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Dealing with Internet Trolls

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Guest blogger Lisa Frame: Losing a child is quite possibly the hardest thing in the world a parent will ever go through. When they lose that child and are then subjected to bullying, it's even worse. This past week, the child of someone who goes by the Twitter name fierceandfiesty left this world at 7 weeks old. If I had my druthers, I would not discuss the cause of death in this post. I don't know fierceandfiesty and didn't follow her on Twitter. However, as I was sipping my morning coffee, a tweet came across my stream, asking for prayers for this family. So, after a quick prayer, I went back to sipping. Then the tweets really started rolling out -- including one that caused me to become incensed.

dealing with internet trolls
The cause of this child's death is not important. What concerns me, as well as so many others in the social-media community and world at large, is the bullying that this mother is now experiencing via social-media channels. People are telling her that because she chose for her son to have a standard (but optional) hospital procedure while he was under sedation for a different procedure, the extra step killed her son. Instead of being supported, she has been damned. What could have been a chance to offer open arms of support and tell her story in a form of advocacy has been destroyed. 

I talked with someone I consider an expert at dealing with cyberbullies, Cecily Kellogg from Uppercase Woman. Bullied after losing her twins at nearly six months' gestation to severe preeclampsia, and almost losing her own life, Cecily has experienced the online wrath of many. I wondered what she would advise fierceandfiesty about coping with the backlash. "I would tell her it isn't personal, that people are evil and she should ignore it," said Cecily. "Then I'd hug her and let her cry because that never works. It IS personal, it HURTS and you cannot possibly ignore it. It's ... all you think about because it is distracting you from the pain and agony and grief. It's much easier to burn with a hot blue flame of anger than be drenched in grief." 

I also wondered, does an experience like this change you as a blogger? What do you do when the people you share your life with come out against you, when you need their support more than ever before? "It made me both braver and more scared," said Cecily. "I'm alternately defiant, at peace, sobbing in a corner or flagellating myself because I worry if the people saying nasty things are right. I'm dealing with bullying now, on a non-grief front [about money], and it makes me crazy how much I let it get to me." 

I just haven't known quite how to approach the topic of Internet bullying and pondered all weekend about how to do it tactfully. However, it is a topic that needs covering. There are bullies in blogging and social media, just like the ones you heard about -- or were harassed by -- during your school years. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small bullies trying to get their names out there. Others are big bullies using their blogs and social-media connections to make you feel like you are irrelevant and they are larger, and therefore better, than you. Either way, they do everything they can to belittle you and knock down your self-esteem. It's either going to anger or hurt you. Generally, it does both. Words spoken are eventually forgotten most of the time, and if you are more Zen in mindset, they're let go of easily. Funnel those same words into a blog or various social media, and those words are there permanently. 

Internet bullies always go after the ones they perceive weakness in, damning them in a medium that no eraser can remove. We use our blogs and Twitter as platforms for our voices. Sure, it's a little narcissistic; however, we all have something to say and should be allowed to express our freedom of speech without people trying to quash us with their dislike. People no longer want conversation or even debate; they want conflict. In the online world, the ease of typing up a comment and hitting "send" doesn't allow us the opportunity to actually think. There is a consequence for every action, whether immediate or delayed. People might want to say, "Well, you are attacking people by writing about this matter." Actually, I'm not. What this is about is bringing attention to my fellow bloggers about the increase in online bullies.

Believe me, I have stories that go back a long way. I've been doing this since 2002, and it's all the same. People want their 15 minutes of fame and will trample over whomever to get there. They are still just as relevant. However, when that time comes, instead of attacking, maybe they should take a look at their blogs. Have they lost readers? Do they find themselves increasingly bitter? Are their social-media platforms a tool they are using to build relationships and community, or are they an outlet to "x" number of people to find sympathy or seek validity? I don't know. However, there are some things that are important to remember before you bully: 

1) Social-media moms stick together, take up for each other and come to each others' defense. 
2) Your followers are going to feel like you are starring in "Mean Girls." We all know what has happened to Lindsay Lohan ....
3) Conference planners, PR professionals and companies are going to stop calling you. That is not the attitude they want representing their brand. 
4) Karma: The total effect of a person's actions and conduct during the successive phases of the person's existence, regarded as determining the person's destiny. It will also bite you  faster than a hungry doberman. 
5) Eventually, all the negativity is going to affect you personally. Once you get trapped, it's difficult to get out. Not only does it become detrimental to your brand, but to you personally. 6) Bullies are generally perceived as people with lack of impulse control. 

