Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dealing with the Trolls Among Us

Once upon a time, in an era when milestones were measured by the number of households adopting a strange new thing called the "internet," I worked for a trailblazing company managing online communities. I was paid, as one boss put it, to "keep those crazies away from him."

In those early days, everyone had an anonymous username, but everybody in the community knew who they were. Oh sure, the home address might not have been posted, but members of the community were known. The annual in-person get-togethers would put the antics of Comicon to shame.

Guess what? There were trolls back then too.

The ratio of assholes to normal people hasn't changed now that every developed and developing nation is online. What has changed is that one's online presence is no longer an escape; it's an extension of your very real everyday life. Societies are adjusting to no-barrier connections. Where to censure? What to censure? How to censure? There is no such thing as "behind closed doors," and privacy is more of an illusion than it ever has been. Individuals are still learning to cope with shrinking boundaries. The constant connectivity offered by smartphones and wireless networks expands our prisons of availability.

As individuals, we are being forced to redefine our Safe Place.

It is hard. The Web makes it worse. For all of its the vastness, it is not temporary. We cannot cross the street to avoid the acerbic wit who feels entitled to demean anyone in his or her path. We cannot decline the invitation to drinks with the whiner, the bitcher, or the brute. The Web surfaces all the dreck, and delivers it in a neat bow. It's there waiting for us in our email boxes, blog comments, Facebook feeds, or Twitter timelines. 

Then there are our expanded personal networks of tattletales and search results. Even when we make a concerted effort to distance ourselves from the negativity, it finds its way to us. That snarky comment in a forum you know nothing about? It's now a screen capture sitting in your mailbox.  That book reviewer who posted she'd rather slit her wrists than read another page of your work? Cross-linked and feed-fed into multiple mainstream outlets. Now it shows up whenever you promote your book.

Assholes happen. Online and offline. 

As artists, we writers proactively place ourselves in the public awareness. "Public" includes the nutterbutters, the narcissists, the sociopaths, and that mean girl from the yoga studio.

What can you do when they lash out at you? Ignore them. Acknowledging them in any way feeds their need for attention and drains your positive energy. Yes, I know, we all want to be liked. Yes, I know part of you wants to punch them in the face, while the other part wants to hide under the covers. Yes, I know the negativity hurts. Yes, I know that if you never developed the coping skills when you were younger it is going to be hell to do it now.

But you must, must learn that how you perceive yourself is the only thing that truly matters.
And you must learn to see yourself in a positive light.

As James said yesterday, we're professionals. We focus on the work. We focus on what we can control.

We cannot control the trolls.  We can only control how we react to them.

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