How to handle a troll

While speaking yesterday at the Mark Twain House, a woman asked me how I handle criticism and the negative responses that I receive from people who read my blog, follow me on social media, watch me perform, and the like.

She pointed out that recently, someone disagreed with a position that I took on social media and was aggressive and possibly rude in their response.

It’s true. My wisdom, candor, and wit are surprisingly not always appreciated by the masses. Quite often the responses that I receive via comments on the blog, email, Facebook, and especially Twitter (where cowards hide behind anonymity) are not exactly thoughtful or respectful.

Here is how I manage to avoid allowing these unfortunate interactions to hurt me:

Most important, I am not opposed to disagreement. In fact, I thrive on it. As long as someone is respectful and sincere way in their response, I’m thrilled. Reasonable people can disagree, and the respective exchange of ideas is one of the reasons I write in the first place.

When it’s not respectful, I do this:

  1. I examine the preponderance of the evidence. I look at the responses to my writing as a whole. If the majority of people either support my position or disagree respectfully, then I focus on those responses and ignore the less thoughtful, disrespectful responses. The vast majority of people who respond to my work agree with my positions or push back respectfully. You can’t win over everyone, but if I can get most of them on my side, I’m perfectly capable of ignoring the occasional rude remark.

  2. I have always assumed that mean people are stupid. If someone responds to me with disrespect and vitriol, I simply assume that they are stupid. The world is filled with stupid people. Occasionally my words intersect with these unfortunate souls of limited intellect, and the results are regrettable but ultimately ignorable.

Assuming that mean people are stupid is a powerful and effective tool.

Admittedly, I’ve also always been a person who doesn’t care much about what other people think. As a serial nonconformist, I’ve walked to the beat of my own drummer for a long time. In fact, I look for opportunities to be different. To stand apart from the crowd. To go against the grain.

Honestly, it’s often embraced and even admired.

My favorite example is the time I attended a wedding and did not wear a tie. I don’t wear neckties anymore, seeing them for what they really are:

Pointless, decorative nooses.

It turned out that I was the only man at this rather large wedding who wasn’t wearing a tie. Halfway through the evening, a man approached me and said, “How did you get away with not wearing a tie?”

“I didn’t put one on,” I said. “I’m a grown up. I get to do what I want.”

The man instantly removed his tie and stuffed it into his pocket. It was like watching the unshackling of a grown-ass man for the first time.

I honestly don’t understand why people care so much about the opinions of others.

But if you’re not like me, the strategies listed above might help. What I couldn’t help but think after the woman asked me the question is how often people are being silenced by trolls. Human beings with important thoughts and ideas are hesitant or even afraid to do so because of the stupid people who say mean and stupid things.

Don’t allow the stupid people to stop you. They can’t help it that they are stupid. Sympathize with their lack of basic intellect. Feel sorry for their idiocy. Donate some money to an educational cause that might prevent future people from being stupid.

Move on.

The world needs your voice.

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Verbal sparring: Never tell someone to do something that they can ignore

As a result of my outspoken opposition to Donald Trump, I am frequently attacked online by trolls who disagree with my positions.

When I say trolls, I don't mean the people who support Trump and respond to me in thoughtful, measured ways. I'm talking about the people whose emails, Facebook messages, and tweets are laced with insults, hate, and meaningless stupidity. 

For those folks, I'd like to offer a small bit of rhetorical advice:

When you respond to someone who you oppose or whose comments and opinions run counter to your own, don't fire off a command that can easily be ignored or even laughed at and mocked. You end up looking weak, stupid, and lacking any foresight.

For example, if you tell me to "Move to Canada!" or "Shut your mouth!" I can simply reply, "No." 

Or...

"No, thanks." 
"Who made you King?"
"Make me." 
"You've obviously mistaken me for a robot."
"Bite me."

Issuing a command absent any authority to enforce it is rhetorically ineffectual and almost always backs you into a corner. What do you say after I respond with, "No?"

Yes?
Please?
Pretty please?

You probably change course, at which point I highlight your change of course and hang onto it like a dog to a bone, continually reminding you of your weakness and stupidity.

If you haven't thought about the range of responses to your verbal assault, you're not even playing the game. You might as well be poking the dirt with a stick. 

Oh, and while you're at it, the name calling is just as stupid. Snowflake, libtard, and cuck are all popular amongst the trolling knuckle draggers these days, but every time someone calls me one of these names, I can't help but think, "Really? You called me a name? I stopped caring about names in middle school."

Why waste time and energy on something so meaningless and ineffective? You'd be better off blowing soap bubbles in my general direction. They would do more damage than your stupid names.

Of course, the best part of these verbal attacks is the way I ignore them. No response is so much better than any response for these pathetic trolls, and this is what I do today. There was a time when I enjoyed firing back at these cretins, but I quickly learned that I have much better ways to spend my time.

Besides, ignore the trolls, and they remain trapped under their pitiful little bridges, unable to glimpse even a bit of the sunlight that I enjoy. 

The Internet is kind and crazy and kind of crazy

Last week I wrote a piece advising that you avoid shopping at multiple grocery stores in a given week, arguing that time is more valuable than the marginal differences in taste and quality of food. 

The argument is more complex than that, but you can go read the piece if you'd like.

It was also published by the Huffington Post, which caused it to garner many more readers.

In terms of direct responses to me via Twitter, email, comments, and Facebook regarding the piece, the reaction was about 80% positive. Many people acknowledged and even thanked me for illuminating the idea that time is our most valuable commodity.

