Don’t Feed the Trolls: A Writer’s Advice on Dealing With Online Bullies

By De Elizabeth

I’ve been a writer all my life, I suppose. If you were to go back in time to my elementary school days, you’d find me creating picture books about cats and dinosaurs. My childhood best friend and I even invented a publishing company called Lollypop Lick (not a joke). In fact, I’m pretty sure those silly little laminated books are probably buried in my closet at my parents’ house, just waiting to be brought out at a future holiday dinner.

In high school, I wrote Lord of the Rings fanfiction (again, not a joke). One of my stories – a riffing on the entire plot of The Two Towers, where I gave Éomer a love interest (finally, right?) – gained some form of notoriety on I woke up every day to dozens of comments on each of my chapters, most of them positive, begging for the next segment. But among the high forms of praise from my fellow LOTR fans, there was always one or two negative comments that were downright mean. We, in the fanfiction world, referred to them as “flames.”

To be honest, I always had mixed reactions when I saw a flame pop into my inbox. As a 16-year-old, I was somewhat of a “messy b*tch who lived for the drama,” so there was a part of me that enjoyed it when a handful of users got into a “flame war” in my review section. But every once in a while, there were always those comments, the ones that got under my skin. “You’re a sh*tty writer,” they’d say. “Just stop trying.”

Fast forward to now, where writing is literally my job. If you follow this blog (or if you follow me on Twitter), you know that I’m the Weekend Editor for Teen Vogue, in addition to writing daily news (and a Pretty Little Liars column, natch) on weekdays. I basically work seven days a week and have to force myself to take one day off, even though that one day is usually more like half a day, because I’ll always have a to-do list that’s a mile long.

While my articles don’t have a “review” section like my stories on, people will always find me online when there’s something that they don’t like. I can’t avoid the “flames” because they pop up on my phone as Twitter notifications, or they’re in my inbox from the contact form on this blog.

And what I’ve learned from being a writer in one form or another for the majority of my life is that people are just as mean as they were on the comment boards of my Lord of the Rings stories. People will always find something to be mean about, whether it’s the fact that I made a mistake (writers and editors do make mistakes, shocker), or the fact that they don’t agree with me, or they feel like an article I’ve written does not apply to them. The thing that I find so puzzling about the online haters is that they go out of their way to be so nasty about something that either could be expressed calmly or simply not at all. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been called a bitch solely for writing a lighthearted listicle that unfortunately didn’t resonate with every human who stumbled upon it. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been called a cunt for speaking out against sexism, rape culture, or our current political climate. In fact, I’ve lost count, and there have been days where my Twitter mentions are a blur of four-letter words and threats.

It is exhausting.

But here’s the thing that I’ve learned – the thing that 16-year-old me didn’t quite understand. Trolls (or flame-throwers) feed off of your response. There’s literally never been a troll in the history of trolls that has decided to shut up after you clap back. While it can be tempting to quote that mean tweet with a sharp and clever response, doing so only brings more trolls. It’s like the Mines of Moria scene from The Fellowship of the Ring where they were battling a literal cave troll (did you think I was done with my nerdy references?). You can fight back as hard as you want, but prepare for a slew of monsters to come your way.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you let people walk all over you. I certainly don’t believe in that. But I do believe in focusing on what matters, and, for me, that’s the work that I’m doing. There’s a fight to be fought, for sure, but it’s not with the individual trolls on Twitter. It’s with our society, our culture, our freaking President. It’s with racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia: all the things that are plaguing our communities and preventing us from making true progress. That’s the fight that matters, the one that I’m interested in.

So, to the trolls: You didn’t stop me from writing my fanfiction romance in high school, and you’re not going to stop me now. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never make it far out enough from under your bridge to actually reach me.

{featured image via unsplash}

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