For a few years now, I’ve had commenters who hide behind anonymity and leave nasty comments on my blog. Usually, they are on politically-oriented posts, but not always. On my 10th anniversary post, someone left a comment that had no place there, and I deleted it. Often these comments are made to inflame me and my readers, but this one was aimed solely at me. I’m sure it was meant to “put me in my place.” One thing they said was I hide behind anonymity, yet, they left their comment anonymously. The commenter was just another hypocrite. Why do people feel the need to be cruel or unkind? Why are so many ‘Karens’ showing up these days harassing people? What makes the tinfoil hatters come out in droves? Lately, it seems people are on the attack, and wild conspiracy theories abound. I tend to think it is because the current president has done so much damage to civility. People no longer feel manners are needed. Role models are being disparaged everyday so the weak and mean-spirited can feel better about their own worthless selves.
Social media is a huge part of our lives. It’s used in everything; it’s everywhere. And at some point, nearly all of us will undoubtedly be subjected to some form of negativity there. These negative people earn the titles: troll, flamer, or cyber bully, and as a rule, are just rude and mean. But what exactly are trolls, flamers, and cyber bullies and how do they differ? Trolls are people who post non-relevant, often offensive content on message boards, forums, blogs, or social networking sites—anywhere they will get a reaction. Their goal is to start a flame war which means successful trolling. That brings us to the flamers. Often, these are the people who respond to the trolls’ inflammatory posts. They begin warring with words about the content using name-calling and threats to try to get other flamers to back down. Flamers, like trolls, tend to come off as idiots due to their neglect of standard grammar and spelling. Flaming can be closely related to cyber bullying. Cyber bullies are not limited to the Internet; they sometimes use texting to intimidate their targets. Cyber bullies are unique from flamers and trolls in that they sometimes target people they know in real life rarely bothering to keep their identity a secret.
Trolls, flamers, and cyber bullies are bountiful on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you have a blog or just read them, you’ve likely come in contact with them at some point. Facebook gets particularly intense when there are national or international events going on. When you are friends with conservatives and liberals on Facebook, your feed can feel like entering a literal boxing match of words. Arguments are endless, and comments from both sides try to get a rise out of each other. These days, I look at Facebook less and less. There are too many people showing their utter ignorance. People post some of the stupidest unsupported ideas to push their political agendas. It was bad during the Obama Administration with barely concealed racism, but with Trump in office, it has become more intense, and is getting worse with the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. It should be noted that having arguments doesn’t mean trolling is taking place. Sometimes they are just ignorant. Someone who makes a wild, unwarranted, and insulting comment is trolling. Someone who brings something off topic into the conversation to make a person mad is trolling. Flamers feed off a troll’s comments but come off as complete imbeciles, because their grammar and spelling are usually terrible. Quite often, it is so bad, it is barely comprehensible. Cyber bullies may do the same things, but it’s usually personal.
Social media is an excellent way to engage with the world around you, and a great way to make friends. In the 10 years I’ve been blogging, I’ve made some wonderful friends. But while it can be a positive experience, you’ll probably run into trolls, flamers, and cyber bullies on the Internet. The Internet is often brushed off as unimportant by those who spend little time there, but the social implications of its nearly anonymous status are bigger than most people would like to admit. The anonymity is the only reason trolls and flamers can get away with their abusive speech.
I’ve been criticized for remaining “anonymous” and using a pseudonym, but here’s the kicker, my name really is Joe, and if you pay attention to what I write about my life, it’s not hard to figure out my real identity. Like Superman and Clark Kent, if people had just paid attention, they would have noticed they were the same person not that I am comparing myself to Superman. People who have contacted me by email usually get to know who I am as I learn who they are. I like getting to know my readers, and I work to have a positive place for them. I’m not always positive; sometimes my depression comes through. People have said I complain too much, but is it really complaining if I’m just being honest about my current state of mind or health? Shouldn’t I have the right to say what I want on my own blog? I often wonder why trolls and flamers continue to read what I write if they hate it so much. I discuss my sexuality and mental and physical health so that someone out there can relate and not feel alone. I know how lonely you can feel with an issue you think is singular to you.
A therapist once told me I hide my pain. In the past, people who knew me often didn’t know I was in constant pain from migraines. They didn’t know when I was sad, depressed, and/or anxious; they didn’t know my sexuality. I put on a brave face and hid my pain, and who I really was. Those who really knew and cared about me could always tell when something wasn’t right. They knew when I had a migraine or when I was sad, but most people never saw that part of me. Southerners, like me, were taught not to complain. But in the last 10 years, a few things have changed: I live openly as a gay man in Vermont; and I’m generally more honest about how I’m feeling. So, when I have a bad migraine and don’t feel like writing a post, I explain why I’m not posting that day. I know some of you would wonder why I didn’t post, and I don’t want to cause anyone to worry.
One of the differences between the North and the South is when someone is asked, “How are you doing?” A Southerner is going to respond with “I’m fine,” no matter how they are feeling. When you ask a Northerner the same question, they are likely to tell you everything that is wrong with them. Maybe it’s living in Vermont, maybe it’s writing this blog, or maybe it’s because I’m more comfortable with who I am, but I hide my pain less now. I try to be more open to who I really am. I think it makes me a more honest person, not a complainer.
And for future trolls, flamers, and cyber bullies who come to this blog, I hope they will read and remember my rules on posting comments:
1. Always be kind and considerate to others.
2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking.
3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate.
4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.