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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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.