Being a person who’s very active on social media and in the media, I deal with a lot of people.
Over my last decade of activism, I’ve received hundreds of thousands of comments or possibly even millions.
I’ve read many of them and I’ve responded to a lot of them, too.
Some of the commenters praise me and some of them deplore me.
Some of them know me real well and have been following me for a decade and some of them know nothing about me at all.
Now some of these commenters really give it to me. They really have something to say about me.
Some would call these people Internet Trolls.
What is an Internet troll?
Here is one definition: “Internet trolls are people who want to provoke and upset others online for their own amusement.”
I’ve often heard the phrase, “Don’t feed the trolls.”
There’s no doubt that I deal with a fair number of people that would be called Trolls by many of the people who follow me.
In the past, I would have called them Trolls as well.
But today, I no longer see a single “Troll” in my comments. There simply are no trolls anymore. Not because the comments have changed necessarily. But rather, I have changed how I view the comments and how I view the people leaving the comments.
I no longer see trolls. Instead I see human beings who have needs. Every single one of these people who is commenting in a negative manner is actually trying to meet one of their basic human needs through their comments.
So instead of assuming that someone is a Troll, I simply ask “what is this person needing and feeling right now?”
Perhaps they are wanting attention. Perhaps they are desiring a sense of belonging. Perhaps they are feeling lonely and looking for connection. Perhaps they consider themselves somewhat of a comedian and they are trying to create laughter and even possibly joy and happiness through this laughter. I can relate to all of these needs. We all share the same basic human needs.
I am completely certain that behind every single comment that would be considered a Troll comment, there are basic human needs trying to be met.
Sometimes these needs are very light, but sometimes they’re quite dark and heavy. I know that a huge portion of my fellow humans are suffering from depression, lack of self-esteem, lack of self-love, lack of self-connection. I see that there is perhaps darkness there in this person on the other side of the keyboard. And instead of thinking of them as Trolls, I take the opportunity to practice compassion and understanding.
Often, pretty mild comments are assumed to be quite serious. It’s not uncommon that someone will ask me a question or say something critical and I will see the people who support me jump on them as if they have done something seriously wrong. But often I see it may just be that someone is looking to understand. Generally, they have some interest in what I have to say and that is why they are commenting. Though they might not know how to express this kindly, gently or with clarity. That’s not really how we’ve been taught as a society. We’ve been taught to believe that in order for us to be right, somebody else must be wrong. So I give grace to people’s communication methods and styles and I don’t jump quickly to assume ill intent. I was born into this dominator society, too.
I also remember that their negativity is most likely a reflection of what is going on inside of them. Perhaps they just had a fight with a loved one. Perhaps they are frustrated at work. Perhaps they are afraid of the state of humanity. Their negativity likely doesn’t have much to do with me at all.
Today, I generally treat all comments that would be considered a Troll comment as an opportunity to clarify my beliefs. I am grateful for these comments because they create an opportunity to explain myself further. I treat these comments as an opportunity to practice my compassion. I also use these opportunities to deepen my integrity. I treat these comments as an opportunity to try to meet someone’s need to be understood, to be seen, to be accepted, and to feel a sense of connection.
Now, I don’t always manage to do this. Some days I am tired or anxious. I generally struggle to be as compassionate as I would like when I am in this state. In these scenarios, it is generally in my highest interest to not respond at all. If I am struggling with stress or anxiety it is in my best interest to not even read the comments at all and instead rejuvenate myself by being offline and connected to Earth and community.
There is another reason why I often don’t respond to these comments. I learned of something called the “negativity bias” through my classes in Compassionate Communication. The idea is that we have evolved to remember the negative in order to survive, such as what might injure us or kill us. Today, most of us live in a situation where we don’t need to focus on this, but deep down we are still programmed to do so. Because of this, much of humanity focuses on the negative rather than the positive. There may be 100 comments and only five are negative, yet those five will get the most of our energy or attention. Through practice, I have overwritten the negativity bias and instead choose to focus on and celebrate the positive rather than dwell on the negative. So this often means I just ignore the negative comments (especially when I don’t think they have real interest in learning) and I focus on the constructive comments. I do this in many areas of my life.
I’m not doing all of this just to be “nice” or even to be viewed as a “nice” guy.
This is for my own well being, too, as I have found my anxiety and stress to drastically reduce when I view the comment thread in this manner.
I want to be happy and healthy and the internet is a place that can really threaten this. But with diligence and dedication, I have learned to reprogram my internet interactions and turn every comment into an opportunity for personal development and growth while at the same time possibly brightening someone’s day.
In summary, in my belief system there is no such thing as a Troll. There are only human beings who want to be loved and to belong, just like me and everyone else.