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Take Back the Internet: How Good People Can Beat the Cynics and the Trolls

You ever read the comment section on a blog or on your favourite news site?

I’m not a ranter, but I have to tell you, sometimes I find the comments section of many sites discouraging…even depressing. It’s like the mean people took over the internet. I’d link to some that bother me, but then I’d just be taking us all down and I really don’t want to do that.

I guess I’m a little attuned to this right now because of the massive response to this post recently that spawned hundreds of comments on my site in a few days. I heard some incredible encouragement from many commenters, but the cynics and the trolls also showed up in good number.

The trolls and cynics have gotten bad enough on the internet that several well known bloggers have discontinued comments altogether on their blogs. They have various reasons, and as someone who has to wade through hundreds of comments a month on this site, I completely understand that.

If I ever cut comments here, it would be because the quality discussion is too often hijacked by the trolls and cynics.

But I don’t want to close my comments section, even though it means I have to take extra time on the comments when addressing sensitive issues like this. Why?

Because I really value dialogue from good people.  Because I learn from readers like you. Because I actually value different perspectives, not just my own. And I should say, so many of you have been SO encouraging. Thanks for being awesome like that. In fact, when I sent out a short version of this article to my email subscribers last week, the reaction was SO positive many said “please turn this into a blog post”. So I did.

So here we go: I don’t want the cynics and the trolls to win. I trust you don’t either, right?

Of course this is all bigger than just blogging. My guess is the cynics and trolls have gotten you down more than a few times in life and leadership.

What do you do?

cynics; trolls; leadership

How Instant Access to Everything has Empowered Cynics and Trolls

Remember the days where cynics and trolls had to interact in front of real people? They’d have to say something in the lunch room in the presence of their co-workers, or line up at the microphone at a meeting to be heard?

Or remember when, pre-chat rooms and social media, when they had to use email to complain, which means they pretty much had to use their real name and expect a real response by a real person?

Ah, those were the days. There was a social check in that…the idea that you were part of a community where people actually interacted with each other.

But now, emboldened by a keyboard and seemingly endless amounts of time, they seem quite dedicated to spreading hopelessness and misery.

Social media and comments threads now gives cynics instant access to anyone who will let them rant, groan and show the rest of the world how much they think they know.

Apparently they have the time, doing little productive with their lives.

As a result of all this, the collective dialogue is suffering:

We know more but think less.

We’ve convinced ourselves that opinion beats dialogue.

Rudeness has become a substitute for disagreement.

That can’t win. Personally, I am addicted to hope, as I know many of you are, awesome people.

The Antidote to Trolls and Cynics

So what can you and I do?

Naturally, you can edit and even ban the cynics and trolls. I try to ban as few people as possible, but every month I end up banning a few people from commenting on my site who honestly just want to pick fights (while I do it reluctantly, it’s my blog and I don’t apologize. It’s like life: you can be rude in my house, but do it a few times and you won’t be invited back.) And sometimes I delete comments from naysayers who have nothing constructive to add.

But you and I can do much better than that. Much better.

I believe there are far more good leaders and good people than there are cynics and trolls.

Here’s the tension: our silence is killing us and fuelling them.

The antidote to cynics and trolls is intelligent, hope-filled conversation by good people.

So, I’m asking you to be a force of good this week by doing two things:

1. Leave an intelligent, helpful, constructive comment to a blog or website this week

It doesn’t have to be on my site (although I’d welcome that, of course), but just leave one somewhere to let humanity know all hope is not lost. Okay?

None of this means you have to agree with the writer (discussion and debate help us all learn), but courteous, grace-filled thoughtful debate moves the dialogue and the mission forward. I KNOW that’s what you bring to the conversation.

Chances are you just think your voice doesn’t matter much. I promise you, it does.

2. Say something helpful and constructive in face to face conversations

Conversations go south in real life all the time. What do many good people and even good leaders do in moments like that? We simply shut down.

Don’t.

Say something helpful, something intelligent, something heartfelt, something constructive. Look to leave the dialogue and the world a better place.

And if you encounter a cynic or troll who says something like “X are just useless places run by selfish people”, look them straight in the eye and ask this question: Really? And just sound surprised.

Most cynics and trolls don’t know what to do with a real person who lives with hope. And if they get rude, just say “I’m sorry, you can’t talk to me that way” and then go on with your intelligent conversation with the other good people in the room.

So would you speak up today?

Your voice is exactly what this world needs right now. And there are far more of you than there are of them.

What are you learning about trolls and cynics?

