Disarming Trolls: a word to writers, influencers, and other public figures

 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Romans 12:17-18
Me, trying to understand a troll!

This post is best received as an “insider” piece, designed to be read by serious bloggers, journalists, book authors, and other so-called “public figures”, influencers with platforms that reach beyond the typical “circle of friends” who pay attention to most people’s social media accounts.

It’s intended to be a frank discussion about the challenge of communication with people who are often crass, rude, unprincipled, and belligerent.

Over the years, and because I have enjoyed fairly widespread exposure via a variety of platforms (print, digital, and in-person as a teacher and speaker) my voice has reached several hundreds of thousands of people.

Consequently it is not unusual to hear from readers who take issue with my point of view. That’s fine, because I’ll be the first to observe that I am frequently wrong. In my old Tampa Tribune column I was well-known for “disagreeing with myself on a regular basis.”

We all have a learning curve:

I once asked the author of persistent argumentative comments why he didn’t just publish his own blog? “Because so many people read yours,” he replied. “This way I know I get heard.” Fair enough.

I have enjoyed many positive meetings with dissenting voices, sharing coffee and conversation and – together – learning a lot in the process.

But learning by definition requires honestly, and this is mostly the point of this particular post. There is a markedly wide yellow streak running down the backs of far too many antagonists, especially those who lead with name-calling and personal insults.

It’s impossible to have an intelligent exchange of ideas with people who lob grenades then run and hide because they lack both the good manners to be civil and the courage to sign their name.

My Policy:

Consequently my policy is to skip “approve” and summarily delete anonymous comments in this and every space my work appears; 99% of the time I don’t even read them myself.

Some, as I pointed out, are simply cowards. But I’m sure I also get trolled by people because they are angry, disillusioned, bored, distracted, disturbed, mentally ill, or possibly drunk.

So this is my advice if you have a public profile and are wondering how to deal with unproductive and/or offensive comments, especially if you are genuinely open to productive dialog:

  1. State your policy clearly then stick to it.
  2. Respond respectfully to honest questions.
  3. Be open minded and open spirited.
  4. Be open to disagreements.
  5. Be okay with being wrong (Lord knows, we all are).
  6. Always delete anonymous messages.
– writing to encourage and inspire

And, if you’re one of those “other” people thinking about leaving a negative response on anybody’s site:

  1. Identify yourself.
  2. Leave out the insults, slurs, hate, and abusive language.
  3. Be open minded and open spirited.
  4. Be concise.
  5. Be prepared to listen and respond.

This is, after all, “social” media, not anti-social.

Peace. Peace and good conversation – DEREK

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