Dinner table conversation: internet, social media, and trolls

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.

61 thoughts on “Dinner table conversation: internet, social media, and trolls

  1. The realization is this, social media is here to stay, and unfortunately, so are the highly opinionated. One can choose to engage (if merely for the entertainment of it all) or simply discard the troll, either way however our whatever you choose to get wrapped up in is just that, a choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is a weird thing. I have been blogging about sex and sexual exploits for almost ten years. On line I am openly non-monogamous and I am happy to discuss my lifestyle with anyone who genuinely wants to ask a question or discuss something. I have never been trolled on my WordPress or other sites or my social media. The only time I have had some backlash is when I ventured to offer an opinion in a conversation which I knew I should probably stay out of. So I don’t count that as trolling. I count that as a lesson in letting some people live in their delusional bubble.
    I hope my time in the sun is not about to come to an end.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The blogging world is a great world full of amazing people, but every now and then there is a bad apple.
    I had someone that would comment my posts calling me a man-hater and such. At one point he would write posts based on my posts. I always deleted his comments and never engaged him. I am happy to say that I haven’t seen anything from him a long time.
    I feel sorry for people that are that unhappy and dysfunctional that they need to pester other people.
    Blessings to you! ♥♥

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I had a troll a few months past, it was disheartening, as I put a lot of effort in my content. I deleted the comment but it still bothered me. I’m confused as to why they bother, if they don’t like your blog, just stop reading. What compels someone to be cruel? C

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t have a troll, but I had someone who like to correct my grammar in an obnoxious way. I welcomed the editing (because I want to correct my mistakes) but he put on a tone of superiority that really annoyed me.
    I put up with him because he was pointing out legitimate mistakes of mine and I am striving to be better. However, I drew the line when he started correcting people who responded to my blogs. They didn’t ask, want, or need his editorial prowess. Some even commented to me that he was rather poisonous.
    I wrote to him and told him all of this and asked him to stop following the blog. I had to do it a couple of times, but he finally got the hint.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting. I don’t mind when someone offers to help with typos, grammar etc occasionally, but quite frankly, Anthony, this is a personal blog. Yours too. We’re not publishing a thesis or some article for an academic or medical journal…Asking first if they could make such a suggestion would be the proper way to handle it. And certainly not randomly picking on people who visit and comment on your blog. You did the right thing IMO.

      One blogger I know uses words in the wrong context, and is difficult to understand grammatically in terms of what the post is about. Not once did I offer to “help” edit a passage – it’s not my place. Right? And if I would, I’d do it privately.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I tried to track down what I wrote, but so far I have been unable to. I found the last post from the (ahem) person. In it he corrected everyone and their inability to spot errors.
        It was my June 3 2019 post “Typing Through the Typos.”
        Maybe I sent him a personal letter rather than “spank” him on the blog–though knowing my personality, I feel like I would have done it in public and made a big noise.
        I will check my email.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I have a good troll story. Once upon a time I ran a website for writers that became moderately successful. It came to an end mostly because trolls made it no fun any more. We had multiple instances of people logging in as different identities, and starting arguments with themselves to draw others in. We called them out (because I could see their IP addresses!) – they confessed, and said it had all been a deliberate experiment. Something about exploring human nature.

    My experience is that many people can become trolls if given the opportunity. Some people will invest hours in writing lengthy arguments to prove why they are right/better informed/more intelligent/worth listening to/superior (delete as appropriate). I’ve seen it happen again and again. How they find the time to vent their fury in such a verbose manner amazes me. Also, I wonder how bitter, angry, and nasty some people must be – to have such bile stored up, or available at a moment’s notice…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Just to prove the point – when our girls were little, Miss 7 (at the time) asked her five year old sister to stop doing something – which triggered an automatic and immediate response – “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO – YOU’RE NOT MUM, AND YOU’VE GOT NO TEETH”… So you see, we all have it in us 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I have to say this is so true! I had witnessed a group of trolls on Instagram who didn’t want to play fair with me for absolutely no reason. It got to me and brought me down. Later Instagram disabled my page for no reasoning, and many signs pointed to the troll group, and I am almost certain one of two of them reported my food page which I worked hard on since 2012. I am an author and a chef and I have witnessed trolls in their 30-50’s. It is really unfortunate the world we live in esp during a pandemic where we all need to come together as one.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve managed to avoid trolls so far, or if I have encountered any then I don’t remember them.

