Leona O'Neill

Leona O'Neill has been a journalist in Northern Ireland for over 20 years working with, among others, the Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life, Daily Mirror and the Irish News. She is also a news reporter on Q Radio, a weekly columnist with the Irish News and a commentator for the BBC. She is a mother of four children - two of them teenagers - and as such is also a full-time professional worrier.

Ditch the trolls, embrace cyberlove not cyberhate

Trolls are no longer confined to their natural habitat under bridges, they are more frequently found online these days, lurking around our social media accounts, growling, snarling, perpetually angry and waiting to pounce.

Online trolls differ somewhat from the under bridge dwellers in so much that they don’t growl, rather they spit vitriol and insults at people online, normally behind the safety of a false profile.

Cyberhate and trolls are an all too common occurrence these days online. Some people, for whatever reason, make it their mission to bring misery to others via digital platforms. With the result that many of our digital experiences involve wading through a toxic cesspit of hate and aggression to get to the cat doing something funny pictures or images of other people’s dinner that we all love and really want to see.

Although there are a lot of measures in place, In many ways it is up to us to protect ourselves online. Knowing that you may face online bile is helpful because it allows you time to get on the armour you need to enter the online world. Trolls are looking for your weakest point, in order to get to you. They make things personal. They try and get a reaction. Make sure your armour is air tight and impenetrable.

Because I am a journalist and therefore cover controversial news stories, or am asked for my opinion on politics or society or anything, I am perhaps trolled more than most, sometimes mercilessly and therefore have, over the years, developed something of a simple strategy with which to deal with it.

I find ignoring the troll drives them crazy, turning their desire to cause upset back on themselves. They don’t like being ignored, it makes them feel insignificant and irrelevant, like they are shouting into the wind.

As hard as it may be to ignore someone who is insulting you, your work, your opinion, your appearance, your family or whatever you hold dear, try not to respond. Responding only gives the troll powers. When they come at you with their ignorant, nasty, immature and offensive comments turn your outrage around. Sad, pathetic people who attack others online have issues within themselves and must be pitied, really.

Zero tolerance approach to online trolling

The block, unfriend and delete buttons are the friend of any social media user. Don’t be afraid to use them.

Believe or not you do not have to read insulting comments every time you log into Facebook or Twitter. Using social media should be an enjoyable experience. It’s called social media, not called anti-social media.

Take back the power and use your chosen social media platform’s blocking capabilities – block, delete, unfriend anyone who brings negativity to your life.

There are some people who may show determination in their nastiness and will set up another fake account to continue with their abuse. Just block them again. Have a zero tolerance approach. If you’re nasty once, you’re out!

And don’t be afraid to report people for online abuse.

There are options available on all social media platforms to report people who are giving you hassle online. You do not have to suffer in silence. Report them and let the administrators deal with them. If they pop up again, report them again.

It is important to talk to people about any abuse you are facing, regardless of how trivial. If it upsets you at all, it is not trivial.

If something a troll has said to you upsets you, talk with your family and friends about it. Realise that the problem lays not with you, but with the troll. If someone you know is being targeted by trolls tell them to ignore, block and report also. Support one another.

If a troll’s comments cause you annoyance, stops your productivity or is making you overly stressed, switch off and unravel the anxiety. Ask yourself do you really care what some stranger – whose daily existence is trying to make others feel miserable – thinks or says? Ask yourself if dwelling on the situation, or their words improving your life? Ask yourself what you could be doing instead of pondering over silly, nonsense comments. Concern yourself only with the words from those who know and love you.

Trolls and cyberhate are, unfortunately, a fact of life. That does not mean we have to take it. Fight back and take back control of your own social media platforms. You deserve harmony in your life. Don’t let a faceless individual or a stranger steal the joy you get from catching up with your friends, your family and the world online.

Be ruthless in the protection of your happiness. If someone was standing in front of you in the street spewing vitriol, throwing insults and demanding that you change your opinion to match theirs, you would walk away from them and never desire to converse with them again.

Do yourself a favour and adopt the same approach online.

There needs to be less cyberhate and more cyberlove in the world.