For a long time, I made it a point to avoid writing about anything controversial. I avoid confrontation whenever I can, which is one thing I love about this blog. I’m just here trying to help people and sharing my love of writing. I keep things positive because I want people to feel good when they come here.
But in the real world, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid conflict. Which is what I discovered when I started writing about diets and Star Wars (two completely unrelated topics, but stick with me).
I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve muted/blocked on Twitter after they’ve mentioned me in posts responding to my articles. These people, on the surface, usually disagree with something I’ve written or don’t have a deep enough understanding of what I’m talking about to form a coherent response (or just choose not to).
And while it’s common to assume all these “trolls” are 30-year-old men sitting in their basements looking for anything and everything there is to make a fuss about, I did have an interaction with one person that really changed my perspective.
Someone took the time to “reach out” to me on Twitter about an article I had written to let me know she did not like it. But it wasn’t that she disagreed with me. She felt the need to let me know that her 11-year-old daughter knew more about the topic than I apparently did, that my article was the worst she’d ever read, and probably some other comments my brain didn’t feel the need to store in my long-term memory banks.
So this woman was a mother of a young child, had probably just dropped that child off at school, and may have intended to seek out some information about a topic she was interested in.
But when my words didn’t align with her beliefs, she took to Twitter to vent her frustrations. Which probably happens all the time. Except she went a step further and tagged me directly in her post.
Normally, I would have simply rolled my eyes and ignored her comments. But this happened to be an article I’d worked very hard on, and if I’m being honest, I was proud of it. The amount of research and careful planning I’d put into the piece made me a little defensive.
I did not respond unkindly to her. However, I did firmly let her know that if she was going to argue with my words, I was going to defend my point — and my dignity.
To my surprise, she ended up apologizing for speaking to me the way she had. Not very well … I believe the phrase “I don’t know why I acted like that” were used. But she made an effort. I’ll never forget that.
There are only a few things I could infer about the person behind this Twitter account after interacting with her.
- She was angry at herself, took it out on me, and never expected me to respond.
- She never would have said those things to my face.
- She did not expect me to respond directly to her comments.
- She really did feel bad about lashing out at me once she realized I was a real person.
- She has probably done the same thing a hundred times after interacting with me and will continue to do it because it unfortunately makes her feel empowered.
I legitimately feel bad for her. She must live such a sad, unfulfilled life, to spend her time hate-reading articles just so she can not only confirm how much she disagrees with me, but put in the effort to find me online (which is not hard to do, but still) and project her insecurities on someone she has never met.
The reality is, most of the people trying to tear you down by “commenting on” your work do not care about you or themselves. There is something going on in their lives that has made them so miserable or angry that the only relief they can find comes through trolling writers on social media.
They are never attacking you personally because they do not know you.
Chances are, they haven’t read your work thoroughly enough — or at all — to make intelligent comments or arguments about it. Nor are they interested in doing so.
They’re just looking for someone to yell at. That’s really all it is. You just happened to be the person they decided to take their emotions out on today.
Do I recommend responding to these people? Absolutely not. Do not engage!
This is one of the only times I’ve responded to someone on Twitter tearing apart my writing or myself, and almost every other time did not end well. Don’t feed the trolls. They’re doing it for attention. Give them the attention they want, and they’ll keep coming back.
Maybe I made a mistake letting her know I could hear her. Maybe I only fueled her fire and encouraged her to do the same thing to other people.
Or maybe she realized how pointless it was to waste time doing it. I’ll never know; I muted her as soon as she started apologizing and making excuses for her behavior.
But the experience did help me understand this population of miserable people a bit better.
Try not to take it personally. They don’t know you. They can’t touch you. They can only yell loudly in an attempt to drown out their own sorrows. And they are most definitely not worth your time or emotional energy.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.