If you speak openly about your vaccination views online, chances are you’ve had the pleasure of meeting some *delightful* characters, otherwise known as bullies and trolls.
I, too, have had my fair share of encounters, and here’s a few things I’ve learnt (the hard way).
Trolls are not there to have a conversation with you. They are not even there to refute you. They are there for one purpose only, and that is to discredit and discourage you in any way they can. Take this as a compliment. If you didn’t know what you’re talking about, you could discredit yourself all on your very own! The harder they try to make you out as a fool, the more sense you are making. Take heart!
Do not engage them. I repeat, do not engage them! Remember, they are not there to debate you, anything you say can and will be used against you. I have seen people’s comments twisted in the most ridiculous ways. For example, I saw a comment recently on an online forum that started out as “you wanted to hear a death story” (meaning, “you wanted proof that somebody in real life had lost a child to vaccines”) and somehow that simple comment was twisted to become “you’re making death threats”. Do you see what I mean? Their arguments are not even rational, they are merely there to make you out to look bad.
Further to Point number 2, if you DO engage them, trolls and bullies will deliberately taunt you and antagonise you, in hopes that you lose your temper and say something you regret. Do not give them the satisfaction! They will take your words and spread it far and wide as “evidence” that pro-choicers are not only weird, but are dangerous and violent too.
Recently I saw the father of a vaccine-injured child become so riled and agitated by trolls, who were deliberately baiting him, that he made some rash comments in the heat of the moment. Those comments were screen-shot, made into a blog post with a sensational headline, then the links posted on the facebook pages of major newspapers. Be very careful what you write – read everything twice before hitting “post”.
I know it can be hard to resist, you want to defend yourself against their accusations and finger-pointing and insults, but you are just adding fuel to the fire. If you find yourself getting frustrated or mad, WALK AWAY. In fact, the moment it becomes obvious you are dealing with a troll (and it is often noticeable in the very first comment they make), WALK AWAY.
It is a far more efficient use of your time to share knowledge with people who are actually open to information.
If anybody is rude to you on social media, or insists on calling you demeaning names such as “wacko” and “crazy” (or worse), you have every right to block them. Problem solved! They can no longer butt in at every opportunity, attempting to de-rail the conversation. That being said, blocking or deleting people just because they respectfully disagree with you is in poor taste.
It doesn’t matter how good your scientific links are, they will discredit them (or their authors, or whatever website it comes from). Even peer-reviewed studies published in well-known scientific journals are not good enough for them, they will discount them with airy explanations like “all suppositions” “not based on facts”…of course, they will never explain in detail what exactly they don’t agree with. That would take too much time, and trolls are trying to annoy and harass as many people as possible, probably from as many accounts as possible too.
They will also never explain what exactly about your views they don’t agree with, and usually don’t provide any scientific evidence whatsoever for their disagreement (again, too time-consuming). They will stick to short, sharp comments such as “You are an idiot. Just stop.” And other charming comments like “Don’t take any notice of her. She’s another crazy”. Like I say, they don’t have time for long-winded explanations or evidence, too many other people to intimidate and annoy.
Therefore, re-read Point 2! It’s simply not worth the bother.
Double-check the privacy settings of your social media accounts, this includes not only who can see your posts, but the settings for your personal details such as hometown, where you work, date of birth. These can all be set to either “Public”, “Friends”, or “Just Me”.
Trolls and bullies can and will take advantage of this information if you let it be advertised on your profile. Use Facebook’s “View Your Page As…” function to find out what your page looks like to other people and how much information is visible, not only to people on your friends list, but also the public.
If you belong to any vaccine group on social media that is active and has a substantial amount of members, be aware that trolls will have already infiltrated it, even if it is set to “Closed” or “Secret”. This is what they do! It is very hard for admins to filter them out, because they run accounts under different names, with different friend’s lists, so they appear to be genuine, but all they are really doing is screen-shotting information and plastering it all over the internet.
Often-times, when plastering their screen-shots all over the internet, they don’t even make a token effort to blot out the names, or profile pictures, of their victims. It’s a pretty lowdown, tacky way to operate, one wonders how they manage to sleep at night, trying to keep track of which account and which persona they’re playing.
Re-read everything before you post online (even in “secret” groups) and ask yourself if you would be happy to have it splashed all over the internet. If the answer is no, have a re-think about if you should be posting it. Even jokes can and will be taken the wrong way. Questions regarding alternative health advice are probably best asked on alternative health forums, where trolls are somewhat less active (but not always). They are incredibly vigilant on the vaccine issue, and are likely to pop up anywhere vaccines are being discussed.