November 14, 2021

Remember When Trolls Were Cute?

by Magna Gopal

I’m probably dating myself here, but I remember a time when trolls were just cute dolls and cartoon characters with wildly colorful spiky hair that wanted to show love to everyone.

These days, they are more likely to be anonymous profiles seeking attention and engagement through negativity and confrontation.

I had the joy of engaging with one recently. 🙄

It was when I published a clip from an interview where I talked about the mindset necessary for taking advantage of opportunities in life. I related it to my own life and how I approached the pursuit of salsa as a career. The message wasn’t about pursuing salsa, per se, but being open to, and taking advantage of, opportunities when they present themselves. Yet someone interpreted it as if my message was “if you pursue salsa as career, you too can reach the same heights.”

YouTube player
Watch this short video before you continue.

Public posts invite all types of comments

I understand that whenever I make something public, I open it to comments, opinions and discussion. I welcome that. In fact, that’s my goal: encourage reflection, Mpower people, invite engagement, and start a constructive conversation. Mpowered with Magna content, in particular, is about sharing the mindset, tools, and approaches I have personally used to tackle obstacles in dance, in my career, and in my life. 

Most people who comment share their appreciation, their own experience, their curiosity to delve further, their questions for a better understanding, or even their differences in opinion with the goal of expanding the conversation. However, on occasion, there are comments that are off topic, or come across as unnecessarily confrontational, argumentative, rude, negative, sarcastic, or provocative.

I consider these people trolls. Trolls don’t tend to have good intentions. Trolls typically just want to vent, get your attention and drag you into a negative mental state so they don’t feel so alone there.

I used to engage and reply to every comment and it would consume a lot of my time and energy. With constructive comments, I felt like I learned something and anyone reading them would also benefit from the discussion. With trolls, it was the opposite. There was no such satisfaction. In fact, all I felt was frustration as the comments became increasingly off topic and adversarial. It took me many years to realize–I still occasionally forget–that not every comment warrants a reply.

Perhaps you have experienced this with your own social media posts or status updates. Maybe you’ve even found yourself engaged in an endless back and forth with someone who’s got nothing better to do than argue and troll you. I’ve been there many times and below is one of my most recent engagements. Unfortunately, the more active you are on social media, or the more public your profile is, the more likely you’ll encounter this. 

Nowadays, before I reply to comments or comment on a post myself, I ask the following questions. Perhaps they will come in handy for you too. 

Questions to ask yourself when dealing with comments on your posts:

  1. Is their comment relevant and on topic? 
  2. What is the tone of the comment? Constructive, positive, curious, negative, confrontational, provocative?
  3. Are they acknowledging and responding directly to what I’ve written, asked or suggested?
  4. Are they hiding behind an alias?
  5. Will my engagement elevate or detract from the topic and discussion?
  6. Is this the best use of my time and energy?

Questions to ask yourself before you comment on someone else’s post:

  1. Does this person or topic trigger me? Why? 
  2. Is what I want to say relevant to the discussion/topic?
  3. Are my intentions constructive or negative?
  4. Am I being mindful of my words and tone?
  5. Do I need to create a dummy profile and hide my entity before I engage? 🤨
  6. Could I spend my time and energy doing something more productive and uplifting?

As I mentioned, above, I recently had an unconstructive engagement in my comment thread. Below is an example of the comments on my Facebook post and how I applied the questions above to my replies.

By the way, this thread ended with a sarcastic comment saying something like “Great! Then I will become a world salsa social dancing architect.” When I went back to screenshot the thread, all of the comments had been deleted and the profile no longer existed.

How and why I engaged

1. Is their comment relevant and on topic? 

I didn’t think that it was, but I was willing to engage and redirect it. However, I wanted to move the conversation to the actual content on YouTube where most comments and engagement take place.

2. What is the tone of their comment?

I found it to be close-minded with the words “It won’t work,” but I was willing to engage to shift the mindset.

3. Are they acknowledging and responding directly to what I’ve written, asked or suggested?

When he continued on the same topic in the Facebook comments and did not move to the original content, as I requested, I sensed that he just wanted to vent.

4. Are they hiding behind an alias?

The length of the comment, the random example, and the undefined references to “salsa powers” “1.0 vs 2.0” made me curious about the identity of this person. I clicked on the profile and sure enough, no images, 2 posts, and the profile was very recently created. At this point, I started to suspect trolling.

5. Will my engagement elevate or detract from the topic and discussion?

The purpose of my first engagement/comment was to move the conversation to the original content. It helps me reference the content when I’m replying and makes it easier for anyone reading the comments to also put them in context. I believed in the potential of a good discussion.

My second engagement was to clarify if he even watched the video because many times, people reply to a heading but have no idea what the actual article/video is about. I was no longer certain if a good discussion was possible.

My third engagement was to summarize the content, which he agreed with, and one last time, request that all comments continue on YouTube. By this point, I was certain this person was intentionally, or unintentionally, trolling me.

6. Is this the best use of my time and energy?

When he replied with “Great, then I will become a world famous salsa dancing architect,” I was done. There was no hope for that discussion. He wasn’t in the right head space. He didn’t have the courage to put his real name, image or profile behind his words. And he just seemed to be venting, trying to get me to engage more emotionally. Perhaps he tried to build a career in salsa and it didn’t work out and he feels triggered or insulted by my suggestion that people should take advantage of such opportunities.

My suggested approach

You never know exactly what will trigger people to react and respond negatively or defensively. You cannot control that either. Focus on your message. Try to be clear, mindful, and personal in your delivery. Don’t take things personally. Engage when it elevates the discussion. Walk away when it doesn’t. Make sure you value your time, energy, and peace of mind!

Trolls trolling

Mpowered Reflections

  • Have you ever had to deal with trolling comments?
  • When do you choose to engage and when not?
  • If you can recall, what was the outcome of your engagement?
  • Are there any other questions you would add to the two lists above?

You might also be interested in

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How To Handle Judgment
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Everyone Has An Opinion
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How To Deal With Negative Energy

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.


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