Here is your hazmat suit for the toxic garbage dump known as the ‘net.
(Technically, an ogre, but let's just be chill about it.)
2014 has been an especially bad year to exist as a human on the internet. It's felt as though a fog of animosity rolled in and engulfed all our interactions; almost no one was left completely untouched from some sort of awful interaction with a stranger online. As someone who has spent too much of her own time eating bugs from the rank waters of the internet swamp, I hope to share some advice on how to navigate through the fog.
First of all, real trolls aren't like you and me.
They're not just someone with a different opinion. Real trolls come from deep down in the swamps of the internet, where their bad attitudes have been preserved in the peat bogs for years. They come from places such as Reddit and late '90s-looking message boards and multiplayer online video games, where their most treasured pastime is hurling insults at one another for hours on end. Imagine the Ivan Drago training montage in Rocky IV, but instead of doing pull-ups in a lab, it's sitting on Reddit for, like, four years straight. They're Teflon.
[I should clarify the definition of troll as it applies to this post. From here out, we are talking about real honest-to-god trolls, not just “someone who disagrees with me.”]
To be dreadfully honest, it doesn't look great for you: They are masters. They have been training all of their lives for this moment, and you're just some schmuck who decided to sign up for Twitter a few years ago to shoot some ideas off the dome. It is arrogant to think that you can win against them. It'd be like if you showed up to a law firm and asked to try a few cases because you watch The Good Wife.
It gets worse. These lunkheaded goons from the primordial internet ooze aren't just haphazardly hurling random insults at each other (or you, if you're an unlucky target). True trolls of the internet take their craft seriously, and spend hours analyzing how to argue. Think of the fedora atheists who love “debating” so much they have several subreddits devoted to it (r/DebateAnAntheist, r/DebateAChristian) and proudly post all the sick owns they deliver to their high school friends on Facebook. They obsess over terms like “logical fallacy” and “strawman argument” as if they believe they could be transported through time into the Scopes trial. They love discussing the art and science of internet arguing just as much as they love actually delivering sick owns on the 'net. They have been training for this moment their whole teen lives and, like Ivan Drago, they will break you.
The internet vs. you.
This is where I have to tell you the bad news: You will never win against them.
I'm sorry. This sucks. I wish I had something more hopefully to impart to you. The truth is, if you are reading this article on BuzzFeed dot com right now, you are probably already too well-adjusted to win an argument against a true internet troll. However, you are likely enough of an internet native that you have some experience with trolls or arguing on the internet. A recent Pew survey found that 40% of online adults have experienced some sort of harassment or name-calling, and 8% have been physically threatened. A YouGov survey found that 30% of adult men and 18% of adult women have “argued with someone about an opinion” on the internet.
However, of these descriptions of online harassment, only 38% said their harrasser was a stranger — a true internet troll. Friends, exes, co-workers, and even family were frequently the ones responsible for internet unkindness. Here's an example from Pew's survey: “my own brother calling me racist for not supporting Obama and for disagreeing with his policies.”
This is clearly not a good situation, but there's an important distinction, here: Your brother is not an internet troll; he's just a guy who disagrees with you. You can disarm your libtard brother by reminding him of the time he crapped his pants at Disneyland. You cannot win against a real internet troll. You have zero hand.
So that's where I come in. I am here to help you get over your ego that keeps telling you have a chance to “win.” There is no “win” here on the 'net.
The sooner you accept this, the happier you will be.
Consider this Wondermark comic about an annoying sea lion: