When I was a kid, trolls were these scary creatures who lived under bridges waiting to jump out and scare us when we came strolling by. They were the stuff of fiction.

Nowadays, trolls are these scary people who lurk in the byways of the internet waiting to jump out with mean and hateful comments when we post something they don’t like. Unfortunately, they are all too real.

Being a speaker, writer and teacher in the public eye, I have been the victim all too often of these individuals. I can still remember my innocence in trying to engage some of these mean spirited people in a respectful dialogue either around one of my blog articles or something I had posted in Twitter. I just knew that if I acted kind that they would eventually reciprocate. Sometimes it worked, more often not.

Eventually I learned that the best course of action was to simply ignore them. If there is any question as to their sincerity towards an honest and respectful dialogue, I will generally give them the benefit of the doubt and answer their inquiry. However, I will not give rude and intolerant comments any response.

The “tragedy of the trolls” was highlighted for me recently as I began exploring and using the video streaming app Periscope. There is a lot of potential in this tool for our tapping into and viewing live events around the world from a first-hand perspective. I have dropped in on news as it was happening, online classes, musical concerts and a lot more. Recently, I even had a front row seat at a speech by one of our Presidential candidates.

Great access….and the program allows you to add your thoughts via short “Twitter-like” notes for the broadcaster and others who may be viewing. It’s a nice touch that allows interaction – and you can turn off the comments if you don’t want to be distracted by them. Eventually that is what I had to do during this speech as the trolls were out in full force, attacking the policies and character of the speaker with unusually harsh venom.

Now to be clear, I’m all for free speech and I would much rather have the problem of trolls than not have the right to say what I believe. But I do have to wonder what goes on in the minds of individuals who hide safely in the anonymity of the internet and attack others with vile comments that I believe (and hope) that they would never use in person. Why such angry and hateful commentary?

This commentary from Psychology Today offers 8 reasons as to why we have this sad phenomenon. It is an interesting read. Note that the last one is “perceived lack of consequences”. I would stress the word “perceived” there.

The truth is this: Yes, the “troll” may feel that they are free of consequences personally as there is no way anyone can actually experience any direct repercussions from their online rudeness. However, what they tend to forget is that everything is ultimately connected to everything else. Their online insensitivity towards others is contributing to a world where we perceive greater and greater degrees of a lack of care and concern for one another. What is that doing to us in the big picture? It is certainly not creating the world most of us would want.

Which brings us back to what to do? What we resists, persists. What we give energy and attention towards is what we grow in our lives and our world. Pushing against the trolls by responding to their negativity will only serve to reward them for their actions. Let them wither and fade away by not watering them with our time and energy. And when they jump out unexpectedly, turn away from the trolls. There are better things to give your time and energy towards.

Mark Gilbert

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