Spend enough time on the internet (especially Twitter) and you’re bound to come across trolls– people (usually men) who spend a large portion of their time seeking people out to harass (common favorites seem to include climate scientists, women, social justice advocates, evolutionary scientists, reproductive rights activists, but anyone can find themselves a target).
A lot has been written about trolls, inlcluding why we shouldn’t “feed” them with our responses, but why this is unsatisfactory and ultimately ineffective because trolls are autotrophs who don’t need us to feed them. But not everyone has the time and energy to engage, and there’s no way to know how effective standing up to trolls is, which can leave you feeling like you’re between a rock and a hard place. Nobody likes being harassed, and it’s hard (for me, at least) to overcome the instinct to just let go, ignore, and hit the block button — especially as a scientist.
I’ve thought long and hard about ways to respond (or not respond) to online harassers. I’ve often just retweeted abusive tweets, and let my followers respond. Sometimes, I’ll respond with a positive comment to let them know that what they’ve said has no effect. Most often, I block or report the person for harassment. But I’ve never been fully satisfied by any of these strategies.
So, let’s try something different. The next time someone trolls you, respond with a science fact– and ONLY a science fact (it can be anything, not necessarily related to what you’re being trolled about). No insults, no rational debating, no sarcasm. You can use #TrollScienceFacts* (credit to David Steen for taking this idea to the next level with the tag) to let your followers know that they can join in on the fun, too, which can start an avalanche of awesome science facts cascading through the internet. A science fact is a compassionate act, allowing you to maintain a high ground and not escalate. A science fact is fun, and takes some of the stress out of being harassed. A science fact is helpful, and may actually have a positive impact where attempts at rational discourse would fail.
And, best of all, a science fact fulfills that need to respond without engaging, and sends a message that trolling is neither effective nor acceptable (especially if others get involved) without you having to expend much effort or use up precious emotional bandwith.
(Feel free to use #TrollHistoryFacts, or whatever suits you — Glendon Mellow came up with #TrollArtFacts.)