Peering under the bridge


I haven’t had much to do with trolls in my lifetime.

Save for reading about the one that lived under the bridge in the Three Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale, and a tiny smiling purple-haired troll doll I had when I was ten.

It was with much initial dismay that I came to know a couple more, after I published an article in The Punch a few weeks back. For the purpose of this post, I’m defining a troll as, ‘someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages in an online community, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response, or disrupting normal on-topic discussion’. I’m not averse to constructive critique by any means, and am always up for a good debate.


After pouring my heart out about a truly sad tale I had experienced and witnessed, I thought my piece would provide a necessary insight in to what women on our doorstep (Papua New Guinea) face daily, and suitable also for reflection during International Women’s Day.

The initial wave of euphoria at its publication and positive feedback from people, was quite rapidly tempered by a series of awful, nonconstructive and unedifying comments underneath.

Reading them I felt dismayed, disappointed, misunderstood, frayed. I wanted to defend myself and point out that people were way off the mark and missing my point entirely. I wanted to tell them they were dead wrong, and ‘here’s why’. But I stayed away. I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire. And frankly I was just dang scared of wading in. A few brave souls (bless you all) dived in to the fray to defend me, but they also had strips torn off them.

So thus it came to pass that I became well acquainted with the bottom half of the internet. The place frequented by mouth-breathing, knuckle dragging trolls. Of course, I’d intellectually heard about and observed this part of the internet, don’t get me wrong. But to truly see it and know it, I think you’ve got to be the subject of it.

My experience actually only consisted of one or two trolls, most were just nasty commenters, with the sane and rational comments peppered few and far between. And it must be noted that what I experienced is only a mere glimpse of what many journalists, writers, and celebrities experience ALL THE TIME. Holy moly, the likes of Charlotte Dawson and Mia Freedman, I dip my lid to you ladies for being able to move on from mega-trolling with grace.

Friends were so super to me. Swooping in and showering me with hilarious cartoons ridiculing the comment section of articles. They made me laugh so hard. But the experience in toto left me feeling a bit emotionally battered and bruised.

So I set about trying to find a way to handle it, with some iron clad advice to grip on to.

Hurters are Hurting

While my first impulse was an almighty urge to line up the nasties and give them each a swift roundhouse kick to the gonads, it didn’t take long for my stance on these people to soften slightly, to something a bit more compassionate and sympathetic. What must these trolls and nasties lives be like, if they feel the need to be anonymously awful to someone?

They must be enduring some kind of enormous pain inside, to have the compulsion to verbally vomit up all their vitriol in to the comments section of my article. It reminded me of the saying: What Sally says about me, says more about Sally than it does about me.

You are what you love, not what loves you

This is a stunning piece of advice. It’s something I’d previously read on comedian Kyle Cease’s blog awhile back, and went to revisit. ‘You are what you love, not what loves you’,  can be applied to life on a daily basis. In a nutshell, Cease is saying, focus on what you’re loving, your happiness is in your hands. Look at all the wonderful things that you love – your art, your passions, your family, your friends. That’s who you are. Not what comes back at you in the other direction.

You cannot lose your power if you only focus on what you’re creating, what you’re loving. Whatever comes back at you is their business. And if you can see the good in people, despite sh*tty behaviour, even better. You’re pretty invincible if you can do that.

So just because some guy with a keyboard and an internet connection thinks that what I’m doing and talking about is rubbish, does not mean I need to take it to heart. It’s not going to stop me from creating and saying what I need to say.

As a recovering people-pleaser, this is still a revelation to me.

Get in the arena, and dare greatly

The next piece of advice I’ve drawn significant strength from was listening to Brene Brown speak about commenter nastiness, particularly on news sites. Of this, Brene speaks very earnestly about the awfulness she’s experienced. This is what she has to say on ‘The Comments section’:

“If you are not in the arena, getting your butt kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback. If you’ve got something constructive to say in response to my piece, put your name on it and own it.” Anonymous people and trolls frequenting the comments sections of our news sites are not in the arena. They don’t have any skin in the game.

Brene also refers to a quote that I’m now going to have laminated and stuck to my wall. It inspired her latest book, Daring Greatly, and is worth reading in full.

From Teddy Roosevelt in 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Of course, ‘man’ will be replaced with ‘person’ in my version. But otherwise, Teddy is bang on the money.

So with those pieces of advice, I have done up a short little manifesto for dealing with the comments section:

With regard to the BOTTOM HALF OF THE INTERNET I will remember the following:

1) The hurters are hurting (what Sally says about me says more about Sally than it does about me)
2) I am what I love (not what loves me)

And the big one:

3) I am in the arena, putting myself out there and daring greatly

If you ever find yourself in the position of fending off awfulness from the bottom half of the internet, I urge you to try and reframe the situation, using some or all of the above points in my little manifesto. It’s helped me so much.
Remember first and foremost that YOU DID IT! You got in and are in the arena. You claimed your strength, embraced vulnerability, and you’ve stepped out with your voice and the written word.

Because getting out there, I think, is ultimately the biggest battle.

It’s also one you’ve already won.

As for me, I will definitely walk over that bridge again. I may also still peer under it, in to the bottom half of the internet, where there be trolls.

But I will not linger. Because I’m crossing OVER that bridge, and in to the arena.

Image credit

Have you had much experience with the nasty side of comment sections? Do you have any suggestions for additions to my Bottom Half of the Internet Manifesto? I’d love to hear from you.

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  • SJ

    Damn unintelligent trolls! If I ever come face to face with “The Real Dave” I’m gonna kick him in the ovaries!!! Constructive criticism is a very important learning tool but trolls are there to provoke a fight response and don’t wish to participate in intelligent conversation in these comment sections of articles. Definitely says more about them than you and they are compensating for a lack of self-esteem. I love the idea of stepping into the area – may the odds be ever in your favour 😉

  • Bernadette

    Great reframe, and very useful when dealing with vitriol. LOVE the picture of the troll under the bridge!

  • Caroline

    Just had time to watch the video and I LOVE Bene Brown’s comments. This is going to come in super helpful for me (someone who can’t help but read every comment on her columns.)

    As a writer, we have to expect our work will attract all types of people, and realise those who actually comment are a small minority of the people who will read the writing. In a way, I think putting your work out there, you have to take the good with the bad. There will always be people who disagree, people who are nasty, and people who are downright stupid – just as in real life – but the beauty of free speech is they get a say, too. Where it crosses the line are personal attacks or threats. However, I wholeheartedly agree that if a person won’t even put their name on their comments, they shouldn’t be paid much heed.

    Great, thought-provoking topic. xx

    • Carly

      If you love that short clip, you MUST watch the two episodes of Brene’s from Super Soul Sunday. Full of awesome wisdom xx

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