From the ChildArt mag: How Not To Feed The Trolls

Before I hit my annual digital sabbatical, here’s something you may find useful, whether you’re a child, teen, or an adult. The article was published in January-March 2019 issue of the Magazine of the International Child Art Foundation, yours truly was a Guest editor on Online safety.

In an animated film with the same title, the “trolls” were small creatures in a Scandinavian folklore, who lived in a perpetual state of happiness, singing, and dancing. In the online world, a troll (and the very act of trolling) is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the internet by posting inflammatory comments, hateful content or off-topic messages.

The first time I entered the internet was back in 1996, really a virtual classroom where we checked our emails and daily newsletters. Belonging both to the X and Millennial generations, I had a chance to experience both the worlds: analogue and digital. Back then, the internet connection was a luxury and mobile phones served two purposes: basic phone calls and plain text messages. Emojis, GIFs, memes, and multimedia as we know it now—didn’t exist. We didn’t have YouTube or Netflix so we watched films in the cinemas or rented videotapes, played analogue games, and many times made up our own games and amusement. Our creativity and art bloomed.

Then, BBSs’, newserv, and forums came along with the appearance of the first social networks that started to spread globally. My Space and Friendster were the first and the most popular, and then Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and many other new social media platforms. The varied services and multiple interactions required a new dynamics and social responsibilities.

Social networks and forum spaces require social interaction, right?

This means communicating with others, exchanging information, chatting. In bigger groups, communication collisions happen. Inevitably the same as in analogue, physical spaces (classroom, street, art and culture centers, etc.). The difference is that we do not know, many times, which is the person behind the screen. If we omit our close circle of friends and family, basically, we do not know who is the person in an online public places behind the screen. The anonymity, even wrapped up in a virtual suit and formed online profile, is one of the communication characteristics and dynamics on the internet. Despite one person’s representation online – we simply do not know who is behind the screen.

Did I ever face communication conflicts with trolls? Oh, yes. When I was much younger, I was passionate about certain topics and would argue online with trolls to prove I was right. I would respond to trolls and trolling, arguing till late night. In retrospect, I waste much time instead of reading a book, watching a movie, spending time with friends. Now, one of the best that older digital immigrants can do is to pass some seeds of wisdom to the young, digital natives.

What should you do when someone trolls or sends a negative comment?

The first rule is that the best response is no response. Just ignore them.

Before you post a response, ask yourself the following questions:

• Have responses already been posted by others?

• Will my comment add new information, a different perspective?

• It is wiser to send a private message/email instead of posting publicly?

• Will I remain proud or later regret the contents in my post ?

• Will I say exactly the same to the person if we meet face-to-face on the street?

• Is it mature to walk up to a complete stranger and start a conversation?

No one can offend you online if you don’t allow it. Do not take your hangups or grudges to public forums and chats. Report the troll to the moderator or administrator. Block them if you can. Exit the room/chat/forum/IG. Trolls are unworthy of your reaction.

Remember that everything you do over the internet is captured forever and archived. Many employers and university admissions offices look at social media profiles when researching candidates.

Stay safe online and surf safely!

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