What should you do if you encounter a bully? I would love to say that you take them out at the kneecaps, but using their tactics is just going to make you look like a bigger bully. Here are a few simple steps that many have told me they found helpful:

1) Follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 
2) Kill them with kindness. It's hard; you want to fight back. Don't. 
3) Ignorance is bliss. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you ignore something long enough, it will eventually go away. It's a dating tactic that has worked for years. Remember the guy hitting on you that you wished would go away? 
4) Love yourself. Just because someone else dares to say something, do not take it personally. Hold your head up high and stick to your chosen path. 
5) Don't lose sight of your goal. It's easy to displace your vision, voice and focus when consumed and distracted by negative emotion.
6) Laugh at yourself. This lifestyle is a public one, and with it comes issues that are quite serious. Make a nutty vlog, podcast or write an ode. My most recent one was to my fan. It was silly, but lightened my mood immediately. 
7) Have a confidante, someone who is not going to turn into a bully for you, but who will talk you off of the proverbial ledge and help you regain your sense of humor. I will never name mine, but they are there when I need them and help me stay sane. 

Bullies can learn to change their behavior by watching others treat people fairly and with respect. If they learn to use their power in positive ways, bullies can change. In the end, whether bullies decide to change their ways is up to them. Some bullies turn into great people, while some never learn. 

My final question to Cecily was to ask her, "Has your perception of social media changed?" "It's so heavily positive -- I mean, for every negative comment I get, there are 500 positive ones -- that I cannot imagine thinking it would change it all for me," she said. "There is only one time I thought about taking all my marbles and going home, and it wasn't a troll or griefer attack [griefers are trolls who are obsessed with making one particular person's life miserable], but another blogger I loved and respected. Luckily, a blogger I loved and respected even more talked me off the ledge. In general, I get so much from my online life I wouldn't dream of giving it up." 

Lisa Frame lives on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and 10-year-old son. She is a social-media-consulting, blog-branding, picture-book-writing, cupcake-connoisseuring, lip-gloss-wearing, retro-loving wine enthusiast. An avid reader, photographer and coffee addict, Lisa also has a knack for coming up with fun ideas for moms and kids, cooking memorable meals (some for the wrong reasons), living as green as possible and blogging about whatever comes to mind over at A Daily Pinch and Mommyality.

*This blog post was referred to momlogic by: Baby Clothes Boutique

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66 comments so far | Post a comment now
Debs October 18, 2010, 7:06 AM

It seems to me that this article isn’t so much about bullies as about people that dare to disagree and voice that disagreement. Losing a baby is always tragic. However, talking about the decisions made by the mother and father and the medical professionals involved can help raise other people’s awareness of what happened, what they can prevent in a similar situation, and compare their values. It can also be an opportunity to look at what the medical professionals said and how their words might have hidden the dangers involved. Her blog, much like this one, can be used simply as an impersonal jumping off point for a discussion other people want to get involved with.

“Social-media moms stick together, take up for each other and come to each others’ defense.”

Really, they do? All I see on this website are the dichotomies of:

breastfeeding vs formula
preschool vs staying at home
working vs staying at home
those who support fathers’ right vs those who don’t

These are all debates that get heated at times, particularly the one involving little Grayson and his father. It seems to me that you should pay a bit more attention to what your colleagues are posting and the responses they’re receiving.

“we all have something to say and should be allowed to express our freedom of speech without people trying to quash us with their dislike.”

And there it is, the sentence that really got to me in this post. You actually talk about freedom of speech and how we all have a right to express ourselves in an open platform for all the world to see. Apparently, however, nobody else is supposed to have an opinion or, if they do, they’re not allowed to express it freely. They have to be quiet and simply agree or they shall be labelled as ‘haters’. Discussing what has been posted and weighing the pros and cons of what has been said is not ‘quashing’ it. It is about testing an argument and looking to see what flaws it has, what advantages, and what can be proven by the person holding that particular stance. It’s called debating. I did that in the above paragraph to you by pointing out that no, moms who blog don’t always agree and cited several examples. This is a demonstration of the flaw in your argument. It won’t quash it, you are free to have and speak your opinion, but I, also, am entitled to mine. If you, or anybody who blogs, don’t like to receive responses that disagree with you, then don’t open up a comments section. That, quite frankly, is how your problem could be solved.

Remember, there is a difference between discussion, debate, and bullying. I don’t think this article makes a distinction between them. Good luck next time.

Just Some Guy October 18, 2010, 5:57 PM

A big underlying issue here is tone. The difference between discussion, debate and bullying is all in how the topic is framed and how the people dealing with the topic treat both the topic and each other.

When people treat issues with respect and other people with respect, discourse can be engaging, enlightening and possibly inspiring. But all too often these days, people take refuge in the fact they can hide behind a monitor and keyboard and spew whatever comes to mind. No filter, no forethought. It’s all visceral, all reactive. People then take on shrill language to make a point that could be made in a much more balanced way.