Scroll down and leave an (intelligent) comment. 🙂

18 Comments

  1. Acai on October 5, 2015 at 5:34 am

    This is good. I’ve come across these types of people and I always respond. I feel that leaving such a remark hanging is degrading to me. It doesn’t matter of they continue to make negative remarks after my response because other people can see by then that the negative person has a problem. Coming across these types in real life gives you another option, of course – a good thump – and so I suppose the internet encourages, in a funny way, assertiveness and challenge minus violence.

  2. chrismancl on March 31, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Great Encouragement Carey. I’m an executive Pastor in Minnesota and I recently started blogging. It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for quite some times. At this point I haven’t attracted any trolls and to be honest, I’m happy if they just stay away.

    Keep writing! Your wisdom is impacting my life. Thank you!

  3. Paul Cummings on March 4, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Shortly after I commented on your site, I received an email from Disqus saying Alpha and Omega had started following me. I visited their site and made a comment. I do believe it’s important to comment when your heart tells you it’s important for someone to hear. An individual named Nogods commented back immediately. Looking over the posts on the site, he had a comment for anyone who believed in God. A man looking for an argument. I engaged him twice. The first time, he came back with his “Empirical Evidence” and I responded with mine. The second time, he went a little off track and his argument was getting longer, but much weaker. That time I prayed before I responded indicating it would be my last response then went on to prove his comments were based on creating an argument I wasn’t about to have, then gave my personal experience with God which addressed things in a tangible way the comments he made. He never responded. I prayed that God would touch his heart and that he would truly hear what I felt motivated to write. I have since continued to pray for him but have heard nothing more from him at all. I agree that an intelligent, helpful and constructive comment goes a long way with some people. Some people, well, they really are just there, behind the screen and keyboard, to just get people to argue with them, unseen, and unknown. But thanks again Carey for this post. It was helpful!

  4. Frank on March 4, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Several months ago I stumbled onto your blog and have found many so helpful that I have shared them with other leaders at our church. As this blog suggests, it is time to stand up and speak kindly and graciously in all areas of our life and the internet is a very needed place to begin. Edmund Burke’s quote I believe is most appropriate: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Keep up the good work, Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 4, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      Frank…thank you. I’m so glad to hear the blog is helping you and your team. Welcome to the community!

  5. Michelle Kleene on March 4, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Oh wow! This is so right on Carey! Thank you for sharing your kind, intelligent thoughts!! I really needed to hear this. I lead in an unhealthy congregation where many act this way and some act this way in meetings as well…….usually blasting the leadership. It’s so helpful to have your insight and blog in my world. I constantly need to keep on top of my own emotions in being non reactive, non defensive, not taking thing personal and in responding with care & empathy. That’s hard to do when one is continually being shot at.
    I greatly appreciate your blog as it has helped strengthen and sustain me in the past two painfully turbulent years of leadership.
    May God bless you and continue to strengthen you in this Ministry!
    Michelle

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 4, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks so much Michelle. Really appreciate the feedback and so glad this has been an encouragement.

  6. Chris on March 4, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Timely Carey, very timely. In the future we are all going to have to take more responsibility for what we say AND don’t say. It’s no different in the digital world as it is in the real world. And in many ways, today, the digital world has become reality. I take exception to people who hide behind their computer screens and tear things down or people down. I know I’ve been the victim of cyber-bullying from trolls and cynic’s and I’m in my late 30’s.
    In one particular situation, the hate speech was so intense that I had to go see someone to talk through it. When I came back to it, I called them out, in a loving and respectful way, and then challenged them to be better human beings. Some apologized profusely. Others…they could have cared less. So I just started praying for them and trying to find ways to be nice without being a pushover.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 4, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks for mentioning prayer. Very very powerful in these contexts. Thanks Chris!

  7. Stephen Budd on March 4, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    The Lord gives me opportunities to exercise my gift of patience and love when individuals become critical and unreasonable online. More often than not their argument will be centered around the scriptures and they will walk a fine line of bibliolotry. If we are not careful we can end up worshipping the scriptures and completely miss Jesus. John 5:39-40.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 4, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      We can so easily miss Jesus. Thanks Stephen!

  8. John A. Giurin on March 4, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    A strong backbone/foundation in Christ helps…
    …especially when folks are trying to build themselves up by tearing others down.
    Thanks for the insights, Carey.

  9. Lawrence W. Wilson on March 4, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Carey, this is great advice, and just what you do every day with your blog and social media. Thanks for being one of the “up” voices. I’ll join you!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 4, 2015 at 8:36 am

      Thanks so much Lawrence. That’s what I want to be…and for sure that’s how I see you!

    • Lynda Gruen on March 4, 2015 at 1:42 pm

      I concur! Brother Carey, I have enjoyed reading your blog entries. Thanks for the healthy challenge. = )

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