Positive engagement in the era of trolls



On it’s early years, the Internet and social media in most part, gives a pleasant experience to users. It’s a platform to meet new friends, receive encouragement, harness our creativity, communicate our message and push our brand. Through the years, however, the medium was increasingly being used, albeit intentionally, to heap abuse on a person or the freedom of expression that we enjoy.

  •  An ideal intelligent exchange of insights has been marred by personal insults and bashing.
  • A supposed space to cultivate creativity has become a hunting ground for faultfinders.
  • Shooting the messenger rather than present a fact-based argument has become the convenient way to address a dissenting opinion.
  •  The usual strategic medium to add value to another human being has become a medium to bully and harass another soul.

While organic trolls, those who find pleasure on the misery and misfortune of others have been in existence since the early days of social web. Nowadays, we also have to contend with those who are managed by strategists, either committed to a cause for free or for a fee, to stalk and destroy a person, group, idea or brand.

READ: Internet Trolls: Why they never really went away… at all

Image via jeddstuart on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Image via jeddstuart on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Bias for Freedom of Expression

The Philippines is biased to Americas’ brand of freedom, and its inclination to protect anonymity in social web. The intention, advocates say, is to guarantee free speech.

However, because this anonymity provides escape from accountability, this has encouraged trolling.

Police authorities had since gone public acknowledging it is not easy to identify an anonymous person on the web, this emboldened the trolls to further spread hate and intrude to a person’s private life.

The core value and principle that is meant to protect human rights and freedom, unfortunately, is being abused to trample personal dignity and human rights that it seek to protect, in the name of free expression.

The Challenge

Will this present realities cause us to evaluate our bias towards the liberal definition of freedom of expression, and anonymity?

Given the traction in the online community, below are the common responses to a negative online experience.

  1. Keep silent, out of fear of being cyber lynched.
  2. Ignore the trolls. The negative environment stretched our resilience in the process.
  3. Stand up against negativity by collectively providing patterns of troll behaviors.
  4. Seek help from the legal system, when personal safety and security is threatened.

However, since present laws may not cover all online negative experiences, it can lead to legislation of laws that are traditionally not palatable to Filipinos. Top in mind are the national ID system, registration of pre-paid sim cards, and other laws that will reduce anonymity in self-expression.

Positive Engagement

A one-two punch of short and long intervention can contribute to positive online environment.

On the near term, here’s what we can do to promote positive engagement.

  1. Do not be afraid to express our self. Do not surrender our freedom because of the negativity.
  2. When engaging, do not shoot the messenger but focus on the message.
  3. When engaging, be factual and objective, and less emotional.
  4. When in disagreement, be respectful at all times
  5. Choose your battle, and your opponent. As much as you can, engage those whom your time and creative juices will not be wasted.
  6. Use words that build and encourage, rather than destroy.
  7. Your end in mind, when engaging, should be to add value to the conversation and the readers.

Likewise, webmasters and community managers can also contribute to a positive online engagement, by soliciting the suggestions from members, and formulating a community guideline that will be engaging but troll free environment.

In the long term, while the government can enact laws to address cyber abuses, as an advocate of cyber wellness, I believe we should continue to support cyber wellness education of kids. Teaching young kids about the proactive use of social web and the responsible exercise of our rights and freedom will create a more positive experience on the web in the long term.

  1. It’ll be cool if our educators, thru creative educational interventions, can connect and apply our treasured Filipino values to kids online activities.
  2. Strengthening parents and the academe partnership as a matter of policy will result to strategic collaboration between two stakeholders in raising responsible digital citizens.
  3. It’ll be to the benefit of the kids if the academe will also extend similar cyber wellness education to the nannies and household helpers.
  4. For grown-up kids, involving them on policy formulations and developing community standards can help in influencing them to use social web in a value-adding manner.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the comment section below, on how we can create and keep a positive social web environment.

This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) 


15 thoughts on “Positive engagement in the era of trolls”

  1. Isn’t it sad that this problem even exists? I find it hard to understand why these trolls would choose to spend their time creating this negativity when there is so much to do in this wonderful world and so little time to do it in. Thankfully I’ve never been a victim of cyber bullying. Knowing this exists was my reason to choose to moderate all comments on my blog before they are published though.

  2. I fortunately haven’t been on the receiving end of trolls or cyber bullying. Although I still haven’t experience it yet, I don’t welcome such kind of negativity. Thus, I absolutely agree with everything you’ve mentioned especially the cyber wellness education of kids. They are our hope.

