3 Rules for Handling the Online Trolls, Bullies, and Crackpots
"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning."
It's arguably the most famous opening line in 20th century fiction. The predicament in which Franz Kafka's "Joseph K." finds himself is even more chillingly relevant today than it was in 1920.
Not only was Kafka lucky enough to have died before the Holocaust he'd intuited was on the horizon, but he missed far, far lesser scourges, like internet trolls and slanderers.
If Kafka were alive and writing on the web today, he'd have dozens of online stalkers, making fun of him for living with his parents and having really big ears.
He might even be subject to "lawfare" for his "controversial" blogging.
A while back I wrote about the particular abuse women in general -- and conservative women in particular -- attract on the web. The good news is that there are ways to dial down this annoying din, and these methods work for everybody.
#3 - Are You Being Served?
Law suits. They're what we got when we stupidly made dueling illegal.
(At least with dueling, when the shootout was over, the world was down one useless idiot...)
Along with a bunch of other Canadian bloggers -- including my husband -- I'm being sued for writing about our "Human Rights" Commissions.
(The video above has more.)
Encouraged by other great folks like Michelle Malkin, my blog readers have paid all our legal bills.
In the meantime, Arnie and I got married. We've been invited to Israel and Washington, D.C., and other places simply because we're now "famous" bloggers. We've made friends we'd never have met otherwise.
Our employment has been utterly unaffected. In fact, we're both busier than ever.
Because the second worse thing you can do if you get sued is let it take over and ruin your life.
If you're online, no matter how careful you are, you too could be targeted.
I still wish I'd gotten libel insurance when it was offered to me over twenty years ago. If you blog or write anything, get libel insurance. Now. It's the cost of doing business, just like your internet connection, dedicated server, and so forth.
So what's THE worst thing you can do?
As someone whom the process server now greets on a first name basis, here's my advice:
Don't take anybody's advice.
Unless they're a libel lawyer.
Not any other kind of lawyer, either.
And not your Uncle Fred, whose watched The People vs. Larry Flynt a bunch of times. (Believe me: all these well-meaning folks will come out of the woodwork, and you'll be so freaked out you'll be tempted to hear them out.)
Don't issue any apologies or scrub a post until you talk to a libel lawyer first.
Nothing brings on sheer, bone chilling, blood curdling panic like getting served -- I cried for two days -- but do NOT react out of fear.
Yes, lawyers are expensive. But "playing lawyer" yourself is ten times more costly.
Americans are lucky: you have organizations like the Legal Project (who are graciously helping my husband) and the Thomas More Law Center and, yeah, the ACLU.
If you forget everything else you read here, remember this:
Do-it-yourself law works as well as do-it-yourself dentistry.
#2 - No Comment(s)
See how tricky it is to win an argument with a troll...?
My blog doesn't allow comments. That's partly because I started blogging in 2000, before comments even existed.
Instapundit still doesn't allow them, either. So I'm in good company.
But most other sites have them. And sometimes, people say nasty things about me on those other sites.
I only find out about this when a strange domain name shows up in my logs, or -- I hate this -- a "friend" emails to tell me about it.
The vast majority of the time, I refrain from going over to "investigate," i.e., "post just one little snarky response to that snarky guy's comment."
My gut ALWAYS tells me:
"Don't go over there. You'll be sorry."
On the rare occasions I stupidly disobey my gut, I inevitably look up and it's five hours later and I'm still calling "RandFan3000" some variation of the word "moron."
All I end up with is a sour taste in my mouth -- a bitter blend of guilt, resentment, and regret.
On the other hand, when I don't respond to online insults and provocations, I inevitably feel happier, get more real work done, and sleep better at night.
I know it's hard to ignore this stuff, believe me. I'm temperamentally hardwired to want to get the last word.
Yet every year that I'm online, I find I develop another level of immunity to unsolicited "advice," poorly punctuated rape threats, comments on my multiple physical shortcomings, and the other slings and arrows of the outrageous internet.
As I told a friend who recently decided to blog under her real name (and is getting the kind of negative attention we female bloggers tend to attract):
Welcome these insults, because paradoxically, the more you get insulted, the less the insults will bother you.
The worst thing you can do (besides responding directly) is to quit blogging because of online threats and abuse.
As my blog approaches its 12th anniversary, I've lost count of the number of jerks who practically made a career out of attacking me, and who are no longer online.
Being the last one standing is really the best "reply" you can ever give.
#1 - Get Control of Yourself.
All those insults may not bother you, but what if a potential friend or employer googles your name and gets all these results calling you a "racist homophobic scumbag"?
(Welcome to my world -- and Rick Santorum's.)
To see yourself as others see you online, you have to turn your computer into a total stranger's, temporarily:
- Go to Google.com
- Make sure you are signed out of Google.
- Clear your browser history
- Refresh the page
- Optional: Use a service like HideMyIP to "move" your computer to a whole other state
- Type in your FIRSTNAME and LASTNAME -- without quotation marks
The results resemble what a total stranger will see when they google you.
If you cringe, here's the good news: with effort and patience, you can regain some control of Google search engine results pages (or SERPs).
Ninety percent of searchers don't look past Google's page one SERPs, which means you need to own the top ten results.
Obviously, Google loves Google, so complete your profiles on Google+, Google Places, and whatever else they come up with next week.
Buy your FIRSTNAMELASTNAME.com for a minimum three-year term, spring for auto-renewal, then use it, either as your blog or your resume/portfolio.
Big time sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, Wikipedia, FourSquare, and LinkedIn have high Google page ranks -- that's eight of ten sites right there! -- so get FIRSTNAME + LASTNAME accounts/profiles with each one.
(Anyone can become a Wikipedia editor, by the way, so do so and monitor your entry. Either keep it pristine or do what one of my "controversial" blogger friends did: purposely sabotage the thing. So along with other people's "K. is a member of the Nazi Party," readers encounter her own equally absurd edits ["K. bites the heads off whippets."] Visitors conclude the entire thing is crap and ignore it.)
Lesser-known but still high-ranking sites let you create profiles there, too.
By owning and maintaining all these online properties, you can eventually shove the nasty third-party gossip and slander down to page two and beyond, where few searchers venture anyhow.