There’s been a lot of noise recently regarding some very high profile people leaving twitter due to the trolling so prevalent on the platform. I’ve been on twitter for about a decade now and while I genuinely understand why they would leave I have a few thoughts on why they shouldn’t and, perhaps more importantly, how to change their thinking about trolling.
Although it is certainly the minority today there is a wonderful community of sharing on twitter. Knowledge, news, ideas and entertainment are quickly and effectively disseminated on the platform. This is how twitter began and it’s still there at its core. In this way, it’s been a huge benefit to me.
Outside of this minority, however, is a completely different community that now seemingly represents the majority. As effective as it is in sharing good things, twitter is even more effective as a platform for shaming, ridicule and hate. Good ideas usually require some explanation or detail. Bad ideas like taunts and epithets only require someplace to shout them where someone will hear them. In this respect, twitter might be the most effective platform and target-rich environment ever created for bad ideas.
Everyone I’ve talked to on my podcast has dealt with this issue to some degree or another. Personally, I’ve been the target of more than my fair share of this stuff. I get trolled constantly by small anonymous accounts all the way up to high-profile, respected pundits. I’ve seen accounts created for the sole purpose of trolling every tweet I send. I also deal with anxiety issues and the trolling only makes it worse. So I understand what these folks leaving twitter are talking about.
But I want to encourage the targets of such trolling to try to change the way they think about it. First, trolling is a sign that you’ve hit upon something. You stand for something and that something hits hard or cuts deep. So attracting trolls is really a good sign that you are working in the right direction. Bad ideas are easily countered with logic and reason. Good ideas are much harder to deal with. The former attract debate. The latter attract trolls. Where there are trolls there are good ideas, good acts and good people so you should wear them like a badge of honor.
Second, trolling is a sign of utter desperation on the part of the troll. They are so stressed out by the position or argument you pose that they feel compelled to give up the effort in countering the idea completely. In other words, they see the truth or the value in your position but are unwilling to embrace it which causes major intellectual discomfort, so much so that they are compelled to lash out.
Third, resorting to trolling tactics is the most immature and childish way of dealing with the stress and anxiety caused by feeling overwhelmed by your opponent’s argument. It is thus the ultimate form of conceding in a debate. In fact, it is abandoning the debate altogether in favor of sticking your tongue out and saying, “na-na, na-na, boo-boo (stick your head in doo-doo).” In other words, getting trolled means you have won.
Finally, rather than feel victimized by trolling it’s valuable to try to empathize with a troll because to be so focused on bringing someone down means you must be in a very dark place. You want to bring others there with you. It is the exact opposite of feeling enlightened or empowered and the overwhelming compulsion to share these insights or just good vibes that comes with that. Feeling some sense of pity for them allows you to let go of any ill feelings they might inspire in you.
— Jesse Felder (@jessefelder) February 28, 2017
And out of respect for your own abilities, accomplishments or the validity of your own ideas, resist the urge to sink to their level. Degenerating from a reasoned discussion into a game of name calling demeans the good things or ideas you stand for in the first place. It serves no one, is emotionally and intellectually depraved behavior and is just a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Besides, this is exactly what trolls want.
So don’t feed the trolls. Look at the trolls for what they are: evidence that you stand for something compelling, something so good that they have given up trying to counter it with logic and reasoning. And if it’s really that good, you should never allow them to prevent you from sharing it with others and also sharing in all the rest of the good stuff that is going on on twitter. It was created for this very purpose and it’s still a wonderful tool in this regard.