How to cope when you can't block a personal troll
November 9, 2011 9:00 PM   Subscribe

How do you emotionally deal with a long-time, persistent, cross-platform troll?

I have a troll who has followed me around the internet for almost six years. She (and yes, she's clearly a she) has followed me across projects (my personal blog, my various work blogs, other people's blogs) and across platforms (creating numerous dummy accounts on Flickr and Twitter). She's followed my work closely for years, and leaves hateful comments almost everywhere I go.

I have never responded directly (everyone knows: Don't feed the trolls!), but a couple years ago I got sick of the abuse and made my personal blog members-only. I could handle the professional abuse (I'm a web publisher and writer for a living; it's just part of the job) but I couldn't handle it on my personal blog any more.

She's never threatened me, but has dedicated over five years to telling me I'm fat, ugly, old, untalented, intolerable, a failure, bla bla bla. Just the usual superficial hate, but with an oddly intelligent angle that tells me she's doggedly committed to following my actions online. I think I'm her favorite trainwreck that she loves to hate.

Given the cross-platform nature of her trolling, there's no technical way to stop it completely. I can block her dummy accounts on given platforms, but she can always create more. I don't ever respond to her, and the editors who work for me know to just delete her crap without acknowledging it.

So, my question here isn't technical -- it's emotional. What are your coping techniques for dealing with long-term, low-grade, persistent online harassment that's clearly coming from one determined source? I have a few of my own coping strategies, but I'd love to hear from other folks who have put up with this kind of thing for years.
posted by arielmeadow to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Remember that most people trying to bring you down believe you are somehow above them.
posted by edguardo at 9:16 PM on November 9, 2011 [11 favorites]

Judge me all you want, stupid face - I don't have feelings anymore.

Nothing can do anything to me!

Taken from Hyperbole and a Half's excellent Adventures in Depression

tl;dr Haters gonna hate, stop caring and let them waste their menial little lives.
posted by Strass at 9:17 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would cope via a restraining order.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:18 PM on November 9, 2011 [14 favorites]

I would cope via a restraining order.

Me too. You are being stalked.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:20 PM on November 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

I don't think this is restraining order territory but is there any way to restrict commenting on your blogs to approval only or Facebook comments. Also keep your head up and congrats on attracting your first total psycho, you've made it!
posted by boobjob at 9:22 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Understand that this person's problem is not really with you. The whys of that you may never understand, but the reasons behind it are more than likely quite complicated and deeply rooted within their past.

I would personally have some record of this person's online activities in case anything were to happen in the future, though. I say that only because of the length of time they have given to this.
posted by mleigh at 9:38 PM on November 9, 2011

"I don't think this is restraining order territory but is there any..."

Wait, maybe you're right this isn't restraining order activity, but this could definitely be headed that way. I would do what I could to document the activity and prove that its come from the same location/IP address/person. There's no telling if troll craziness will bleed into real life craziness, but my understanding is restraining orders come faster and stronger if you have evidence of a pattern of abuse.
posted by midmarch snowman at 9:39 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I vote that (if you/are were in Canada) this would not, as said, be restraining order territory. It would be well past that and into Criminal Code "criminal harassment" area. Your local laws may vary but I would report it to the cops. If you have recent IP address information for your abuser they may be able to get in touch with the person IN REAL LIFE which could result in them stopping, and of course if they continue AFTER being spoken to by the police then criminal code charges are a slam dunk.

YLLMV (You Local Laws May Vary).
posted by tiamat at 9:44 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This might sound goofy, but it totally worked for me when I was in a similar situation and felt overwhelmed by my own anxiety and negative thoughts about the person and the situation. Whenever my mind would start feeling anxious about the situation, or if I was just thinking about the person in any way, I would have a little mantra "Ohm, Shanti, Peace, Love, Happiness, I love you I love you I love you" and simultaneously picture the person ensconced in a warm womb-like container and being transported into the clouds. I would just do this until my feelings had dissipated. It won't help make the troll go away, or manage any repercussions, but it might help you take back some of the control that they are exerting over you.
posted by gubenuj at 9:47 PM on November 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

Just think of how miserable her life must be to put so much effort into trying to bring you down. It's pathetic really.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:52 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't necessarily agree with the restraining-order contingent in here. But in their defense, since it's being so forcefully put on the table, it's worth clarifying two things.