    As for the kids, we do much the same as you in encouraging them to talk about what they see online. At the moment, this means that I have to listen to endless descriptions of Minecraft and Among Us videos but, hopefully, if there is a problem they will talk about that as well.

    I think the main thing is to be aware of what they are watching and doing online so that I can step in before anything becomes a real problem.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hopefully, if the kids are comfortable talking about online activities now, they will continue to be comfortable to talk if there is a problem. It also helps that all of their laptops and tablets live in the man room 😉

        I’m not sure that being in IT helps much. They are already putting me to shame :/

        Liked by 2 people

  8. In my country the word troll applies to people hired by some political party to support one’s own and to denote the contrary, whether it is the ruling party or another. These actions are performed on social networks. Sometimes, years ago, photographs of rooms were found with people in charge of this task. Of course this “service” is paid for.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Twitter is a cesspool of trolls, especially with the online gaming community and reddit is made for them. It’s one thing to disagree with someone, it’s another to try and start something with the intent to have a reaction. I give you so much credit for being open to discussing something uncomfortable with your teens. Most people shy away from such things. Never let someone get under your skin. Blocking and unfollowing is such a good strategy. Thank you for sharing this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I followed someone on twitter who gets trolled a lot. She’s really entertaining and self-confident and has a nifty method of calling out the trolls. I actually learned a lot from her.

      Twitter has its moments but you’re right, it can get a bit much. I unfollow more people there than I do on any other app. 🙃

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ugh I’ve experienced trolls on Facebook and in News Comment Sections. Very few if any ever on WordPress. Also had an old college roommate stalk my previous blog and YouTube Channel before I made it private. No matter what I wrote, drew or showcased he would call me out as a back but then end his rants with a God Bless

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My partner says the news comment section is bad. (I read it less often than he does.) It detracts from the dialogue, the exchange of ideas. He says it does the author of the original article a disservice because readers who might wish to say something see the trolling and exit, not wanting to be buried underneath all the crap.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Trolls are just attention-starved egotists in my experience. Not engaging with them is the correct answer, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.

    I’ve seen a couple here and there, now that you mention it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ahhhh … my troll was someone my husband knew. It got pretty feisty at one point until I realised that she’s actually a very sick individual. I don’t think I ever really realised how truly unkind some people can be, or the extent to which their anger can make them do the most truly awful things. I now feel sorry for her and just wish my husband and I had never, ever met her.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m actually going to write something (next week I think) about my recent experience and how I didn’t handle it particularly well. Trolls need to get an actual life. I hate that they’re called trolls because it does a disservice to trolls.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I rarely have trolls because I rarely post anything troll worthy. I refuse to virtually argue politics or religion so if someone stirs the pot, I usually just ignore it. That type thrive on reaction and attention, if you don’t give it to them they tend to move on.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Food for thought! I don’t engage much online and in fact deactivated (at least temporarily) my Facebook account. It wasn’t so much about trolls but the amount of time I spent there doing nothing constructive. After the account got closed because of a password issue, I just let it go. But I do love to engage with interesting blogs like yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Facebook is annoying. 🙃

      I’m pretty good at ignoring stuff on most of the apps I’m in, but on one or two of them I do keep a close eye to ensure a safe place for all readers to enjoy their visit. I’ve had a weird spammer a few months ago who used several accounts to bombard my blog. But I got rid of him.


  16. I have little experience with online trolls, but have noticed that they serve to shut down legitimate discussion. At the same time, I have noticed an increase in right wing and corporate propaganda. In an effort to undo the echo-chamber effect, and hopefully to bring some balance, I have occasionally become a troll of sorts. On issues that I feel are important, I get in there and mix it up–always with facts and rationale discourse. For example, I am an opponent of Line 5, an aging and deteriorating underwater pipeline that runs through the Mackinaw Straits. The Canadian company that owns it has a propaganda blitz going (under a number of supposed corporate non-profits). Every time I see one of their posts, I join in with pithy facts. Am I a troll? I am similarly involved on issues of corporate agricultural practices, on irresponsible timber practices and on anything that negatively impacts bees. My attacks are not personal, but they are pointed. I consider myself more quixotic (in the classic sense) than troll like. After all, we are up against well organized, well funded corporate greed, and we have few tools in our arsenal. This kind of David/Goliath dynamic could also figure into your discussions with teens.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I don’t engage. I’m very quick to delete/block/blacklist instead. I’ve seen people fall into the trap of thinking that a troll can be reasoned with, but it seems like that ends up giving the troll more attention than they deserve.

    Liked by 3 people

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