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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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