OPINION: Speak your mind, don’t be afraid of trolls

(Archive photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

Much of the communication in the world today happens over the internet. Whenever an organization releases any statements or advertising, it gets shared on social media within a minute. Suppose the organization releases anything over diversity, inclusivity, equity or belonging. In that case, as soon as the post makes it to social media, there is almost a guarantee that it will receive bigoted and hate comments in the comments section.

Suppose you are a journalist or a reporter who reported something on racism, homophobia, or related topics. In that case, there will be hate comments on your post, and you will perhaps receive threats from racist and hateful trolls on social media.

This situation is not limited to just organizations, journalists or the media. If you speak over the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion or express your support for inclusive policies on social media, you might receive hate online. Receiving hate and threats online might make you feel like you should stop using social media and cause a lot of anxiety, depression, or fear.

What you feel in these times is completely valid, and you should certainly take care of yourself the way you want. Nevertheless, there is seldom a reason to be scared of these trolls on social media.

For nearly three years, I have been writing Opinion pieces revolving around international students, immigration, racism, xenophobia, diversity, inclusion, etc. Almost all of my opinion pieces have received immense hate from extreme right-wing trolls on social media. I have also received threats of violence on social media, and I have been called horrible slurs many times.

In the beginning, I used to be very scared of receiving all these threats. I would try to hide my identity at times. Due to all the trolling and threats I received, I ended up being depressed and anxious all the time. Whenever I think about the things I have faced, the trauma comes gushing back into my mind. A large reason for the trouble I went through was letting these trolls occupy too much space in my head.

I could have easily ignored these things if I had known a few things ahead of time. Firstly, trolls possess a psychological trait known as negative social potency. This term essentially means that these trolls enjoy causing harm to others. They have a fetish for seeing people get hurt.

According to a BBC report, most people troll others for revenge, attention-seeking, boredom and personal amusement. They want to lash out at people who are being successful, who are happy, who are enjoying their life because they can’t themselves. People troll because they’re insecure and get a kick out of being negative towards someone else. It is important to know this because by engaging with our trolls, we feed their egos and make them happy at the expense of the joy in our lives. Do we truly want to live a life where a troll sitting behind a screen has more control over our happiness than us? Absolutely not!

Trolling and cyber-bullying does affect one’s mental health. I had depression, anxiety and showed symptoms consistent with PTSD because of my experience with trolls and cyber-bullies. I gave the trolls a significant role in my life. This is a mistake that I made, but I share this so you won’t repeat my mistake.

You may ask what to do if you unknowingly become the victim of bigoted trolls and cyber-bullies. The answer is simple … do not respond no matter how much you are tempted. Trolls thrive on our response and actions towards them. Do not give them this joy! Instead, go ahead and report the trolls to social media websites to get them blocked and banned from using the online platform. If you know them personally, report them to your school, the place these trolls work or to the local police station.

One thing I would stress is that one should not counter the hate of the trolls with hatred. If a troll tells you they will punch you, and you respond to them by saying you will kick them, then you both might end up in legal trouble. Use Gandhi’s principle, and in a non-violent and non-confrontational way, kill them with kindness.

Lastly, do not take the threats the trolls send you too seriously. Take them seriously enough to report them, but do not live in fear of their words. Most of these trolls are probably people living in their parents’ basement eating cold pizza and drinking expired soda. They will rarely leave their dungeon, let alone come to hunt you.

Trolls told me that they would fight me, come to K-State and hurt me and so on. I took them so seriously that I was afraid to walk alone. When I realized these threats are nothing but words, I thought to myself, “Why should I sacrifice my independence and freedom so that the trolls feel happy?” That does not mean I lost all my vigilance. I was treading lightly with these trolls, but I realized I had done my part in reporting them, and I understood their words were only there to hurt me mentally, not physically. Trolls want to break you psychologically and instill fear within you — do not succumb to it.

If you stand firmly for what you believe in, you will receive support from the community and people around you. Trolls will try to bring you down, but you can stand confident in front of them when you know your strength. Always remember, we are not our trolls. We are better than them. Do not be afraid to speak your mind on important issues in our world. Always remember that your words will either attract a strong mind or offend a weak one. In the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a Collegian contributor, a Collegian Media Group board member and a senior in management information systems and mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.