You don’t have to be a hardcore hater to indulge in trollish behaviour online. Any disagreement that escalates into angry, mean-spirited or insulting words qualifies you for troll-lite status. Our collective tendency to lose it online is most evident when we’re presented with troubling news—see the comments section of any story about Jian Ghomeshi currently. But there are steps you can take to tame your inner troll.
Step 1: Recognize when your Internet discourse verges of troll territory.
Call someone out on an error or disagree strongly—even vent your irritation with a particular idea or stance—but don’t waste even one keystroke on personal attacks. Insulting others online is the first sign you’re a troll. “Our definition of a troll is all about rude, hateful, mean and unproductive comments,” says Karen Cahn, CEO and founder of the troll-free social networking site VProudtv. The site, which launched recently, vets trolls using a blend of hyper-sensitive technology and editors.
Step 2: Know when to step away from the computer screen.
No one would blame you for taking a nasty commenter down a peg or two—in-fighting is a common behaviour on message boards, but it’s unproductive. The likelihood of your ire inducing an a-ha moment in this person is slim to none. Cahn says dealing with Internet-induced anger is no different than dealing with the same trigger in real-life. The wisest among us take a deep breath and walk away. “Everything looks different after you pause for a break,” she says. That’s not to say your input isn’t valuable or that it’s not important to call out misogyny, racism, bullying or any other social ill when you see it. Rather, the point is to do so without falling prey to the same cruel, ill-considered tactics of the people you dislike. You can’t rage against injustice or abuse effectively if you’re being abusive yourself.
Step 3: Be true to your offline persona
You wouldn’t march up to your boss and call her a halfwit or tell your BFF that she looks fat in her wedding dress, so why would you do it online? Don’t live out some secret fantasy of yourself as hyper-aggressive virtual truth-teller. “I think our screens have allowed us to hide and give us courage to say things that we would never say in our ‘real lives,’” says Cahn. “Our real lives are now being lived online. There’s no line between your online life and your regular life, it’s all together.”
The sooner you recognize the reality of that connection, the better chance you stand of actually connecting online.