First, you specified that your question is emotional. You're looking for coping strategies. Obtaining a restraining order does accomplish that for a lot of people. It is difficult at first and can even feel shameful, asking the justice system for help dealing with what (you might feel) should be strictly an interpersonal relationship, but if you push past those initial emotions and are successful in obtaining the order, many people feel a rush of returning control, relief, etc. It definitely falls into the "emotional coping strategy" box.

Second, there's a difference between obtaining a restraining order and going to the police. One doesn't require the other. Police are often too swamped to respond adequately to even more harmful crimes, and although you might be able to articulate a criminal case under some statute wherever you live, I'd suspect the odds are low that you will get police and/or prosecutors to pursue it for you. This is where restraining orders have power: It is a self-help route that sidesteps the police/prosecution arm. You can walk into court yourself and seek a restraining order, without needing any prosecutor's approval. And if the order is violated, then you can return to court on your own—and it gets better because you can remove yourself from the equation to some extent, because the issue has now changed from "What did X do to me?" to "X violated the court's order," shifting the focus away from you and making it more "X vs. Court." It's almost like a bear trap in that sense, and one that you can set yourself. In certain circumstances of harassment, going straight to a restraining order makes a lot more sense than trying to ring the police's doorbell.

Again, I don't necessarily think it's the solution based on what you describe. But it may be a possibility depending on your jurisdiction, and since it is being hammered I think it's worth pointing out that it can have emotional rewards, and it doesn't require going through the police. It's a separate route and quite different.

Good luck. I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by cribcage at 10:11 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

This person is a stalker. You need help. Contact the police if you can, as well as the various providers that host her profiles.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:18 PM on November 9, 2011

Well the traditional way to cope is to sit around with your friends and make fun of the person and situation until you can reduce it to a few bad puns. I've always found that pretty effective.
posted by fshgrl at 10:35 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: She's never threatened me, but has dedicated over five years to telling me I'm fat, ugly, old, untalented, intolerable, a failure, bla bla bla.

I'm sorry but, unless you've left something out, I can't imagine there is any jurisdiction where this is criminal. This is someone having opinions. Yes, I'm 100% confident you are *not* these things and this person has an irrational grudge, but nevertheless: making threats and stalking are crimes. Expressing negative opinions about someone is not a crime.

Emotionally, I don't know that laughing at it is the answer, unless I'm misreading the situation, because this sounds really not funny. Personally I would tell myself this person is most likely mentally ill and not fully in control of her actions. I would try to forgive her.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:41 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think it helps to remember that this person is wasting their life. Literally. They could be out in the world, giving and receiving love, learning new things, hanging out with friends, writing their own blog, discovering how to cook great eggs, and a million other things that would bring meaning and joy to their life.

And they're spending it trying to get your attention to call you a bitch.

Meanwhile, you are living your life. You have a blog, editors who watch out for you, some folks on the green who will support you, and perhaps a hundred other things, big and small, to be grateful for. I believe that some part of stalking, bullying behavior etc., is just about flat out envy. Not being able to deal with wanting what you have, or the fear that they can't achieve it on their own, they turn the seething attention outwards. And they literally waste their life away hating what they think they understand of yours. But I think it helps to remember that this person doesn't really see you. They aren't even hating the real you. Because they don't know you. You're just an object to direct their feeling lousy feelings.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. Contact the police if you think it will help, and have family and friends remind you that you're okay and care for you, so you aren't experiencing this alone. Because I think this is also something this person doesn't have - a community that will continue to support them through something as emotionally difficult as harassment for as long as it occurs.
posted by anitanita at 11:01 PM on November 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have direct experience and I finally accepted that actions speak louder than words so if I kept plugging away, doing what I thought to be right, I would "win". I always remind myself of what John Wooden said (paraphrased here), reputation is what others think of you, character is who you are. I worry about character.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:33 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Start a new blog collecting all the comments this person ever posts (no editorializing from you, just the comments). Run ads, publicize the heck out of it. Profit!
Bonus points if she starts commenting on her comments and gets stuck in a never ending loop.
posted by FreezBoy at 4:55 AM on November 10, 2011 [17 favorites]

Start a new blog collecting all the comments this person ever posts (no editorializing from you, just the comments). Run ads, publicize the heck out of it. Profit!

I was going to suggest something similar to this. Turn it into a weird game you play with your friends-only readers -- you all judge each of her comments on its literary merits, vocabulary, turns of phrase, etc. You'll get some outpouring of support from them too ("she is actually SITTING DOWN AT HER COMPUTER to TELL YOU THESE THINGS?....I'm so sorry,") but in time you'll all end up getting caught up in the game of it ("Oh, she used the phrase 'cow' here. Not as evocative as last week's 'wildebeest,' I thought...hmmmm, she's slacking off, I wonder if she's been sleeping okay?")

