You know the type. Someone posts an interesting, useful, feel-good item on Facebook and they instantly douse it with cold water. Hijack it with their own irrelevant agenda. Make ill-tempered, ill-informed criticisms which upset other people. And when challenged, they gaslight, deny, twist and distort, get hysterical, and start hurling playground abuse.
‘I’m entitled to my opinion,’ this type of troll will at some point proclaim, and continue to express it, willy-nilly. Well, I’ve got news for you: your precious opinion means zip. Nada. Nothing. Same as mine. They’re just our personal knee-jerks, often in response to issues which don’t affect us, or we know little about. And just because everyone’s entitled to their opinions, it doesn’t follow that anyone else cares a hoot what they are, or that we’re entitled to inflict them on others whenever/wherever, irrespective of context – that’s for infants yet to learn self-control, manners, and tact. I know if I shared all my weird, extreme, judgey opinions, I wouldn’t have a single friend left apart from Hubcap. I mean, say someone comes round all excited to show off her sexy new leggings. You’re entitled to the opinion that only the very young and very thin should ever wear pale peach; but it would be unkind to tell her, ‘They cling to every bulge of your cellulite and make you look like you forgot to put your pants on.’ No, you quietly let her come to her own epiphany when she glimpses her rear view in a mirror. Or not, if dimply nude is a look she likes. Either way, her choices are none of your business, so keep it to yourself. I speak from painful experience. Certain members of my family were masters of the ‘hurt blurt’ – e.g. ‘By ‘eck, lass, you’ve put weight on.’ (Thanks for noticing, Grandma, you lantern-jawed hag). Or ‘I must say, I don’t like your hair.’ (Why must you, aunt? Oh yes, silly me – you’re ‘entitled to your opinion’).
So the cardinal rule if you don’t want to be trollish yourself is, ‘If you can’t be nice, be quiet.’ It used to infuriate me when the narcissists, obsessives, and passive-aggressive control-freaks kicked off, ripping apart harmless posts, and sowing discord and distress with their ‘opinions’. I accordingly unfriended certain individuals, unfollowed groups which allow or encourage trolling, and initiated a zero-tolerance approach to it wherever possible, because life’s too short to waste on this peculiar brand of attention-seeking.
Alas, sometimes I still get ambushed, as in a recent nasty episode with the nature action group Hubcap and I founded last year. It’s a given that the group (politically unaffiliated/cross-party/united by green principles) must support our local authority, whatever its political complexion, as a major landowner without whose permission we can do very little practical work and stand no chance of achieving our ambitions for an integrated Community Nature Reserve. Currently, Wakefield Council retains the Labour majority it’s had for years – and here, Red means Green in a big way, with a highly pro-active environmental agenda promoted by the Deputy Leader (one of our members) and supported by a local Labour Group willing to get down and dirty with us (unlike other political parties we invited). Therefore currently, it’s a given that our group supports Labour because that’s who we have to work with: an authority which serves our green agenda well and has supported us generously from the outset. And whatever policies we, or other group members, might disagree with in areas outside our remit, like housing or road-mending, we’re always going to extol good environmental initiatives from any source.
For 99.9% of our members, irrespective of their voting preference, this goes without saying. The other 0.1% couldn’t put party politics aside for the general good, or respect our position/the positive relationship we absolutely need to maintain with the Council. One, our Conservative ward councillor no less, trolled the jolly posts I shared about community tree plantings and wildlife ponds on Council land to try and score petty points in advance of the local elections. Another, a supporter/admin of the group in which he was stirring up opposition, (naturally, he didn’t dare attack projects developed/carried out by his fellow members on our group’s private page), obliged me to censor my defence and rebuttal of the inevitable, ill-informed oars that were duly stuck in; then stopped talking to me and implanted another ‘hostile’ who immediately started sniping, arguing about politics, and trying to dictate what I could and couldn’t say. As administrator. On a page I’d created. Yeah, right. Under the circumstances, none of this was remotely funny. The implications of being publicly attacked by group members/our elected member were far too serious – I felt sick if I saw a notification that said councillor had commented on one of my posts because I knew it meant trouble – and we cut their shenanigans short by booting out and blocking all three.
However, normally I take a different tack with trolls, (when I can be bothered to engage at all). Having, by and large, negotiated the rocky, storm-tossed seas of menopause to arrive on the tranquil beach of late middle-age, I’ve learnt to recognise these types less as people than as collections of personality disorders, all alike, and tediously predictable regardless of age or gender. (They’re relatives of certain Old Gits From Hell who’d been plaguing us for years, until recently laid to rest by some of the most exquisitely enjoyable, lethal letters I’ve ever composed – but that’s another story). Anyway, now I can float serenely detached and observe their interactions, I’ve also learnt how to have big fun thwarting and teasing trolls without stooping to their level/saying things I’ll later regret/violating Facebook rules – and have just enjoyed a highly entertaining (if painful on others’ behalf) few days watching a troll make an utter tit of herself on a Ricardian page I follow.
First she did the classic ‘cold water down the neck’ thing on someone’s inoffensive, informative post about new ‘grotesques’ made for Leicester Cathedral, where Richard III was reburied back in 2015 – revealing herself as one of the lobby of overgrown babies still whining because they didn’t get their way, waging futile campaigns for the poor soul to be dug up again/reburied in York because they’re sure it’s what he wanted, and chronically incapable of hearing or saying anything positive about anything connected with Leicester.
