Why you should feed the trolls
Last week we launched our Living Wage calculator, a tool that helps you decide whether you are paying your domestic worker enough. You can read a blog post about it here. In this short post, I would like to describe the response to the calculator and how I dealt with it. You can read the original article here. Make sure you scroll down to the comments below.
Internet folklore tells us that you should never read the comments on most news websites. They are generally written by a small subset of horrible nasty people who are often illiterate. This article was no exception. 200 hundred odd, mean, ill-informed, racist comments. Here are some examples:
Adi so you are suggesting that I should pay my domestic more because of her bad life decisions? I can't afford more than one child. Not a sustainable solution. How about government pay the shortfall, they were the ones encouraging them to breed. They still do...
Domestics will earn more than the average retail worker. Think I will go clean houses. Pay is better than retail
She's not doing enough for what i pay her for. Where can rather pay our sons and daughters extra to clean the house. My experience ... Its all about steal steal steal.
The list goes on.
Intelligent people avoid the comments or at least read them and are able to critically evaluate their substance. There are however a large number of silent readers who might be on the fence when it comes to this important topic. Reading the comments, they may be convinced by the arguments that domestic workers are lazy, steal and don’t deserve better pay. If we don’t engage in the comments, the argument remains one-sided. You are unlikely to change the minds of the trolls but you do need to provide a balance so that those who haven’t made up their minds have a well thought-out counter to what the trolls are saying.
I tried to respond to nearly all of the very negative comments. It was hard work. I took a zen-like attitude and promised myself not to get angry or hurt or engage in any sort of unproductive conflict. My objective was to provide balance. To some extent, I think that I succeeded. I received many messages from people who benefited the discussions.
Here is a short list of principles that I tried to follow when engaging with trolls, and I think you should too:
- Remember, you are in a public space, often using your real name. Be polite and courteous.
- Decide what your objective is and keep it in mind. What are your arguments? What are you trying to achieve?
- Be zen. Grow a thick skin. People are going to be nasty. Only respond in a constructive way.
- Do not get involved in fights. Don’t even engage in back and forth discussions (unless it is constructive). Have your say and move on.
Apart from providing a balanced argument, I found another benefit from reading and responding to the comments. I sharpened my own understanding of the issue and understood the various criticisms that people offer. I was also able to structure my arguments in a concise way. It prepared me for the radio interviews that followed the publication of the article and calculator.
In summary, don’t shy away from engaging with trolls but don’t descend to their level.