    We can no longer educate the adult digital citizens. So I think to steer clear from that we also have the responsibility to carry ourselves well online. And when we choose to discuss controversial topics on our social media and is publicly visible, we’ll need to accept the fact that there will be someone who will be against our ideals.

    -Me-An Clemente of http://yogoandcream.com

    1. Agree with you, Me-An, that we cannot educate adult netizens. The thing about educating is that there must be learners. No one can teach if no one else is willing to learn.

      Like you, I have not seen anything TOO negative on my social media. But that is also because I choose people I add as friends and get rid of people who are toxic. There is one person who works in mass media who do post ABSOLUTELY BIASED and NEGATIVE posts. I know that person and knows he does that deliberately because it is a part of his job. Now, how he does thing is basically an untamed version of what media outlets do anyway.

      See, I do not make much distinction between outright bashing of trolls and distorted news presented by media. 🙂

  3. Very nice post. Detailed and complete. I agree with your suggestions and there is one more thing people could do. Since Facebook is the top social media platform, this applies to Facebook. Choose the people you are friends with. Remove toxic people, those who do not know how to respect other people.

  4. To be honest I really don’t get where the trolls are coming from. It’s like it takes so much of their energy to try to be decent on the Internet. As with me, I deal with them by not acknowledging their presence. Trolls feed on attention. It’s not that I don’t want them to go away or that I don’t want them to answer to what they’ve done, it’s just that I don’t think responding to them is productive and I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of being noticed.

  5. Miera Nadhirah Rashidi

    Fortunately I am still free from trolls, but yes, I know I have a couple of friends who are victims, and I tell them to just ignore these trolls and negativity and to delete these people and block them if it just so happens……

  6. Kudos for a wonderful, well written post. Cyberbullying is a serious crime which can ruin a person’s morale. It can lead to depression or other mental illness which can sometimes lead suicide… In a way, it is a step closer to murder. Thank you for the tips, I will surely keep them in mind especially that I am blogger myself and part of my life is exposed to public. Now I know better how to handle the negativity in this digital world.

  7. The greatest target of cyberbullying are young people and gullible people. Unfortunately both can be targeted quite well through their emotions. Trolling in all capacities is terrible and when trolling and hacking come together the results can be quite disastrous. I have always tried to teach my oldest daughter about these things but even she has fallen for some trolling abuse through the troll haven Tumblr. Needless to say she is not on tumblr anymore.

  8. Mommy QueenElizabeth

    Trolls! They are everywhere and i can relate to it. Im still thankful i still dont have any badluck of dealing with them yet. And i dont hope for it. I do have friends who were victims of these and what i advise them is to block negative people from their social pages. We cannot waste our energy dealing with them so might just get rid of them..

  9. Thelittlelai: Beyond limits

    I’m learning a lot from this blog post. Cyber bullying has been rampant recently and some has been experiencing difficulties on how to deal with it. I get to bring this with me, especially the responding process to trolls. Everyone can be a victim of these trolls and we can never evade, but it is about how we deal with it to lessen the issues which was what you have stated in your article and it is a great help.

  10. Internet has gone so toxic. Especially this past election. I just wonder how do these trolls feel when they bash other people. While we are very selective in what we post online, on how we interact online, there will always be those trolls that will always put you under attack. And what’s more saddening is the fact that some people hire more people to do just the trolling! Can we all just be respectful? Just by thinking about it makes it stressful for me. I have already unfollowed some pages because of how it impacted the negativity i see everyday. Hopefully, this issue can be addressed by those who are capable. Sigh

  11. On internet you find a lot of BS haha. People seems to be so easily expressive from behind a desktop. More than in real life. Telling it to someones face is much harder than to write something as easy as a comment that is maybe even offensive. Internet bullying is such a thing too. Then the video’s of children beating each other up. I can’t stand this side of the internet. Thank god we have people like you writing an article for more awareness 😀

  12. Pia Dysangco Villamor

    This post is pretty timely for me – because I’ve been thinking about this issue as of late. I used to think that the anti-cyberbullying law is something that we could do without – because it violates freedom of speech. But lately, because of all the negativity and lies all over social media, I’m beginning to see the need for it. I agree with you, we should educate the kids to use social media responsibly- I personally follow a hard and fast rule; if you don’t have the courage to say a particular comment to a person’s face, then there’s no room for it in social media.

  13. Everyone has motives. I do not like when I read inappropriate comments but then they have the right and access to say their opinion. I report the accounts which I think are spam and using indecent language. I also do not make a comment on sensitive topics like politics, religion and so on.

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