I know just how Anderson Cooper feels who, while reporting on the skirmish in the Middle East with bombs exploding around his head, has to deal with Internet trolls attacking his sexual preference on Twitter.
I don’t know how he feels regarding the sexual preference, because my preference these days is to get it over with as quickly as possible so I can get some sleep. But I have become an expert on Internet trolls.
When I wrote my memoir—candid, revealing and true—I knew that it wouldn’t be long until the trolls came marching in. I knew this, and yet I did it anyway. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever done in my life and that includes getting married, having a child and eating rattlesnake.
Internet trolls are not just annoying. They are destructive. In yoga terms, they cause harm which has lasting consequences for everyone.
Cooper fought back against his troll by saying, “Why not use your name and photo, coward? Have some more Fritos and keep typing.” That landed Cooper on the national news where it was discussed, what else, how wrong Cooper was to Tweet that the troll might be eating Fritos!
If you have anonymous Internet trolls listen to me carefully: you will not win this battle. It is like getting into a pissing match with a skunk. You are either going to get wet, or you will get stinky. But winning is out of the question.
Since writing my memoir and a weekly blog, I have had Internet trolls all over my case and now I might be an expert.
My first troll threatened to create a website dedicated to people hating me. To avoid this, the troll wanted to meet me at a secret location. I told the troll, and this is probably good advice: I do not go alone to stranger’s houses to meet with people who hate me. I just don’t think that’s a good idea. Besides, I’m married.
My next troll called himself ‘Captain Oblivious.’ When I was critical of the Anusara scandal, the Captain called me a name that rhymed with runt. I can’t be sure what he threatened because I stopped reading after runt.
Now I have a troll who doesn’t think I’m funny! This is the most insulting of all my trolls, because I think that I am very funny. After harassing me for months, she has now threatened me, asked people to post bogus reviews on Yelp, and then called and threatened my employers to say they needed to fire me—or else!
There is something about the pretense of anonymity on the Internet that allows our dark side to come forward. Some of us may believe that being in the dark is the same as being safe to behave in any way whatsoever. It’s not true.
This is my motto:
What you do when nobody is watching is as important as what you do when everyone is watching.
Furthermore, there is no such thing as computer privacy. Electronics have little identifier tags and now people can tell who you are even when you sign your name Captain Oblivious.
I am often asked how do I continue to write a blog in the extremely treacherous yoga world? It’s not easy, but it’s about being afraid and doing it anyway. It is sort of like practicing handstand.
In fact, writing in the days of Internet trolls is probably the second bravest thing I’ve ever done, after eating the rattlesnake. By the way, it tastes like chicken. But you knew that, didn’t you? (If you didn’t think that was funny, or if you want to protect the rattlesnakes, please don’t start a campaign to get me fired. Thank you.)
If the trolls come marching into your life, here’s some advice:
- Do not engage. Trolls are seeking engagement, so if you don’t, they may go away. However, if that doesn’t work, then try to respond kindly and answer their concerns. There’s a chance they will go away if there was a misunderstanding, like, they didn’t get a joke.
- Be firm if they cross the line. State that you will not tolerate threats. Do not counter-threaten them, just go to the authorities. A lawyer costs money, but probably not as much as you will lose if the troll is successful at costing you work. Internet shenanigans can be a local crime, or federal or civil. Let the authorities decide how to handle it.
- Document everything. Copy the emails, threats and postings before they erase it. Prepare your case before you have to make it.
- Tell people you are being threatened. For a while, I felt embarrassed that I was so un-funny that I deserved to be fired (I know, I should be in therapy.). If you let people know you are being threatened, they will understand.
- Speak out, not against. In the case where the troll wanted me to meet her in a strange house, I published everything instead. I laid the entire business out on my website, Facebook and Twitter, and several hundred supportive clicks later she disappeared. If others support you, strangely enough the troll goes away.
- Stay truthful and stay fearless. Most of all the trolls want to bully you into being quiet. Try to stay steady on your path. Know that although one person is making a lot of noise, there are others who value what you have to say, and that you had the courage to say it. I know this is true, because I hear it every single day from thousands of people, and honestly that is the thing that keeps me going.
Ed: Brianna B.