Plus, the shroud of anonymity makes it all too easy for people to become attached to positions on an issue and as a consequence, connect people with their positions on issues. So the debate then takes on a personal angle as people attack each other. From there, it’s only a thin light-grey line to step over into bullying.

This piece could be seen as a plea, a call to action, whatever. It’s partially what the author says, but it’s also how a reader reacts to it.

But like it or not, it is an issue out here.

ss October 18, 2010, 11:06 PM

I don’t think this author is saying people shouldn’t disagree. I think she’s saying there’s a way to present your disagreement that can come across as attacking and bullying and a way that came make it come across as respectfully disagreeing. There’s a big difference there.

Shannon Henrici October 19, 2010, 7:19 AM

I agree with the last two posters. In fact, I am the reason for the post on Mom Logic. I asked Lisa to write about the issue of cyberbullying, because of the increasing numbers of people suffering at the hands of people aggressively attacking others. I agree and even expect that bloggers expect differing opinions. I agree that it is even healthy if handled in a proper manner. Blogs can be cathartic and even provide perspective on an issue.

In no way, should accusations such as “Murderer” ever be thrown at a mother in grief. Personal accusations and insults are not productive and even cause the point to get lost.

I am happy to see that bloggers are able to support those suffering at the hands of these abusive comments. No one can handle being called a murderer without feeling shocked and responsible, even if it is absurd. I think empathy has become rare, and it is very hard to have a debate when neither side is willing to empathize with the situation of the other.

It takes a great bit of courage to openly discuss situations that are controversial and even emotional issues. I applaud those who feel comfortable to express their true, honest feelings. These people are able to support others going through the same situation, in silence. It gives them a helping hand, reaching out. Very little of this is done in one on one communication and our reach is very small.

I hate to see these people silenced by the abuse at the hands of those not willing to help. There are many people who are just waiting to find an issue to attack someone over. Doesn’t take much courage to call someone a murderer.

As an example to my point, a site that provides funny pictures and captions of cats was attacked by a troll. This site is strictly for a little bit of humor in your day. This troll kept posting abusive, personally attacking comments to those having fun. Seriously!??!! Is this considered a debate? I really don’t see a benefit in this type of attack.

Fierce and Fiesty has turned her situation into a positive. Her strength is amazing. She has reached out to other families with the same heart condition her son suffered. She has shown us with grace and dignity how to handle this abuse. She has begged for all of the abuse to stop. She has expressed her feelings openly and non-accusatory. I admire her. She has chosen not to let these people pull her into their world of abuse and taunts.

I don’t think what has been done to Fierce and Fiesty and many others I have talked with, is considered a debate. Slander is more appropriate - and last time I checked there were laws against this type of communication - Defamation of character… I believe these would fall under the bullying category.

Luciano October 19, 2010, 9:54 AM

It’s terrible that anyone would think to turn a tragedy into an avenue to attack a grieving parent…
But because of that, I think Cecily Kellogg was the wrong person to interview for this piece.
You had a chance to make a point about a serious issue here and I think the free speech elements mentioned before could have provided a baseline to show just how far out of line some comments have gotten these days. You didn’t need to fill space with quotes from someone who didn’t have a clear thought to answer the questions you put to them.
-It’s a serious stretch to equate the self-inflicted “money” drama Cecily Kellogg has going on right now to what Fierce and Fiesty has suffered recently. Cecily is, after all, the same woman who dubbed herself “The Internet Poster Girl for Partial Birth Abortion” after she lost her sons…

zerodtkjoe October 19, 2010, 11:50 PM

Thanks for the info

seanlopez October 20, 2010, 5:14 AM

Good article

Kristie Chapman October 20, 2010, 6:39 AM

There IS a difference between discussion, debate and bullying. However, using a mothers’ loss of her child an opportunity to “raise other people’s awareness” - and actually trying to defend that type of despicable behavior by justifying it as discussion/debate/’raising awareness’ - is disgusting. There’s a time and a place for everything. The situation Lisa is writing about was not a time or place to exploit the situation to promote a cause by attacking a grieving mother. There is no acceptable defense for that. Period.

Matt Stilwell October 22, 2010, 10:59 PM

People really need to sack up. So what if someone on the internet makes fun of you or calls you names ? It happens every day. Get over it. Deal with it. Let it go. I’ve been called every name in the book, both online and in real life. But so what ? I couldn’t care less. Sure, there’s things about myself that I would change, but all in all….I like myself. People can say whatever they want. No one cares. If they care,….I’m sick of people whining all the time “they don’t like me. They hurt my feelings. Look, they called me a dirty name” Oh, boo hoo, crybaby. Stop your crying and get over it. Not everyone in the world is going to like you.

Bobbie October 28, 2010, 8:46 AM

Very well said Matt Stilwell !

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