People (including an admin) began telling her to pipe down, because everyone’s sick to death of a subject on which there’s nothing left to say that hasn’t been said a million times – usually, by this brigade, in terms laden with abuse and false accusation. But that was her opinion, and wasn’t she allowed to air it? Well, no, thought I; so, deciding to indulge myself for once, I waded in to start Troll-Tickling – and if you fancy attempting this sport, follow these few handy hints:
- Forewarned is Forearmed.
Pathological narcissism and non-assertive behaviours (aggression, manipulation, guilt-tripping etc) are so common you can find endless articles online about how to deal with them. The psychological angle is fascinating to study and gives you a real edge, because such folk are so far up their own backsides they have no sense of self-awareness, only of entitlement; you can learn to understand them, but they’ll never understand you because they can’t even understand themselves, and have no idea how to respond to polite self-assertion; plus they’re so predictable you can play them like fish without them ever realising it’s a game, much less knowing the rules. It’s tragic, really; I’d hate to live in that miserable head-space. So if I do choose to spar, it’s always with the hope that a grain of truth will hit home and maybe, just maybe, they’ll pause to reflect, and gain a tad more regard for the world outside themselves.
In that spirit, I mildly put it to the troll that given the page’s name and purpose, it wasn’t an appropriate place to air anti-Leicester views likely to upset other members. She snapped back, ‘So it’s your way or the highway,’ and that I sounded like a one-sided person she was going to ban from her Facebook. She didn’t, of course. She wanted to carry on arguing. Fine by me. Normally, I’d pre-emptively block someone like this to stop them noseying on my public page, but this time I was curious to see which happened first: her being kicked out by an exasperated admin or flouncing out of her own accord – after telling us how horrible we all were and that it was All Our Fault, of course. Mature adults don’t feel the need to do this; they simply withdraw from situations they find unacceptable, with dignity intact, and without drawing the attention trolls crave – even the negative, ‘don’t let the door hit your arse on your way out’ type of attention their trumpeted proclamations inevitably attract. (Or maybe they just smugly imagine the group duly chastised, red-faced and tearful at their departure). Which brings me to:
- Keep your Temper.
Nothing is more annoying to a troll. Dreadful drama-llamas, they need you to lose it to feed their sense of outrage, so they’ll keep prodding, poking and provoking, dissecting your every sentence, accusing you of the faults/rudeness they exhibit, trying to put you in the wrong, make you lose your cool. They want to trade insults, lead you down rabbit-holes of self-justification, because it’s what they know best; they never learned how to argue constructively, compromise, agree to differ. Don’t take the bait. Resist if you will, calmly and reasonably. Be relentlessly nice, agree, be grateful, (think Wendy Byrde, if you ever watch Ozark on Netflix). You don’t have to work to score points, just pay out the rope then sit back and enjoy as they tie themselves in knots and hang themselves. But remember that ultimately, reasoning with trolls is pointless – they never listen, and they’ll never change without the therapy they’ll never seek because it’s never their fault and there’s nothing wrong with them. Which is kind of darkly funny if you think about it, so…
- Keep Your Sense of Humour
Trolls don’t have one; they take themselves terribly seriously and expect everyone else to do the same. Which means anyone with any sense of irony, or ability to laugh at themselves, has a massive advantage. For instance, I’m completely un-insultable because a. there’s nothing anyone can call me that I haven’t called myself (and worse); b. I have a realistic sense of self-worth combined with a keen sense of my own ridiculousness/minute significance in the grand scheme of things; c. I’ll own it if someone calls me smug, superior, judgemental or arrogant (although to paraphrase my favourite, magnificently snooty surgeon in Casualty decades ago, ‘It’s not arrogance when you’re right’); and d. while I care very much for the good opinion of my family, friends, customers, and audiences, I’m secure enough not to give a flying eff what rude, obnoxious strangers think of me.
Now, a cardinal rule of sounding off in public is, ‘know what you’re talking about.’ But this troll opined that, failing York, Richard III should have been reburied in ‘Middleham or Fothringham.’ Getting the name of Richard’s birthplace/burial place of his father (Fotheringhay) wrong isn’t the kind of slip any informed Ricardian would make; it’s engraved in our psyche, like the date of the battle of Bosworth. So I pounced. ‘Where’s Fothringham?’ I know it was naughty, but I couldn’t help myself. Some wag’s reply, ‘Isn’t he one of Lord Snooty’s friends?’ made me spit my tea. She called me smart-arse. I was pleased to agree, being guilty as charged, (more letters after my name than in it). I also greatly enjoyed an exchange between the troll and a fellow un-insultable she tried to call immature; other responses, while less jocular, were deliciously pithy, altogether a pleasure to read. I almost felt sorry when, shortly afterwards, Flounce Out was pipped at the post by Exasperated Admin and the drama ended – if not my preoccupation with it, and desire to share the delights of troll-tickling with you.
The beauty of this sport is that it enables you to sit comfortably on the high ground, win wars effortlessly, and make trolls look totally foolish – simply by behaving like a civilised grown-up! The concepts will already be familiar if you’re naturally assertive/emotionally intelligent, (or like me, had to go on courses and read lots of self-help books), or if you’ve been trained to deal with angry, difficult people at work. You can even view troll-tickling metaphysically as a battle between angels and demons, Good and Evil, the Higher and Lower Selves – whatever, it’s a darn sight more fun than letting the dysfunctional drag you down into their mire.
For what it’s worth, that’s my opinion – I assume you wanted it, or you wouldn’t still be reading – forcefully expressed, heavily seasoned with rancour and a good dollop of sour criticism, hopefully leavened somewhat with humour. But hey – the clue’s in the blog name and ranting’s my game, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!