Of course, if her comments escalate to the point that you fear your safety, then you take that seriously, but this will help re-contextualize the annoying petty stuff so it's not "about" you and you can laugh at it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:24 AM on November 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry but, unless you've left something out, I can't imagine there is any jurisdiction where this is criminal. This is someone having opinions. Yes, I'm 100% confident you are *not* these things and this person has an irrational grudge, but nevertheless: making threats and stalking are crimes. Expressing negative opinions about someone is not a crime.

In the UK it is. Just because its on the internet doesn't mean it isn't harassment and "I'm just expressing my opinion" is not a defence, you are not entitled to express your opinion if you are doing so to harrass someone.
posted by missmagenta at 5:42 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Looks like there are also several US jurisdictions that have laws against cyber-bullying.
posted by missmagenta at 5:45 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

EmpressCallipygos has a good suggestion. You're a webmonkey - create a website that collects her comments and run with it. I do think it runs into the world of cyberbullying, as missmagenta notes, as well. That aspect has been gaining a lot more media attention.

I would put some time into finding out who they are. by cataloging all their history, usernames, and so forth, the website's purpose could be "Help me find otu who this person is.." You then enlist the power of the web community and people who like riddles and investigations to track them down and expose them.

A good defense is a good offense in this case, I believe.
posted by rich at 6:30 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't believe in restraining orders. But I do believe in IP addresses. :-) Get hers and let the fun begin!
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:00 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry but, unless you've left something out, I can't imagine there is any jurisdiction where this is criminal.

Just to be clear, a restraining order does not require someone to be engaged in illegal activity. In fact that's rather the point -- if what they were doing was illegal you could simply have them arrested.

If they violate a restraining order then it becomes a criminal matter.

Not sure about the cyberbullying statutes though. It may already be criminal.

BTW, it occurs to me that after this long dealing with the issue you may be inured to the point where all this talk of legal stuff sounds like a completely overblown reaction.

It's not. You do not need or deserve this constant thorn in your side. If it has continued this long it is not going to suddenly just stop.

Subjecting this whole issue to the "what would I say if a friend brought this problem to me?" test might help clarify things for you.

Take care.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:10 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I get really angry with myself when I "let" someone like this get into my head, and that's pretty much always self-defeating - now I feel bad because someone said something mean And because I'm letting it get to me.

So instead I think about people (and animals) that I love, and that I know love me. I then take that feeling of being awash in love and try to mentally give it to that person who feels so unloved that they lash out. Usually part of me resists that, because they were hurtful, but if I keep up with the love, I feel a lot better. The other helpful thing I've done is to mentally refute the things they wrote, or think about why they're irrelevant to me. Yes, I'm fat, but that's ok! I'm also strong and healthy and attractive and these people that I love love me back. I love how strong I am!

So, yeah, my coping mechanism is love: love for yourself, your loved ones, even the haters. Doesn't change the haters, but it sure makes me feel better.
posted by ldthomps at 7:18 AM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd make a blog out of it. Make jokes about her. Do weekly posts on what she said each week make her a joke, make her opinions a joke. I'd troll the troll. But I am a nasty hate filled person so that might not be everyones cup of tea. I'd probably also set up my blog to put a shit tonne of malware on her computer but again just me.

There are a lot more well thought out suggestions here. If you decide to be a grown up, unlike me, I'd at least go to the police, they probably can't do anything now, but you have incidence on files if she escalates what she's doing.
posted by wwax at 8:38 AM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Read The Gift of Fear to find out why a restraining order has a good chance of escalating things. The short of it is she probably feels she is within her rights to post comments, and she's sort of right about that. If you get a restraining order, or worse, make a page of her comments, you are going to gall and embarrass her which drastically increases the chances she could become violent and try to find you IRL, or at least step up the trolling. Plus, you will have taught her it takes five years to get a rise out of you if you respond directly now, so she knows she can troll another five years and get more responses. Remember, if she has been going this long, she is seriously unstable. You do not want to embarrass someone like that.

If you think I'm exaggerating that someone who simply verbally harasses people by correspondence would like, attack and kill you in response to a restraining order or other public embarrassment, PLEASE read The Gift of Fear before going forward with something like that.