I received tweets like this:

Terry Morriston @msm114
Inspiration at grocery store:  Make time for what you love. Thx @MatthewDicks for a well said reminder goo.gl/Cbz7OH

Kelley Crawford @pga_wife
.@MatthewDicks read the "Grocery Store" blog. I've always thought my time is a value; I appreciate the validation! pic.twitter.com/SKuWOSHT8C

Many who who disagreed with me when it came to shopping were still kind enough to say that the overall sentiment of the piece rang true with them. They felt that shopping for food in multiple stores was worthy of their time, but they appreciated the sentiment regarding the thoughtful use of your time. I exchanged emails with a 90 year-old man who told me to "keep preaching because everybody's wasting their life away." 

Then there were responses like this:

Buzz Gadbois @buzz_gadbois
@MatthewDicks idiot uniformed on nutrition and how food affects our health...this article will kill thousands if they listen to you

Just imagine. My suggestion that people shop in fewer grocery stores and make better use of their time will "kill thousands." 

Also, I'm apparently an idiot.

Then there was this:

Roger Matthews @RogerMatthews6
@MatthewDicks Forgotten?? Americans used to shop at a variety of food stores (French still do). Learn some history.

This one was interesting in that I readily acknowledge in the piece that Americans once shopped at a variety of stores. I could not acknowledge it more explicitly. 

Yet I must "Learn from history."

He followed up his initial tweet with this:

Roger Matthews @RogerMatthews6
@MatthewDicks No citing of people in know, eg chefs. Start/end from prejudice. Capitalist prop. Americans decided nothing. Shoved down throats

Prejudice. Capitalistic propaganda. Heavy stuff for a piece suggesting that shopping in half a dozen grocery stores might be a waste of time. 

The comment section of the piece on Huffington Post also became a festering pit of point and counterpoint, with 220 comments at the writing of this post. 

Some express agreement with me.
Some respectfully disagree and attempt to present an alternate view.
Some have clearly been written in Crazy Town, USA.  

I never mind when readers disagree with me, but when they call me names, make hyperbolic statements, and say things like "Learn some history," I always respond by congratulating these people on making such excellent use of the anonymity of the Internet, which allows them to say horrible and ridiculous things that they would be unlikely to say in person. 

When you write a blog post every single day for more than 12 years (as I have), you always run the risk of upsetting readers. Angering them. Hearing from them loud and clear when they disagree.

You also run the risk of being called names and occasionally encountering the residents of Crazy Town. 

Thankfully, I have a thick skin and a good sense of humor. My wife and I got a good laugh over the thousands who will die upon reading my piece. I had a good laugh on the golf course over my capitalistic propaganda and extreme prejudice. I took great pleasure in congratulating these Internet trolls for finding such an ideal digital bridge to hide beneath while flinging insults and spouting their bizarre rants.   

This blog has brought me far more good than bad, and that is saying a lot given some now distant history. But it's true. I have met some remarkable people and enjoyed some amazing opportunities and experiences through the act of writing and connecting with thousands of people daily. 

But there are also the trolls. The lunatics. Angry, rude, and loathsome people who behave badly because they need not encounter me in person.  

Honestly, I kind of enjoy them, too. They make me laugh. They serve as an excellent contrast to the reasonable, rationale, decent people who I encounter. They make for great stories.

Curt Shilling is wrong about evolution, but his response to Internet trolls was commendable and enough to make this Yankees fan cheer.

As a New York Yankees fan – as well as someone who supports science and knows that evolution is real – I’ve never been a fan of Curt Shilling.

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But when Shilling took to Twitter last week to congratulate his daughter on her invitation to pitch for the Salve Regina University baseball team, Internet trolls emerged from under their bridges in numbers that Shilling never expected.

“I expected the trolls. The one kid kind of came at me and said, ‘I can’t wait to take your daughter out.’ Kind of borderline stuff, which again, I expected. I’ve been on the Internet since, I started playing on computers in 1980, so I understand how it works and I knew there would be stuff. The stuff that they did, that is not bad or vile, it’s illegal. It’s against the law.”

“When that started -- again, I thought it might be a one-off, but then it started to steamroll. And then [my daughter] started to get private correspondence and then I said 'OK, this needs to get fixed.’ This generation of kids doesn’t understand, and adults too, doesn’t understand that the Internet is not even remotely anonymous.”

Shilling went on the offensive, attacking the trolls on his blog and identifying a handful of the offenders.

One of the offenders – a part-time ticket-seller for the Yankees – has been fired, the team’s director of communications confirmed to NJ.com. Another, a student at a community college in New Jersey, was reportedly suspended from school.

As the victim of an large scale, anonymous attack on my professional credibility several years ago, I understand the power that a person has when they hide behind the curtain of anonymity and hurl false accusations and libelous statements at people who are unable to confront their accusers. I also understand how anonymity can embolden a person to say terrible things that they would never dare say in public.

Shilling refers to his not-so-anonymous offenders as “garbage” on his blog. I have often called them cowards, but I like garbage a lot, too.

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Unlike Shilling, I was never able to positively identify the persons responsible in my case, mostly because the cowards (or pieces of garbage) used old fashioned paper and ink, thereby eliminating any digital trail (though the search for their identities remains active). As a staunch  advocate of free speech, I believe in the power of using that freedom to publicly identify people who make threats and spout hatred and vulgarity online.

It’s time to pull back that curtain of electrons and force people to own their words.  

Shilling may be wrong when it comes to evolution, and that stupid bloody sock may have been completely overblown, but when it comes to his response to Internet trolls, Shilling has my full support.  

The sooner we let these cretins know that they cannot hide behind their computer screens, the sooner they will crawl back under their bridges and leave the rest of us alone.