Been thinking about internet trolls today….suppose this train of thought came up after watching the Oscars the other night. One of the “bits” they did was to make fun of internet haters and trolls….they had actors and actresses read some of the “mean tweets” people had posted about them and they captured their reaction to the words.

It really wasn’t all that funny. In fact, I thought at the time that the attention given to the trolling was the exact opposite of what should be done in response to such negative behavior. They brought the vile voices to millions of people, giving them a platform they would never otherwise have had.  In a real sense, via the attention, they were rewarded for their hurtful comments. This will most likely encourage them to step up their repugnant behavior.

All advice everywhere says “don’t feed the trolls”….ignore them….I even saw this in a recent book on blogging, a real commentary on our times that if you write a blog such as Conscious Bridge, then you need to consider your response to the hurtful comments you will most likely get.  The guidance, of course, “ignore them”.

In this article by a former troll, he points out that there are 2 major motivations for trolling….they are bored and they want attention.  Their boredom leads them to saying negative stuff to get a rise out of you.  When they do, they get the attention they desire and it rewards them for their behavior.

I would add that another motivation to trolling is a desire by some to drive the online conversation around political issues. I have heard, but have no real evidence to support this supposition, that there are coordinated efforts by certain political groups to attack online commentary that is contrary to their viewpoint. They supposedly want to control the online debate on a topic. I do see evidence of this from time to time, but then I remind myself (as we all should occasionally) that my belief that this occurs is going to give power to my actually seeing it in the world.  In other words, my belief can give rise to seeing evidence of my belief.

In any case, awhile back I wrote an article on this whole topic entitled, Turn Away from the Trolls.  It references a Psychology Today article, discusses the lack of consequences for trolling anonymously on the internet, and reminds us that pushing back does no good as after all “what we resists, persists”….

But beyond all of this “responding to trolls” is the flip side…..

I have come to realize that most of us have a bit of “troll in us”.

Haven’t you at some point in time read something online and thought “this person is an idiot and I have to set him straight”?  Maybe you posted a comment or maybe you held back….but either way, you experienced the emotion that rises up when you strongly disagree with someone and that righteous feeling that says “I cannot let this go unanswered!”  Can you relate?

I am getting better in letting go of the need to correct others of their “incorrect” opinions.  Years ago, I used to get into internet “comment battles” with individuals over what in retrospect was mundane minor stuff.  Now, although I will respectfully hold my ground and state and support my opinions when appropriate, I refuse to get into negative name calling.  I certainly avoid even jumping into commenting to people spouting hateful stuff.

The other night, I was poking around jumping into Periscope live feeds and ended up listening briefly to some individual who was using his “free speech protections” to spout racist comments. Periscope allows viewers to make brief written comments (like tweets) to the person broadcasting.  Some folks were doing so….some comments were supportive….some were argumentative.  If I had commented, I would have been pushing back against his small mindedness…..but I chose not to in that moment.  Why?  It would have given him attention and would have really done nothing to change his mind.  I could easily have gotten into being a “righteous troll” fighting his bigotry.  I may have been “right” in my beliefs, but I still would have been a troll. Instead, I chose to not give him any attention and exited his video.

Thing to always remember:  What is the highest vision of this world that I wish to live in?

For me, that vision encompasses many things which are beyond the scope of this article, but they include a basic sense of all humans treating others with dignity and respect.  I may be sitting safely in the security of my own space writing words online….I may even be doing them in a manner that is anonymous to you who may read them…hence, there may be no repercussions to me for attacking you or arguing with you….but I must stop and consider this—are my words in this moment contributing to the greater vision of the world I wish to create? 

Now, sometimes it is easy in our minds to justify our words…..I certainly could have argued with the racist with the thought that “if I stated my belief that one needs to let go of and evolve out of racist thoughts and actions and if everyone did this, wouldn’t this be that greater world I wish?”  In other words, if I could just convince him that he was wrong then I would be contributing to this greater world, right?  Maybe, maybe not.

You see, there is a time and a place and a manner of discourse that promotes reasoned and respectful dialogue on an issue….and in such moments, we should definitely voice our beliefs around the characteristics of this greater world we wish to create.  But there are also times and places when neither the venue nor the participants are coming from such a respectful place…..and all too often internet discourse dissolves into “righteous trolling”.

We need to be aware of those moments when we may be sucked into such online negativity.  We need to get in touch with our motivations for responding online and ask ourselves this —  which is more important in this moment, to state my opinion in opposition to this person so that I can show that I am “right”…..or to walk away from the online arguing and not give energy to my inner troll?

I get it that sometimes it is tough to make that call….but it is all the tougher to walk away (when that is truly the higher and greater response) when we lack the awareness of our own inner desire to prove we are right even at the expense of harming a relationship or contributing to online negativity.

Curbing our inner troll starts with the awareness that it exists.  We must always remember that we are “at choice” in every moment.  I encourage us all to use that awareness to more consistently take the higher road.

Peace and blessings,

Mark Gilbert

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