How to deal with unreasonable or mean people on Twitter

Devon Zuegel, the former editor in chief of The Stanford Review, outlines her technique for dealing with Twitter trolls. Usually, the maxim "don't feed the trolls" is a good rule to follow, but on those rare occasions when you feel you must engage, here's Zuegel advice:

In the last few years, I've DMed at least a dozen people who were being unreasonable or mean on Twitter. In all cases but one, it resulted in a constructive conversation between me and that person. In most cases, that in turn led to a retraction of their original tweet, a clarification of their position, or a marked improvement in subsequent discourse.
Four things I've found that make this approach more likely to succeed:
  1. You must show the person that you're not trying to attack them but to make them more effective. You're giving them feedback on process, not a moral lecture.
  2. Bringing it into a private space3 like DMs is crucial, because it credibly shows that you're not trying to get brownie points from your in-group by bashing them in public.
  3. This works better if the conversation at hand is in a thread you yourself started. It's a bit like giving feedback to someone at a party you're hosting—they're more likely to respect your boundaries in a social space you created. This is not a requirement, but it helps.
  4. Make sure you're not dealing with a grifter. A grifter is someone who benefits from perpetuating the problem and has no actual desire to solve it (despite their rhetoric that may say otherwise). If they're a grifter, all the above advice is useless. Get away from the trash fire as fast as you can.
I should note, this is a lot of work. There's a reason I've only done it about a dozen times over the last few years, even though there have been far, far more opportunities to do so.

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