How Twitter keeps teaching me to watch my bad behavior
Are you a constant contrarian, interjecting heated points into lukewarm discussions? Do you escalate things, directing conversations into your level of enthusiasm? On Twitter, do you tag users’ names after they’ve stopped responding? Do you reply after the fact, when no one’s paying attention?
Rather than contest a social norm, do you argue semantics, choosing abstract targets to sound politically correct? Are your rhetorical questions veiled attempts to express your feelings? Joking about sensitive issues, do you reveal too much truth in your jesting?
Is your profile page a minefield of polarizing statements, you wish someone would step on, just to give you a reason to go off on a tangent? Do you see yourself as a delegate for your beliefs or their defender? When you champion a cause, do you lead with a white flag or a bayonet?
There’s no shortage of assholes on the internet, but ask yourself: if you run into more of them than any other type of person, who’s the real asshole?
You might be a closeted troll and not even know it.
Don’t worry, there’s help. You can still hold your chin up without having to perform complicated mental gymnastics.
The goal of this article is not to scare you into the middle, to sway you from ever bringing religion or politics to the Twitter table. Its aim is not to whitewash your sense of humor, to take the teeth out of your sarcasm, or the venom from your satire. I’m not interested in silencing critics, getting psychoanalytic, or converting cynics into romantics.
I’m here to help you avoid transforming into a troll and to give some tips for dealing with those who have.
Humble Thy Self: Admit your Mistakes
When designer Rob Sheridan posted a video on the internet’s shrinking attention span, I was so eager to recommend Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, that I paused the clip right before it mentioned the book. Seeing my Tweet, Sheridan called out the irony of my actions. I had no choice but to agree. Humble is the user who favorites posts that call them a Jack-Ass.
For someone who Tweets a lot about writing, I really ought to proofread more. Undermining my authority, my typos betray me. That’s why when someone calls out my mistakes, I try not to make a scene.
If a grammar fascist comes knocking, my personal policy is to thank them for their services, and hope they move on. I’m always seeking evocative adjectives to spice up my musing. Sometimes I mix up words that don’t mean what I intend.
Someone called me out for substituting ‘unrequited,’ as in unwanted love, for ‘unsolicited’ as in free advice. Having swapped these two out for so long, I forgot that I’d taken an artistic license. Maybe I needed to be made a laughing stock to learn my lesson. The trick was to laugh with my unrequested editors.
If someone catches me using “prey” instead of “pray,” like “I prey the Time Warner Templars aren’t aloud to join forces with the Cult of Comcast.” my default response is “It’s National Homophone Day, I’m just raising awareness.” It’s my way of saying, I recognize my mistake, thanks for catching it, now we’re both in on the joke.
I also celebrate Opposite Punctuation Day whenever I use an apostrophe in the possessive pronoun “Its,” and Dangling Particle Day whenever my sentences confuse the relationship between two nouns and a verb.
If you put a lot of content out there, you’re increasing your odds of someone spotting an error. There are funny ways to admit your mistakes:
– I’m not a reckless storyteller, I switch tenses to pique the public’s interest in time travel. I’m a scientist.
– Mislabeling the tragic “ironic,” I’m the king of irony, misusing the word as an homage to its actual meaning.
– I literally used the word “literally” in place of “figuratively” to see if you knew the difference. Congratulations, you passed my test.
Sometimes I need a reminder that “loose” is the condition of my pants without a belt, and “lose” is what happens to my pants if I run without that belt. Sometimes I just have to fess up to my Freudian slips, hang a lantern on my redundancies, and make a monument to my oxymorons.
When all else fails, I blame my phone’s autocorrect function, especially when it’s something I actually typed on my computer.
Dealing with Trolls
Watching my favorite authors’ Twitter feeds, I’ve noticed a trend: the more followers they have, the bigger targets they become. You have the power to put out a flame war before it ever gets started. Here’s some of the best methods I’ve seen them use.
This is the art of using a troll’s force against them. Put their insult in lights for all your followers to see. Usually, Twitter users can only see conversations when they follow both participants, but if you put a dot in front of the other user’s Twitter handle, you broadcast their ravings to everyone you know. Another trick is to take a snap shot of the troll’s posts in case they try to delete them.
Troll Jujutsu is a great method to draw awareness to harassment campaigns. If you blog about sexism, only to find yourself besieged with sexist trolls, rebroadcasting their behavior can draw out supporters.
Turning the other Tweet
One of my favorite Tweeters has her writing advice challenged constantly. People have called her a self-indulgent narcissist, point blank.
Her response, “Yep, that’s me. I know I am, but what are you?”
Her’s is a method of non-violent resistance. Some users take abuse in stride, a sure sign their following is big enough to take on strays.
Another one of my favorite social media figures, automates her Tweets, posting links, quotes, and articles on writing 24/7. She replies, retweets, and writes live statements too, but some users are critical of her presence when she’s obviously sleeping.
Her response, “I’m just trying to run a business. You can always mute or unfollow, you have options.”
Link them to their Fallacy
Why argue with a troll’s reasoning when you can defer them to pages that have refuted their claims in advance?
YourLogicalFallacyIs.com is an excellent resource for this, cataloging and defining unsound statements, from the classic Straw Man: misrepresenting an argument to make it easier to attack, to the Middle Ground, claiming the point between two extremes is the truth. Each example has it’s own page so you can copy and paste the link when needed.
Not only is the site a great collection of comebacks, it’s a way to challenge your own style of arguing. Reading through the definitions, I can’t believe how many of them I’ve been guilty of.
Starve them Out
If social media is your business and your profile is your brand, you might not have the time or energy to deal with escalation.
I’ve posted a couple of articles with the hashtag #GayRights, and I’ve got some hateful responses. These trolls never bother to click on the links (one article is on how hate monger Fred Phelps struck an accidental blow for gay rights, and the other is on how laws that deny rights to gays, on religious grounds, should deny rights to left handed people too). These trolls just searched the hashtag #GayRights and carpet bombed anyone who posted anything.
These weren’t hearts and minds I could win. They weren’t worth my time. That’s why I just hit the block button, end of discussion.
How to Stop the Transformation
Even though I know better, I still have to fight the urge to air my grievances in online forums, to give into my reactionary nature and harass public figures.
When it comes to arguing points, it’s hard to make irrefutable statements in 140 characters. This is what a blog is for. Writing editorials in the longer form, I see where they work and where they need to be reinforced with research.
If you’re known for flying off the handle, letting the Tweets flow every time you turn on the news, don’t be surprised when you hemorrhage followers. You can bring light to important issues, but don’t forget to offer your readers something that’s distinctly you.
The best way to avoid becoming a Twitter troll is to balance your tirade to praise ratio. For everything you dump on, you’ve got to find something worth celebrating. For every polarizing statement, you’ve got to put out something magnetic. For every irrefutable claim you make, you need to ask questions that invite participation.
In the past, every time I championed a cause my followers left me to fend for myself. It wasn’t that these causes were toxic, it’s just that my tone was. One of the hardest lessons Twitter keeps teaching me, is to err on the side of positivity.