Post No.: 0352
If you don’t have a motorcycle licence and I mocked you for it then would that speak about me or about you? Would this speak about my insecurities or yours?
Well that’s the same when people attempt to mock others for being an ethnic minority member in a country, for being anything but heterosexual, for not wearing the ‘right’ clothes or shoes, for not being as tall or rich, for having a certain voice or disability, for having a certain car or house, or whatever.
To assume that someone feels (or is) inherently bad or inferior for being or having any of the above is like assuming that someone feels inherently bad or inferior for not being able to ride a motorcycle. Not everyone cares or wishes they could – they’re not bothered. In most cases, people don’t have an inherent problem with being a certain ethnicity, having a certain sexuality, being a certain height, or whatever – most of the problems are from people who assume they have a problem with it. But that only speaks about the people who make those kinds of assumptions.
The key to tackling bullies or trolls is to therefore understand that they are insecure and so are looking for (whom they perceive are) easy targets to try to belittle in order to boost their own feeling of status and importance. So don’t show them that you’re weak or can be oppressed. This doesn’t mean resorting to aggression because, after all, people are only aggressive if they’re scared of something – in this case, if they perceive someone as a personal threat whom they cannot handle in a more calm way. Understand that aggression uses up a lot more energy than being calm and, as living organisms, we don’t like using more energy than we feel we need to in order to handle a situation or person, so when people get aggressive, they’re basically saying that they must personally give something or someone ‘a bit of respect’ (sometimes sensibly so, sometimes inappropriately) otherwise they might fail against it or them. A bully or troll will feed off any reactions of anger or irritation because then they’ll know they’ve got you scared or annoyed. So whilst a person is trying to bully you, you should see them as simply nothing – nobodies – rather than reward their behaviours with your attention.
Truly confident people are not aggressive so behave with assuredness around bullies. This can mean standing your ground calmly, with a little smile even, and demonstrating your physical strength in other contexts, without direct provocation of a fight or reciprocal arrogance (confidence is not the same as arrogance). Or if you cannot manage that then come straight back with some witty remarks that give them verbally more than they can verbally give to you. (Rehearse some in preparation – these must be sharply witty rather than combative, escalatory rhetoric though.)
So, if it’s safe to, it’s not about shying away from them nor about being violent because they’re directly looking for those types of reactions – the reactions they don’t expect or want are those that backfire or put them in their place in front of their peers. However, a risk is that humiliated bullies might react physically aggressively for they now see you as a threat to their reputation. So stand up for yourself but don’t escalate. With physically hostile bullies, you should seek support from friendly peers or adults, or try to avoid them.
A confident smile in their direction is sometimes enough to make them wonder why you’re not scared of them, as if you know something they don’t. Well you do because you can learn what makes them tick and therefore how to neutralise them. Read Post No.: 0228 for more about understanding the minds of bullies. Woof!
The most socially skilled people though, can even turn enemies into friends by being nice to them when they’re not being bullies i.e. rewarding their desirable behaviours. You might feel like you never want them to be friends but truly powerful and influential people know how to make allies, not enemies – we neutralise enemies by making them friends. It’s a game of psychology, of playground politics, or of diplomacy when it comes to international relations. We often take other people’s ill behaviours personally but their fuzzy antisocial behaviours reveal a lot about their own insecurities and struggles, and them putting up barriers to the world is their attempt at coping with whatever they’re feeling. So if we’re strong enough and it’s safe enough, it might be worth sensitively exploring and listening to what’s up with them rather than compounding their insecurities by labelling and ostracising them in return. Be the bigger person. Whenever people say, “You need help” to someone, in any context – help should logically be offered more than judgements. Bullies, like petty criminals, are often victims of something themselves.
There is a debate about whether cyberbullying (regular bullying and harassment but conducted online) and trolling (which is also conducted online) are different or the same? Trolls can be considered different because trolls generally have a wider agenda (e.g. to subvert or spread propaganda). Perhaps bullies feel power through intimidation and trolls feel power through annoying others. In a way it doesn’t matter because the plan of action is the same – overall, trolls are also looking for attention and reactions so we should ignore and block them before their messages spread further. We should not reward trolling with attention, which includes replying to the trolls with condemnation or correction against their messages of hate or misinformation. (We might want to send messages of support to any victims of trolling or bullying without referencing the trolls, bullies or their messages though.) They are not seeking to enter an honest discussion about an issue so it’s fruitless trying to reason with them. Most also operate anonymously with disposable accounts. So resist the urge to respond to them, and immediately block them. Engaging with trolls will only inadvertently make them more popular (and ranking algorithms, as well as people, conflate popularity with authority too).
