Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other topics.
Trolls are no longer cute little dolls, cartoon characters, or scary fairytale characters. They lurk in the shadows, coming out to harass, ridicule, and put us down. As a Christian writer, I have met a few myself. Each encounter puts me in a quandary; how should I react? I want to respond in a way that reflects my Christian values, but I still feel angry. I want to lash out when trolls post outrageous and outlandish contact.
Fortunately, the Bible has clear instructions on how to handle difficult people. There are several steps we can take to diffuse and stop this behavior and protect us from harm.
What We Can Do to Stop Trolls
Forgive them and pray for them
Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves and pray for our enemies (Matthew 22:37-39, Matthew 5:44). This response is difficult to do. If we approach our tormentors with love, we are able to extend mercy to them and make good decisions about what to do next.
Understand why people troll
We may never know why some people will attack us online, but others have clear motives. A small percentage of perpetrators are sociopaths, sadists, or narcissists who want to hurt people and stir up trouble. They get pleasure from inflicting pain on others. Seeing upset people gives perpetrators an emotional payoff.
Other trolls may be under a lot of stress or experiencing emotional pain. They shoot off their mouths when they are having a bad day. Some trolls are judgmental and feel their mission in life is to point out people’s mistakes and set them straight. Others are obviously foolish and ignorant. They spew nonsense that can be harmful.
Once we have some idea what is motivating trolls, there are several responses we can use. Some posts can be ignored, but for others, we need to take action to restore peace. Occasionally, we may need to clear up misunderstandings, admit we were wrong about something, or apologize.
Use the silent treatment, when appropriate
The silent treatment may not feel like a biblical response, but it is necessary in some cases (Psalm 39:1, Proverbs 10:19). Some people have no sense, and we cannot reason with them (Proverbs 11:12). They will not listen to anything we have to say. They will twist our words, accuse us of wrongdoing, and say hurtful things. We have to accept nothing we can say will be heard and accepted by trolls in some situations. If we ignore offenders who are trolling for cheap thrills, they may give up on us and seek victims elsewhere.
Give a soft, non-confrontational answer
Sometimes we need to take time to walk away and regain self-control before we formulate an answer. Using gracious words is like a honeycomb that is sweet for our souls and is healing for us (Proverbs 16:24). Being careful about our speech keeps us from getting into trouble (Proverbs 21:23).
A soft answer can diffuse the trolls’ rage and allow everyone involved to calm down (Proverbs 15:1). A response such as “Hi, have a nice day” tells trolls that their posts have been read. It sends the message that we do not want to discuss contentious topics. This type of response will hopefully stop future communication in its tracks.
Some trolls are looking for the thrill of a contentious fight. We should not return an insult with an insult (1 Peter 3:9). The Bible warns that quarreling has no value and can ruin the lives of those who participate (2 Timothy 2:14). Answering foolish or vindictive people trying to hurt us is like starting a forest fire of destructive words (James 3:5-6). We must avoid evil and deceitful arguments so we can have a good life (1 Peter 3:10).
Trolls often do not care what we think or believe. They only care about proving that we are wrong and they are right. We need to keep this in mind when we are tempted to explain and justify our positions. Defensiveness on both sides can spiral out of control into a barrage of hurtful language.
Some people think they are religious but cannot control their words. Their religion is worthless, so their speech is not worth consideration (James 1:26).
Gently correct them
This method only works if the offenders are willing to listen and are open to change. Sometimes we need to clear up misunderstandings or correct misinformation (Proverbs 28:23). Other followers reading our thread may benefit from the truth as well. There are times we have to set the record straight. God wants us to seek reconciliation and live in peace with others if we can (Psalm 34:14, Romans 12:18). Our gentle posts may clear up misunderstandings for other followers as well.
When people attack us, we want to defend ourselves. We want to address every issue and set people straight. However, it is a waste of breath to give a soft answer to people who are rigid and entrenched in their beliefs. They look at differing opinions as personal attacks and will retaliate. When we answer them, we are opening ourselves up to their target practice.
Block and report
Some people think that a part of our Christian walk is patiently enduring abuse. In reality, we have an obligation to protect ourselves and others from harm. We have the right to unfollow, block, or report individuals who do not treat us with dignity and respect.
When trolls attack us, our human nature spurs us to retaliate in kind. Instead, we need to take a step back, pray for guidance, and figure out an appropriate response. We need to accept that offenders may never change no matter how much we pray and what we say. In that case, we must protect ourselves from harm with steps based on biblical principles.
The Holy Bible, New International Version
3 Ways Christians Can Respond to Online Trolls, Crosswalk, Kelly Givens
How Christians Should Deal with Internet Trolls, goodfaithmedia.org, Joe LaGuardia
Why Do People Troll Online?, Psychology Today, Jonathan N. Stea Ph.D., R. Psych
© 2020 Carola Finch
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 30, 2020:
Quite interesting. I dare say I have never written something important enough to be trolled about. So this is good advice.