Thursday, September 22, 2016

Don't Feed The Trolls

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster." - Nietzsche

As a regular internet contributor, you could say that I've seen my fair share of trolls. As an outspoken female writer, industry critic and professional athlete, I've also had the pleasure of experiencing the worst of them. From the laughably weak personal attacks to the truly deranged death threats, the insanity spectrum is wide, deep and often colored with different shades of psychopathy.

I've learned to laugh. My sense of humor has become sharp, my perspective truly macabre. I often assume that every engagement will turn sour, and a disagreement is never a disagreement. I await abusive messages in my inbox with a mix between trepidation and rage, then laugh at the expectedly rudimentary and simplified criticisms from (mostly) men who delight in not only telling me how to do my job or what to think, but also how dumb or stupid or useless I am. 

It's become the one constant in my life. 

But there's another side to this issue, on which I continually battle myself: to engage or ignore? 

Now, a lot of trolls are put in their place by simply ignoring them and deleting their comments. Their egos are crushed by the fact that I simply do not care, and they fade back into the dark spaces from whence they came, only to emerge somewhere else. A few others are easily moderated by the audience of a community, quickly cowed and put back into their place by people dedicated to keeping a certain site or page friendly and open and free of hatred or nonsense. 

But there's always one or two I can't resist knocking down myself, and there's where my personal mire begins -- I'm unable to resist. Chalk it up to a belief that bullies only respond to strength (or a firm, fact-based bitch slapping), but I often find myself pulled into some entirely worthless waste of time, explaining the truths of the universe to someone too stupid to understand them in the first place. 

Why do I do this? Why do I, despite my logical and very comprehensive understanding of the pointlessness in getting involved, still get involved?! 

I think it's very likely because 1: I'm stubborn, and 2: I'm an optimistic idiot who thinks that every monster can be fought. I also believe in defending myself. I don't think enough women do. I don't think that enough female contributors stand up, say their piece and then continue to fight for their right to say it without abuse. I stand up and continue fighting my detractors because I don't see enough of it -- I don't see enough women dedicated to themselves enough to not tolerate the bullshit. 

But I also see a dangerous double-edged sword. I see women who write something and then fade into the ether, terrified of the abuse, only to get more vitriolic hatred because they're perceived as 'weak' for not fighting back. I've been there. I've written something and then stepped away for weeks at a time with the full intention of not engaging, only to be yanked back to reality by hateful messages to my website or to be warned by one of my team managers that they've received some startlingly scary correspondence about me. Not addressing something or someone is an invitation to escalation, apparently. 

The second is the overtly aggressive tactic: go on the offensively defensive side and scare everyone enough that they're terrified I might eat them for breakfast. As you might expect, that doesn't end well, either. Escalating every situation into conflict where I end up using the combined power of the Internet and my extensive vocabulary to humiliate and break someone down just makes me look like an asshole. Actually, it makes me a real asshole. I become the troll, battling it out with the random jackass who, in other people's eyes, should have just been ignored. And it makes me feel like a jerk... Every single time. Exposing the details of what makes someone else into a bully or a troll isn't fun, and it isn't right. In the day and age of Google and unlimited information, it's always fairly easy to figure out and exploit someone's motives and weaknesses, but it's not okay. Taking what hurts them most (because that's usually the behavior behind bullying) and using it to hurt them again? That's wrong. It doesn't ever get easier to do and it never creates a better outcome. It doesn't foster positive commentary and it certainly doesn't create a stronger online community. It isolates and alienates, until the only people who want to interact are the trolls and miscreants because they haven't yet experienced someone who will shut them up. And that sucks. I don't want to be the last door to hell for anyone. That isn't my job. My job is to share my sport, promote healthy growth, spread stoke and build a sustainable, productive industry that continues to inspire people to ride bikes. 

At the same time, I can't just sit back and allow myself to be one more voice that's been drowned out by the idiot masses who would rather scream profanities than tolerate a different perspective. That's the goal -- to silence dissent and to quiet intelligent and critical thought. To troll is an effort to make others stop expressing themselves for fear of abuse or being ostracized or laughed at. And once those voices stop speaking, we get what we currently have: unproductive and unsustainable group-think that leads to the death of an industry. 

In the end, it's always a lose-lose-lose for me. As an athlete, as a professional, as someone who believes in standing up, I'll lose. As a human who believes in treating people with compassion, I lose. As someone who doesn't want to even deal with this crap, I still lose. Either way, I'm weak or I'm mean. Helpless or 'too aggressive'. Pitiful and open to even worse, or 'indefensible' because my behavior is no better than theirs, and ultimately hated, regardless of my actions.

So what's a girl to do? 

If you figure it out, let me know.