Anyway, as for personally dealing with it, keep in mind she clearly has a lot of issues and it's easier to feel bad for her. You are successful and she has been leaving mean comments on websites for a good chunk of her life. Try to imagine what her home might look like, whether she has anyone who loves her, how mean people must have been to her earlier in life before she started instigating things herself, what kind of contentious dramatic relationships (if any) she has now. I dunno, I feel bad for her, sincerely. She probably needs professional help and may not have access to it, or may have forced out everyone in her life that might help her.

That being said, yes, continue to not respond, and do focus on dealing with it internally and emotionally. I'm really sorry you're going through this and I know it's easier said than done, but from my perspective you are clearly in a good place (aside from being stalked), especially compared to her, so if you need to hear it right now, I can assure you her criticisms are not reflections of reality; anyone who stalks someone for five years has broken with accepted reality long ago. She literally interprets the world differently than other people who follow your work; you can either cater to her, or everyone else, right? So keep on being successful.

It can also help to adopt a super professional attitude that stalkers are just par for the course doing what you do, which is true; imagine someone who would dismiss stalkers that way and "fake it 'til you make it" by pretending you are that person. For example, this kind of person would likely never mention the stalker as something extraordinary, and if it somehow came up in conversation, people would be shocked to not have known sooner, they would have to press you for details because it seems unextraordinary to you and you can't imagine what they would want to know, etc. Pretend that's the attitude you have until you have it.
posted by Nattie at 9:35 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please, if your troll babby blog goes live, do drop it into Projects. I would love to be able to critique her babble.
posted by Jilder at 10:11 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We have a few of these an a very old (1993 vintage) message board I frequent. I either ignore them or mock them mercilessly, depending on my mood. I don't mind getting my hands dirty with these loons because, well, I'm not the nicest person in the world. They're obsessives, and what you need to understand is that for them to stalk you like this shows that on some level - almost certainly subconscious - something about you sparks their envy. And they react to that by obsessive harassment.

I keep saying this in other contexts, but seriously, we control whether or not insults, mockery, abuse etc are going to cause us a problem. You don't have to be offended by it, or scared by it, or annoyed by it. So why be those things? Be amused by it, instead. Or be pitying. Understand the situation properly: this person is cracked. They're a broken person. Trolls and bullies have a problem. Don't let them pass it on to you. Put their noise in the proper perspective and what they say to you is become a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Treat it us such.
posted by Decani at 11:17 AM on November 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much to everyone for all the wonderful feedback and suggestions.

I mentioned in my original question that I have a few coping mechanisms myself, and for the value of anyone else who's dealing with someone like this, I'll share them.

I generally try to view the troll's comments as an excuse for self-reflection and even self-improvement -- if one of her comments gets to me, then that means on some level I must see some truth in the criticism. What can I do to get more right in myself on that issue? What can I do to forgive myself for the flaw, or to work on correcting it?

I've also tried imagining that the troll is in fact a corner of my own mind, manifested digitally. This is sort of sci-fi/out-there, but her comments often come at night while I'm sleeping. What if I was actually trolling myself with my own internalized self-hatred? What does it meeeean?!

As many commenters observed, the hardest part is feeling like I'm giving this sick person mental real estate. Whenever I catch myself fixating on her abuse, I use it as an opportunity to do some deep breathing and mental exercises. Must control monkey brain. Must not fixate on mentally ill woman harassing me.

In many ways, this woman is my biggest fan. She's followed my writing career since before my book came out, and has been with me every step of the way as my career has grown. She is more devoted than many of my real life friends to tracking my developments. From a PR perspective, attention is power... So thanks for all the power, crazy lady! I WIN!

Anyway, thanks again to everyone for all the suggestions. And to anyone else dealing with a situation like this, many hugs to you in that moment when you glance at your phone, see an anonymous email, and feel that sinking in the pit of your stomach.

...YOU WIN! ;)
posted by arielmeadow at 3:14 PM on November 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Are you the only person being trolled/stalked? I'd try to find out; maybe you can work together. From the content of the trolling, why are you being trolled? Is it someone you know? Can you find out who she is and where she is? It seems that you have a very strong personality and are unafraid of speaking out or being controversial. Maybe she's a lonely, harmless, nutcase. But it's a good idea to be prepared for the possibility that she'll go off her meds and show up at your doorstep. So be cautious. I think you'd have a hard time getting a restraining order, unless she's been threatening. But document as much as you can, just in case.
posted by theora55 at 5:07 PM on November 10, 2011

Response by poster: She used to troll other bloggers I knew, but I'm not sure she's continued. I'm not too worried about her showing up at my door... all her IPs over the years have always put her in NYC -- across the country from me in Seattle.
posted by arielmeadow at 8:29 PM on November 10, 2011

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