I was reminded of this important lesson by this great post on Copyblogger: The Dark Side of Authority. I first got online 20 years ago, USENET was the main form of “social media” out there. One of my favorite groups was comp.sys.mac.comm and I was also heavily into a couple rec. groups as well. Some of the activity was social and I also provided tech support for my company’s product through comp.sys.mac.comm.
For the most part, life on USENET was a lot of fun. Discussions were lively and I made friends from around the world and spent the next 20 years actually connecting with many of those people face-to-face. I’m not sure I’d so that with some random Facebook acquaintance but back then the circles were smaller. If you went to the industry tradeshows like InterOp, you’d run into most of your fellow posters eventually anyway.
Sadly USENET had its dark places too. There were several groups where people hung out to congratulate each other on some common hatred. Seriously, the fact that these people hated the same thing was their only common link in some of these groups. I stayed away from those groups after the initial curiosity wore off, but once in a while one of those trolls would come lumbering out and try to spill hatred on everyone else.
Trolls love to practice rhetoric and are amazingly adept at ignoring direct questions. They’re rarely that persuasive but they are persistent and abusive. Back in the old days, most trolls actually used real accounts online—in other words, they were trolls but weren’t so anonymously—but today it’s easy to find trolls lurking around forums and social media sites using obviously fake handles.
Bold and yet cowardly at the same time. Wow.
Trolls come in many varieties but I think their basic psychology is the same. These are people who don’t feel heard so they act out in an attempt to build up their own weak self-esteem. Of course, by not feeding the trolls, they feel even less heard and go back to their online hate-caves, complain with the other trolls and then come back out even more abusive.
I have friends who used to run popular channels on YouTube who dropped out entirely because some of the amazingly hateful comments left on their videos. Another YouTube celebrity I know simply ignores every hateful comment that comes through. He doesn’t even delete them. It’s a pretty impressive show of integrity and strength.
We need more people like him online.