There’s a bias in bullies and trolls in them thinking they’re not bullies or trolls because they rationalise that their behaviour is just ‘banter’ or even that they’re the initial victims and ‘attack is the best form of defence’. Trolls self-justify their behaviours as ‘just for fun’ and ‘things shouldn’t be taken seriously’ but they’re again looking for a reaction, they take pleasure from another person’s vexation or frustration, they often have a bigger goal of serving a particular political interest by getting their propaganda seen and spread, and they’re trying to turn as many neutral people towards accepting their worldviews as possible. It’s far easier to destroy than to build, or to tap into emotions rather than employ sound reasons, and trolls are looking for that easy route to making an impact and feeling self-important in a world they’re otherwise unimportant in.
Trolling celebrities is similar to terrorism in the sense that the targets of the messages are less about those celebrities (even though they can suffer too) and more about those who follow them. In terrorism, the direct victims are those who get physically hurt but the main goal is to cause fear and spread a message to the wider community. Also like terrorism, from the media or a celebrity’s perspective, there’s a dilemma in highlighting something that might be in the public interest (that trolling happens, and can happen to anyone) but publishing a specific story of trolling might give those trolls even more publicity for their messages. The tabloids will want to publish the stories that sell papers and claim that it’s about a free press, but some things are private rather than in the public’s interest even if it involves a public figure too.
Other trolls who target celebrities use mean comments as a cheap way to grab a celebrity’s attention, and if they do receive a message or reaction from the celebrity then it’s like ‘wow, this celebrity has actually spoken to me or read out my specific comment!’ and they get a kick out of ‘feeling noticed and important’ by someone whom they consider important for it. It’s sad, but we, celebrity or not, cannot laugh at sad people, yet we shouldn’t reward such behaviours with our attention either for we’ll only reinforce them if we do. They could be taken as disguised compliments but they’re not meant as compliments. Fair criticism is fine hence we should reward the most constructive, and perhaps truly wittiest rather than plainly abusive, remarks.
There’s an ongoing ‘strategy versus counter-strategy’ relationship too, again just like terrorism and counter-terrorism – new methods will be created to try to get misinformation and divisive beliefs to spread online hence new methods must be created to stop it. For example, ‘concern trolling’ is pretending to agree with a side but really with the motive of subverting that side from within by casting doubts, fears or concerns about their beliefs.
A problem, though, with ignoring and blocking trolls could be that if false accusations are ignored by the accused, and accusers are blocked rather than rebutted and defended against – onlookers may treat this silence and ‘dodging’ as a tacit sign of confession. But any genuine accusations against a public figure or anyone should be forwarded to the police rather than aired on social media, and onlookers should trust in harder evidence over mere accusations shared on social media too.
Regarding problems like relatively minor verbal abuse (e.g. sexist or racist jokes rather than rape or death threats), it might be a good strategy, as an individual target, to ignore the perpetration – but this could be a bad strategy as an abused collective because it can make it seem like the abuse is culturally acceptable or at least it won’t get punished in society. A culture that simply ignores abuse, keeps quiet about an issue, and therefore seems to allow an abuse to perpetuate, won’t likely lead to an improvement for everybody in the bigger picture who is in or will be in the same situation. So while it might be best for oneself to ignore a relatively minor case of verbal harassment when it occurs in order to not give a perpetrator the gratification of a response, it may be good to (gather some hard evidence and) bring the issue up to other people’s attention in other forums (e.g. a political forum) so that it can hopefully get addressed and stamped out of a culture. Simply ignoring abuse won’t always mean that it’ll automatically go away in the bigger picture.
Thus the current advice is – if you are a target for abuse or defamatory misinformation on social media then don’t respond or try to reason with the trolls, or post that you are being targeted, as this might attract other trolls. But do take a screenshot and report the abuse to the social media platform, and also to the police if it’s serious (e.g. if a message is inciting violence). Don’t reward trolls yet do highlight patterns of trolling in general terms in forums where action will be more likely to be taken about it.
Woof! Whether offline or online – stay strong but safe and together.