Dealing with toxic people online

‘Toxic’.  It’s the new buzzword, you hear it everywhere you go, see it on the covers of bestselling books on Amazon and it’s just everywhere online.  I guess it’s natural that it would be a surefire popular theme and meme: is there a single one of us who hasn’t had to deal with a thoroughly ‘toxic’ person at one time or another?  Surely not.  Toxic family members, toxic co-workers, toxic bosses (toxic postmen, toxic tollbooth keepers, toxic turtles?), they all seem to have websites and articles and books dedicated to frothing about about how naughty they are and how you should best deal with them.

But with the advent of the internet, a whole new playground for your common or garden toxic misfit has opened up.  And the wonder of it is, it’s one where accountability has almost ceased to exist.  They don’t have to get up close and personal, eyeball to eyeball, in order to rag, harass and bully someone anymore.  It’s risk-free!

And in our virtual lives, a lot of us have experienced the consequences of that, well, lack of consequences.  There are few online fora that don’t experience irruptions of unpleasant-mannered, abusive, disrespectful louts on a more or less regular basis.  We have learned to call these yobboes ‘trolls’.  But have we learned to deal with them?

The method you choose for keeping your particular trolls in line may vary according to your temperatment and preferences.  I like to summarise them as follows.

Be As Nasty As They Are.
Be forewarned, this is not a method for the faint-hearted, nor one you can abandon half-way through (or not without considerable loss of face).  It’s also one not widely recommended, being regarded perhaps as the tactic of the playground and something we should put away with childish things.  But: do you have a potty mouth?  Are you as stubborn as a bulldog, refusing to back down or let go regarding the issue at hand?  Do you have a hard centre and an unforgiving spirit?  Then this is the method for you!

If you are truly qualified to use it, I find that this method generally works.  But be warned, it’s probably not good for your blood pressure.  Or your karma.

Be Nice.  Be Super-Nice.
Be so nice that they start to get vaguely uncomfortable even as they continue to sneer and emit streams of lava-hot vituperation.  Pile it on until even their thick skulls can admit the idea that they might be being made subject to some kind of mockery they can’t quite grasp.

I’ve seen this one work, but not often.  It doesn’t accord well with my temperament: I prefer method One!

Tell Tales to the Admins
This one works after a fashion.  It may get them banned, and it’ll probably get them censored.  Certainly they’ll be operating under the beady eyes of the board authorities for a while, and will probably tread carefully – for a while – as a result.  An unsatisfactory method which results in a very temporary victory, but none of us get much more than that in life for long.

Disemvowelling
With respects to AbsoluteWrite.com and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, the inventor of this technique.  It is exactly what it sounds like: offensive comments are not deleted from a site: but all vowels within the comments are removed.  If you are intrigued then AbsoluteWrite and Wikipedia can glut your curiosity.  Obviously this is a technique requiring admin privileges.

Make Fun Of Them
A popular playground tactic again, and, as in the playground, if this is carried out by sufficient number of participants and for long enough, it can be effective.  One imagines with pleasure the sullen, impotent fury which the offender carries away when subjected to this technique.

Censor Them
Another technique requiring admin privileges, this technique is certainly something of a blunt instrument.  However, nobody could possibly deny its effectiveness!

Ignore Them

This is the technique I find least satisfactory, indeed pathetic in its folly and ineffectuality.  ‘Ignore them and they’ll soon get tired of it,’ is the kind of hypocritical advice dished out regarding playground bullies, referring to treatment which adults themselves would not stand for a second without resorting to lawyers, the cops or blunt instruments wielded with great vigour.

Pity Them
Well, it might give you some satisfaction.  But it won’t work with bees, it won’t work with rats, and it won’t work with trolls.

Get The Last Word In
Not exactly a tactic, perhaps.  But very very important.  With a troll, make sure they know their place (at the bottom of the pecking order), and always, always, always get the last word in!

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