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'Troll-Proofing' your Nature Biz

One would think that an organization that teaches about nature, and helps kids or youth or adults get wonderful skills or tracking knowledge, or native crafts, would be fairly 'troll-proof', right?

Well, in today's massive internet culture, you would be wrong. Trolls can happen any time, anywhere, with any business, and that's life.

(For those who don't know, a 'troll' is typically defined as someone who posts annoying, non-helpful or generally negative opinions or topics on you or your work, either on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, your blog or anywhere where they can leave a comment.)

When trolls really get going, it can have an impact, and it can feel very threatening to the business or vision you've brought to life, and worked hard to build. It's scary to suddenly have someone really bash you or your work, especially if it's your first time.

It happened to me a few years ago, when I posted my first video on YouTube.

It was a short video about one of my wilderness survival camp outs, and what I learned from it, which I had filmed while in the Hawk Circle workshop barn, which was filled with all kinds of projects and timber framing stuff. I was wearing an old sweatshirt, and I just told my story, without doing a lot of 'takes' to get it perfect. I was pretty new to video content creation, so it was a little rough, but I thought that the story might be worth posting even if it wasn't movie quality.

Then I got a notification of a comment on my video, a few days later. Then another, and another. It was exciting at first, because it's always good when people interact and ask questions or add some comments, right?

No, it was someone who, for whatever reason, really didn't like me or my story or message, and just proceeded to leave about four or five comments about my hair, my weight, my messy shop and my clothes.

I didn't know who this person was, or where he was from or whether this was an acquaintance or what the deal was. I spent a lot of time sort of sitting on this experience, really feeling it, to see what felt like the right thing to do. It was a few days, actually.

I knew all of the advice that people give about not caring what other people think, etc, and I must say, it's different to understand that in theory versus when you are the object of some very personal, mean comments. Especially if you're not used to getting those in your daily life.

Anyway, eventually I chose to remove them, as they didn't add a different perspective to the video's message, and I moved on. Hopefully, whoever the comment maker was also moved on with his or her life too!

Since then, I've had other kinds of interactions that weren't necessarily 'troll' behavior, but were still concerning in some ways, so I've learned to understand how to view different online situations and handle them, so I thought I would share some insights that might help you and your school or organization too.

Much of this is 'proactive', so if you follow some of these guidelines, you should experience a fairly low incident rate overall. Hopefully!

Here we go:

Number One: Don't be an Asshat.

I guess this is obvious but it has to be said. If you are a jerk to your students, parent or staff, and you don't value your relationships, expect to be trolled. A lot.

Most trolls are people who are unhappy in their lives, and they are doubly 'troll-like' when the object of their unhappiness is YOU or something you did to hurt their feelings or piss them off.

If you treat people with respect, even if they have differing viewpoints, it goes a LONG WAY to minimizing the really intense troll action.

If you messed up with someone, anyone, admit it, and make amends, if you can, as soon as you can. Take responsibility and do the best you can to make things right. Even if you can't make things right, apologize, and be sincere. Most people can understand that stuff happens to the best of us, and situations can be beyond our control. Be human and be understanding and usually, our students, staff or clients will do the same.

Number Two: Try Not to Over-React.

Sometimes, a person can post something that can seem really rude, or hurtful, or crude or insensitive. However, it's easy to get defensive and emotional, and then suddenly escalate the situation to where everyone is bringing popcorn and soda to watch the show.

Take a minute. Take a deep breath. Think about your previous experience with this person, if you have any, and see if most of those have been positive for the most part. Look over the entire thread or conversation, and remember that the internet is terrible for interpreting tone and intent or sarcasm through these quick posts. What might have been funny if it was a comment made in a normal conversation can seem really rude or mean online.

Ask the person for clarification on what they mean. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

You don't have to immediately insult them, then delete their comments and then block them.

(That's how you can create a more damaging troll, though!)

If the comment is not too offensive, just ignore it and move on. If, after your continued interaction, things are going south (meaning poorly), just explain that you have to go do something else and let it go.

Seriously. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to walk away and give yourself a break. Take some time. Get some perspective.

That way, when you come back to the conversation, you can see it differently, and it often can be resolved without further damage or incident.

Remember that the person who is writing is a person too. I think having compassion is a good thing, generally, and within reason!

Number Three: Apologize (Yeah, even if you didn't DO Anything Wrong, from your perspective.)

Sometimes, this works, because something you said or did really rubbed someone the wrong way, and that person totally mis-read the post or blog or situation, and got upset. It might not be your fault, but if you apologize and just say 'I really don't think I wrote what I really meant to say, and I am super sorry about that.', it gives both of you a way out of your gridlocked stance.

It doesn't mean you are letting someone walk all over you. It's called taking the high road, and not getting sidetracked by trolls, or drama, or endless conversations that go nowhere. It's called 'getting back on track' to doing what is really important to you and your vision or business, and giving the person a way to just walk away, even if they 'think' that 'They Won'. The bottom line is, if they walk away, you can get back to work changing the world, and so, in a way, everyone actually wins! The world wins, and you win too. Because you aren't just pointlessly arguing.

Then, you just need to let it all go, and really move on.

Number Four: Avoid 'Poking the Bear'.

If you are a normal person, you have opinions and thoughts and perspectives that are important to share with everyone, to help make change, or make the world a better place. There is nothing wrong with that. That's awesome.

However, it's easy to overstep and trigger people who don't think exactly like you, especially if you enter into political discussions and lifestyle choices or religious conversations.

For example, you could write an article that is against nuclear power, because you want people to switch to solar or whatever, that is going to get lots of people upset, or get people to enter into a deeper conversation or dialogue that is helpful and transforming.