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Don’t Feed the Trolls: How to Protect Your Peace As You #StayWoke

At the start of 2017, Franchesca Ramsey of MTV! Decoded put words to something I’ve been feeling for a while now:

That is my new motto, especially when it comes to folks who troll on social media when I’m talking about social justice issues.

We’re all aware that we’re living in a polarizing political climate where lives and human rights are on the line. Many of us with marginalized identities– including women, people of color, socioeconomically underprivileged communities, Muslims, and a host of others– are experiencing justified emotional distress and fear right now. The last thing we need is people (who may or may not identify with us) arguing that our concerns are not valid. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the trolls from popping up.

You know what I’m talking about. Stuff like this:

Comments that can make your blood boil because they are searingly, unapologetically, and loudly ignorant, often arrogant and self-righteous in how they stumble into your conversation. The type of comments that come from people who hear what they want to hear, despite what you actually said. People who miss the forest for the trees.

Now, I’m aware that some folks engage with these issues emotionally because they’re grappling with what they’ve always been taught versus the new content you’re presenting, and they’re genuinely trying to understand. For others, arguing is the goal. They want to feed their ego. Despite your facts and receipts, they want you to be wrong; perhaps because what you’re making them aware of is an uncomfortable truth, a reflection of some unattractive quality that they’d rather not face.

Having a heart to learn is one thing, but I am no longer willing to argue with people who aren’t even trying to hear my point-of-view, which is likely backed by scholarly thought and the lived experiences of myself and others.

I have seen and participated in too many of these debates both on and offline and nobody wins. It’s frequently gone one of a few ways: We almost always end up “agreeing to disagree,” people throw around insults to hold on to their pride, people start yelling, it’s just a mess.

I do not have the time or emotional energy for that.

Instead of responding immediately when the trolls roll up, I’d rather find another healthy outlet and maybe not respond at all. I’ll also remind myself that their presence on my timeline is optional.

I’d rather not intensify painful realities by engaging in debates with people who don’t believe in everyone’s right to life and happiness, and might not even share my growing dedication to social justice. For self care this year, when possible, I’m choosing to focus on positive action, not arguing; especially not when I’ve written an entire article or status or tweet explaining my stance. At the very least I’ve sown a seed, because in order to respond they obviously read it, or some of it. Or the headline.

Oh, and don’t tell me that I’m missing out on an opportunity to educate.

I understand that trolls need to learn in order to empathize; but, in order to do that, one must first be willing to humble themselves and listen rather than talk. If someone is bent on arguing, are they really trying to dedicate their energy to learning? I’m not convinced that arguing back and forth with people who want to be ignorant is important enough to entertain toxic verbal assault on the rights and humanity of either myself or a group my work is defending.

I know I will not always be able to block and unfollow my way through life in the name of self care, but I can be choosy when picking my battles on the Internet. There are people who thrive in combative environments and are built to clapback for the cause. I’m grateful for them. I’m not one of them. I’m learning through these frustrations that not everyone is worth an argument, at least not from me. Whether or not I’ve convinced a someone of the worthiness of my activism, it’s still getting done. Literal lives depend on it, and it’s hard enough without feeding the trolls.

When I can, I will choose peace for myself. You should, too.

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