you it's likely because they are insecure about the fact you have the confidence to be out and proud about whatever it is you are sharing with the world. They can exist in their little bubble . . . alone in misery. Keep doing you! (Yeah, yeah . . . easier said than done.) Really, practice makes perfect.
4. Know that they're probably wrong.
Unless you very directly misstated a fact like "there are 4 continents on planet Earth" and someone corrected you (granted, they should correct you nicely if they are mature and decent), know that the troll is probably wrong. Sure, choosing sides is eliminating half of reality, but your reality is your reality to live! If you posted something on Facebook that says, "We need to stop using straws" and a troll says "That's dumb, that won't do anything," they're wrong. Ummm, one less straw thrown out to go to a landfill makes a very small difference . . . but it's still a difference!
Even if you have differing beliefs (whatever it is you believe is your truth, period), choose to live in a world where your truth is your truth. Although ignorance is not always bliss, just know that someone may not agree with it, but that's for them to deal with, not you. It's that old saying we learn when we're young, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." The troll is invited to go party with other trolls on another thread.
5. It's not you, it's them.
They have an issue. They came to your platform and decided to spew hate. Ok so maybe you spewed some hate and they are harping on your hate, but it's your sounding board. You didn't send them a nice little invite saying, hey, I've got something that's really going to annoying, come here and harass me. No, they sought you out . . . they are the ones with the issue.
It's simply not you, it's them. Anyone who has enough time to sink into harassing others online really aren't making good use of their time and their life. Is there such thing as a troll award? I don't know, but I've never seen one. Is there such thing as an influencer of the year award? Yeah. Is there such thing as a community hero? Yeah. If you're using your platform to make a change and bring real issues to the surface, and someone is there throwing dirty at you with words, I don't know about you, but I just feel sorry for them.
6. Write them a comment . . . and don't send it.
This ones really good and it got me through ignoring many a troll. Before I figured out the number one rule for dealing with them, I would comment back and forth trying to wake them up to my philosophy (waste of time!). It would take minutes and minutes of my day and leave me feeling really bad afterwords. No—extra cortisol is not good for you! If you really need to get something off of your chest, here's what to do:
- Open up a word doc.
- Type the most uncensored nasty things you want to.
- Give it another good read.
- Either send it to yourself in an email (so you get the satisfaction of clicking the "submit" button), or delete it once and for all.
Ahhh, that should be cathartic. No damage done.
7. Report them.
Use everything within your tool-house to block, report, banish, erase, etc. the troll. No, this isn't the easy way out. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have come up with "privacy" settings for good reason. This is not to say that they work well, in fact, Instagram often does very little when you report behavior, so the best thing you can do is keep your account private and block individuals that are harassing you.
School Bullying and Workplace Troll
If the behavior continues and they are finding other ways to contact you, that is a safety issue. Keep documentation of everything. If you are a young adult, I highly recommend that you reach out to a trusted mentor, friend, or a parent. Cyberbullying and bullying within the school system is absolutely intolerable. No, you are not "uncool" for not being down with hate.
People who are harassing you and causing you major issues and distress and need to learn that their behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Remember, it's them, not you. Get help, please. If the bullying is occurring in the work place, you will need to come forward and talk to your manager or HR. Retaliation is a real thing but there are legal measures in place to get that person booted and anyone who defends or hides the truth.
8. Find your people.
There is power in numbers. Honestly, if you have a niche community that you belong to, let them know what is going on. They will absolutely have your back and there is power in numbers. Whether it's simply a matter of your friends bringing the positive vibes to your profile page and reducing the number of negative comments or hearing their words of encouragement and realizing the troll is the issue, not you, find your people.
As much as the Internet comes with some downsides, it also allows people who often feel voiceless or alone to connect over similar interests. You can find your people on Reddit, in group chats, in Facebook groups, and special interest pages. Rally your companions and be a hero.
9. Dig deep, deep down for empathy.
Yeah, this one is especially hard. It's taken me a long time to develop empathy for the troll. Developing empathy for someone or something you dislike takes a lot of maturity. Although I still have a lot of growing to do, developing empathy for people I'm not too fond of has really paid off. It's allowed me to let their bad behavior go.
You have to look at the troll with empathy. They are sad, sad, sad. They harass other people for entertainment and they are often fueled with hate and aggression. Also, they are spending their time on a faceless platform talking about a subject or a person they seem to heavily dislike. Torturing themselves much are they? Yuck. That's a sad existence. No matter how confident the troll sounds, deep, deep down, they have some real turmoil going on. Learning how to feel empathy for them is a big human gesture. The troll is suffering in their own dysfunctional reality.
10. Never respond.
This is the ultimate rule for disarming the troll. This is the most valuable pointer anyone can ever give you for dealing with one. DO NOT RESPOND TO THE TROLL. I know, your finger is quivering over the key . . . you start to type . . . you need them to see your point . . . you need to shut them down . . . they are wrong, they are horrible . . . how dare they . . . if only they knew the truth.
Don't do it! Engaging with the troll gives them what they want. They are fishing for engagement. You stay in control if you simple don't acknowledge them or respond. Once you practice ignoring them more and more, this will be easy for you. Trust me, I've had to do this. I've also gone through the 10 pointers. If you can refrain from responding to them, you will have defeated the troll. Congratulations and good luck.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Layne Holmes
Share your advice and experience below.
Liza from USA on August 14, 2020:
Great suggestions and tips Layne. Nowadays, cyberbullies are very disturbing. Social media used to and supposed to be a platform where people connected to each other but, I don't think people care about it anymore. Thank you for sharing, Layne. I agreed with Liz, it's a very helpful article.
Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on December 17, 2019:
Hi Liz, I'm glad you could find this article relevant and I agree that it's an unfortunate reality we all face these days.
Liz Westwood from UK on December 16, 2019:
This is a very helpful article which is sadly very relevant in the digital world we live in.