Internet Trolling: How to Protect Your Mental Health Online

Internet trollingInternet trolling: At best, it’s a tongue-in-cheek way of expressing disagreement. At worst, it’s a way to break down someone’s online identity through the use of graphic insults and threats. If we’re not feeling psychologically strong, how can we protect ourselves when online?

What is internet trolling?

Trolling can cover many different areas of communication such as subversive humour, sustained campaigns and personal attacks. While some forms of trolling are designed to make clever statements about topical issues (for example, political debates) other forms can be much more harmful on a personal level.

Being personally attacked by a troll means being insulted, degraded or otherwise disrespected for the things you post online. Sometimes this kind of trolling is known as online harassment or cyber-bullying. Although cyber-bullying is reported to be more prevalent among young people, anyone can be the victim of internet trolling.

The mediums by which internet trolling can affect us

The internet is a place where all kinds of issues can be discussed through a variety of open channels. You can weigh in on political issues on a message forum or post about your day on a blog. You can talk to friends, get to know strangers and express yourself creatively. However, whenever you post anything online you cannot always know who will read and respond to it. The ways in which internet trolls attack may include:

  • Commenting on blogs
  • Posting comments on social media sites
  • Posting messages on internet forums
  • Sending private messages through websites or by obtaining a personal email address
  • Creating web pages in order to mock a specific issue (for example, by using a Facebook group or blog)

It is worth remembering that sending indecent communications, making threats or monitoring a person by their use of the internet (cyber-stalking) are all crimes which can be reported to the police. If you feel under threat while online, it is worth seeking legal advice about your next steps in dealing with it.

How do we feel when responding to trolls?

Even if your experience of trolling is a one-off occurrence and there is no need for it to be reported, it can be unpleasant dealing with online comments and messages which seem to be deliberately antagonistic. Because the internet offers anonymity, it can be easy for discussions to become heated quickly and for people to make personal comments which they would not make in real life.

When confronted with a message or comment which attempts to denigrate our intelligence, self-esteem or worth as human beings, our feelings may be complex. We might be enraged that someone is speaking to us this way or feel upset that we are apparently under attack. We might experience physical effects as a result of reading a riling comment, such as a rapid heartbeat or cold sweat. Sometimes we might feel depressed or anxious as a result of the attack.

Dealing with these feelings is an important first step in knowing how to approach internet trolls. It has been said that trolls are only looking to make people angry and once they have achieved this goal they will feel they have ‘won’. However, it is completely understandable for an online attack to make us feel upset or affronted, particularly if it involves comments of a personal nature. It doesn’t mean you have ‘lost’ to feel this way, only that something logical has happened. It’s what you choose to do with your reaction which will allow you to move on.

How to protect your mental health when dealing with trolls

  • ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ is a popular phrase used online. Meaning ‘ignore them and they’ll go away’, it might be worth paying heed to this phrase when confronted with a situation you don’t need to be a part of. If you’re involved in a heated discussion with someone who appears deliberately antagonistic, can you let it go? What would be the consequences of walking away?
  • Many websites and social media platforms have options for reporting abusive behaviour. It’s OK to use these or to report serious attacks to the police if necessary.
  • Accept how you feel. It’s not nice being trolled and it’s understandable to feel angry or upset. Putting pressure on yourself to shrug off unpleasant comments may make you feel worse in the long run. Once you’ve accepted what’s happened, it’ll be easier to put the incident out of your mind because it’s not worthy of your attention any longer.
  • Many trolls are trying to get a reaction because they are unhappy. It doesn’t excuse their behaviour, but it may help you to see that their comments are more about themselves than they are about you.
  • If you have a blog, Facebook page or other public space to share your thoughts, you can use privacy controls to help you choose who can and can’t see your content. You can also switch off comment options and make it so that only certain people can send you messages.

Have you you or someone you know, been subject to trolling or cyber-bullying? If so, how did you manage it?

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