Whether it be advice on handling trolls, or arguments about free speech, trolling generates a lot of discussion today. And while this may be a relatively new phenomenon on the internet, as the internet itself is new to the world, hatred directed at political speech or speech in general isn’t new. Long before trolls, there were hecklers.
Advice on dealing with the two is also similar. If you think the person is engaging in unlawful behaviour, you report the person to authorities. If you don’t want to take that trouble, you get a moderator to remove the person from the forum. You crack a joke, you argue back with facts, and so on.
For those of us who have lived outside of social media, too, our online problems seem to make more sense when we find an analogy for them offline. If you are looking for guides that help you handle trolls online, here are some offline heckler take-downs that are worth watching.
Trolls are often trying to just upset you or try to provoke an emotional response. They attack you personally instead of focussing on arguing their point. Although this appears counter-intuitive, sometimes they might have a point to make, where you might benefit from hearing them out.
During the Q&A session after a lecture at Boston University, the well-known linguist Noam Chomsky did just that and more when handling an angry heckler. In the video below (at 1 hour, 11 minutes), he even appears to be making notes as the heckler passionately attacks him, and then does a brilliant takedown.
In the middle of her 2008 presidential primary campaign, Hilary Clinton faced a heckler who wouldn’t stop shouting, “Iron My Shirt!” That isn’t much different from online forums where a troll hurls abuse.
Clinton’s response, though, was something not many might be adept at doing online. When intimidated or abused by somebody online, most people rarely report this to the platform’s moderator or law enforcement agencies. Doing this can be a strong signal to everybody that the person’s act is not proper, if not criminal, and definitely not an argument against your speech. Clinton not only got the person removed from the auditorium, but also used his comment to her advantage. “I am also running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling,” she told her audience pointing to the sexism in the heckler’s comment, and got a resounding applause.
In India at least, a whole lot of people will descend to threaten and intimidate you if you are saying something political. Perhaps they do so under the impression that they can get away with it. A helpful way to shut them up might be to explain to them how what they are doing can be punished.
The British comedian Russell Brand did a version of that when a really loud heckler shouted abuse during his Messiah Complex tour. Of course, his skills at comedy make his response funny too.
If you are a public figure or even if you are running a social media account for an organisation, things can get more difficult. There is always that person who hasn’t even read your post, but responded with a barrage of hate, that maybe does not violate your filters for comments, but is also close to that boundary.
Jagmeet Singh, a Canadian politician, recently showed how to deal with such tricky situations. When a heckler started making racist comments at one of his “JagMeet and Greet” events, he told the audience to hear her out and to respond with love and respect, but also stood his ground by stating, “This is a little bit awkward, but it’s OK. We’re not intimidated by hatefulness.”
Researchers who study trolls seem to agree that trolls thrive on the anonymity internet provides. If you use this right to abuse, it is likely that you will be required to give up some of it. Comedians seem to have made this a standard response to handling hecklers, who, like the trolls on internet, use the darkness of an auditorium to shout abuse.
In the video below, Amy Schumer does exactly that. She makes everybody point at the heckler, who shouts abuse at her, at which point he has no option but to leave.
And as all these instances show, another important thing to remember is to not lose your cool. If you don’t want any trouble at all, of course, you can also ignore the troll or report them.
Do let us know in the comment section if these videos help you handle trolls online.