Trolling or How Using the Word "Spamming" Almost Got Me There

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image If you've been involved with social media for any length of time, or with forums or UseNet groups, you've probably heard the phrase "Don't Feed the Troll." In it’s most general sense, it can mean “don’t engage with an obnoxious individual.” Seems simple enough on the surface and it’s a rule that I haven’t had an issue with, until recently.

A posting of mine, on a popular social media site, got a comment that caused me to have a visceral reaction and I came within keystrokes of violating Wheaton’s Law. I don’t feel great about. As a matter of fact, I felt a little sick. First, that I allowed this individual to have such control and second, because I know better; I really do. You probably need a little more context.

Like my profile says, I’m an amateur author. That means I write, but I don’t get paid. And like many amateur authors, I like to meet with peers and trade information, discuss approaches, celebrate victories and be envious of others’ success. You know, normal stuff. To facilitate this, I joined a writer’s group/circle/list at a major social networking site. Things were going along great. There was (and is) a lot of support and encouragement and a genuine sense of community, virtual though it may be. And then, I posted.

I subscribe to a few RSS feeds for writers. Three particular articles on this fateful day caught my eye and I decided I would share them individually with my online writer community. I posted them in under a minute and playfully added in the final post that I was “done spamming for today.” That was my first mistake, assuming that my humor translated. As it turns out, not so much.

This individual responded:

“Paul Ellis, a small suggestion, but an important one. As a writer, you should care about your word choices used not just in your writing but in these [REDACTED] posts. If you use the term "spamming" to refer to the actions you take with this [REDACTED], you are shooting yourself in the foot. If you believe you are adding value to this discussion, choose your words more carefully.”

My initial reaction just about took the top of my head off. “A small suggestion?” Hardly. There are too many passive-aggressive imperatives for this is be a small, single anything, let alone a suggestion. According to the poster, I’m not actually a writer because I used a word this individual didn’t care for. Consequently, my posts have no value. Seriously? What you came away with from my three posts was the word ”spamming?”

It took longer than I cared to admit, but I finally calmed down. I was close to violating several very important rules:

  1. When possible, assume positive intent.
  2. You are not as funny (charming, engaging, etc.) as you think you are.
  3. Don’t take it personally.
  4. Never, ever post anything when you are angry.
  5. Do not engage. It will not end well.

Assuming positive intent turned out to be almost impossible. Spamming is apparently a hot-button word for this individual and clearly they believed they were in the “right,” especially since they called me out publically in the group/circle/list like that. If the intent was to express concern, couldn't that have been handled privately, in an email? (Yes, mine's widely available.) That way, a private dialogue could have occurred. The word choice is a bit worrying as well; "you should care … If you believe," the implication being that I either don't care, I'm not really a writer, or both. This wasn't about my word choice; it was about this individual being "right."

My sense of humor is like coffee, an acquired taste. Some people don't like it; others can take it or leave it; some others love it. I'm not going to please everyone. It would be like forcing my kids to like eating turnip greens. I may get them to eat it, but I can't make them like it. In addition, humor is highly subjective and doesn't readily translate in the e-medium. I knew all of this, but posted the "spamming" comment anyway. I have no one to blame for that except myself.

I didn't realize how personally I was taking my role as a writer until this opinion-poised-as-fact crossed into view. Never underestimate the power of a visceral reaction. If I come away with nothing else from this experience, I now understand writing is very personal to me. I will need to grow a thicker skin and not over-react.

I was incredibly angry. That alone kept me from responding. I had a whole host of snarky comments ready to rip and tear, but my rational mind finally stopped me. Nothing good can come from this. Which leads nicely to the my next observation.

Do not engage. Let's assume that I did rip and tear into the aforementioned individual. What would have happened? This individual "knew" they were in the right, therefore I *must* be in the wrong. There would be no rational discussion about this. It would have escalated. It might have poisoned the environment in the group/circle/list. And, I would have been the bully. I would have been the troll. After all, this individual was only trying to "help."

Sometimes, it’s just not fair. It’s a hard lesson to re-learn. After all, I thought I knew it already. But, my pride was stung and I got all wound up about something I cannot change.

It’s not the solution every time, but sometimes it’s better to just walk away.

8 comments

ROTFL I violate #4 sometimes. But as for #5 "do not engage", well, I might get my picture next to it in the dictionary.
Passive aggressive is right! Sorry you were the brunt of "being helpful"
I, for one, enjoy your humor. I miss it!
Take care!

May 2, 2012 at 7:03 PM

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

I've fallen into that trap far too many times, and cursed my weakness at every one. Someday I may learn to walk away...

May 2, 2012 at 10:48 PM

I don't respond to anyone who tries to help me write better. Unless they're offering me money. With all the reviewing / editing / correcting of children's essays I do around here to ensure my progeny make the best grades so that they can get into a high-quality school and graduate with honors so as to land a good-paying job so that I can retire and live off whatever handouts they feel inclined to give me in memory of all the good times we had together, I should be the best writer in the galaxy by now. Feed the children, don't feed the trolls.

May 2, 2012 at 11:08 PM

Wow. And yet, here you are still writing, good show! I nominate you for the Liebster Blog Award!

May 3, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Very, very wise words. I consider myself an 'oldie' on the Internet (or in some places a 'reg') and I always find it amusing when people get into arguments via Facebook. You know, the typical 5 paragraph long-winded responses between two individuals... yeah, hilarious for the most part except for when the argument directly attacked me. I remember actually crying because this person just unleashed every possible criticism into tightly packed words over Facebook where EVERYONE could see. Then, I reminded myself of rules 3-5 and slowly (painfully) walked out of the conversation.

Well... I see Mel already nominated you for the Liebster Blog award, and I'm glad I get to add another point to that nomination.

You can see it here: http://sopphey.onimpression.com/2012/05/crazy-dreams-nominations.html

The Liebster Blog Award is kind of like a big Internet hug one blogger gives to another because they're so cool. Great post! And like I've said before, great blog!

♥ Sopphey

May 3, 2012 at 11:05 PM

You know they say "all PR is good PR" - and they are right because I saw your name and thought why is this name so front of mind? And here it is, ah yes, the poor fellow who got snipped :) Just think, you would have to pay a publicist a lot of money to get you into situations like that, but you did it for free! (rule #6 *try* to laugh about it a few days later)

May 4, 2012 at 4:38 PM

When I read your "spamming" comment, I thought it was just a quick, off-handed remark that I found funny, and I appreciated all the work you did in finding those great posts to share with us! I have also experienced trying to be funny and having people read or hear it as if they thought I was serious. For example, when I say I need a Valium before I drive the 5 six-year olds home from a birthday party where they've been stuffed full of cake, ice cream, & caffeinated soda, it's a joke! (Well, sort of.) Good for you for walking away!

May 5, 2012 at 11:30 PM

Paul: I know how you feel. It's a weird little psychological quirk that tugs us toward responding to little criticisms on the internet. xkcd even has a famous cartoon about it that gets trotted out often enough. I used to be That Guy, but no longer.

May 7, 2012 at 5:44 PM

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