Recently, the family dinner table conversation turned to internet trolling.
That’s an interesting subject to have with teens, especially now with covid and everyone being online pretty much constantly, isn’t it? The kids consume so much social media, it’s dizzying. Youtube and Instagram are the favorites with mine, but there are others…(twitch, snapchat…)
We talked a bit about what trolls are, why they act the way they do, where they do their trolling, and what to do about it if it happens to them.
Side note: my teens are grade 10 and grade 8 (which makes them 15 and 13).
After talking with them, I decided to craft a blog post around this subject. I told them I would do that, but I haven’t had time until now. They’re invited to read and participate if they so desire. They all have access to my blog.
But back to the trolls.
Lets start with a definition:
A troll is a person who intentionally upsets people on the internet by posting inflammatory, off-topic, digressive or insulting messages in an online community. The troll’s intention is to provoke the reader (and/or author) into displaying emotional responses. (I think judgemental and opinionated should be included as well.)
Trolling, therefore, is the act of someone going online and causing discord.
Source: paraphrased from Wikipedia
Most of the trolling I’ve seen personally happens on twitter. It exists elsewhere, of course; facebook has a reputation for trolls having a hay day on pretty much any topic, as are other places like forums, group chats, blogs or newsgroup comment sections. Those places could, if you let them, be borderline damaging to some people. Think emotional distress, insecurities, feeling cornered or defensive to explain yourself, that sort of thing.
The general consensus is that the less engagement that happens with a troll, the better. Some people however want to shout out and defend themselves with vigor; that, to me, just engages a cyberwar, and no one is interested in reading about that. (Or shouldn’t be.)
Less is more.
I’m not sure how exposed my teenagers have been to online trolling so far. Their dad and I engage them in telling us what they feel comfortable sharing with us, which typically isn’t much (which is normal for teens…) But the fact that we talk about it at the dinner table means no topic is exempt from discussion. They have a safe place to come if they do want to share something.
Being GenX, we didn’t grow up with social media. My partner isn’t interested in any of it and doesn’t publish any himself, but I’m very entrenched in it. I learned and got active in social media for this exact reason – to be able to help my kids understand the things that go on and providing them with a trusted, adult perspective. For me to have a general oversight of their social media consumption (and seeing the tell-tale signs of trouble simply by being in it myself and knowing first-hand what happens) gives me the upper hand, so to speak, should something happen. (So far, it hasn’t, at least not to them.)
When he does read some of the twitter threads, blogs, or newsgroup forums with all the comments, my partner often finds it relatively stimulating, to a point. Me, too – but I have much more exposure to it than he does with my own writing, and I do get weary of the endlessness that is social media sometimes.
But we both agree: once you see the trolls, they put a damper on the otherwise intellectually stimulating exchange of perspectives, opinions and experiences.
Facebook in particular, but also twitter, blogs and other forums, have many trolls that spew their judgemental conclusions in a derogatory, insulting and especially self-righteous way. It’s downright off-putting. There’s only so much people can take…
What does one do in situations like this? And more importantly, what does one tell the teens to do?
Ignoring is usually a good first step. If that doesn’t work, monitoring comments/deleting comments is another way. Sometimes, blocking someone is necessary. I follow two cougars (women over 40 who are blogging about their online dating experiences) who made their blogs private in part because of the trolls…it’s an option that many platforms offer for this reason.
As far as the kids are concerned, I will keep an active eye on their internet consumption. Hopefully, if something does happen with/to them, they will still feel safe and encouraged enough to approach us parents. We can help them navigate trolls and trolling before it gets out of hand.
Tell me, do you have experience with trolls on your platform, whichever one you might be using? What did you do? How did it end?
See you in the comments.