'Troll-Proofing' your Nature Biz


One would think that an organization that teaches about nature, and helps kids or youth or adults get wonderful skills or tracking knowledge, or native crafts, would be fairly 'troll-proof', right?

Well, in today's massive internet culture, you would be wrong. Trolls can happen any time, anywhere, with any business, and that's life.

(For those who don't know, a 'troll' is typically defined as someone who posts annoying, non-helpful or generally negative opinions or topics on you or your work, either on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, your blog or anywhere where they can leave a comment.)

When trolls really get going, it can have an impact, and it can feel very threatening to the business or vision you've brought to life, and worked hard to build. It's scary to suddenly have someone really bash you or your work, especially if it's your first time.

It happened to me a few years ago, when I posted my first video on YouTube.

It was a short video about one of my wilderness survival camp outs, and what I learned from it, which I had filmed while in the Hawk Circle workshop barn, which was filled with all kinds of projects and timber framing stuff. I was wearing an old sweatshirt, and I just told my story, without doing a lot of 'takes' to get it perfect. I was pretty new to video content creation, so it was a little rough, but I thought that the story might be worth posting even if it wasn't movie quality.

Then I got a notification of a comment on my video, a few days later. Then another, and another. It was exciting at first, because it's always good when people interact and ask questions or add some comments, right?

No, it was someone who, for whatever reason, really didn't like me or my story or message, and just proceeded to leave about four or five comments about my hair, my weight, my messy shop and my clothes.

I didn't know who this person was, or where he was from or whether this was an acquaintance or what the deal was. I spent a lot of time sort of sitting on this experience, really feeling it, to see what felt like the right thing to do. It was a few days, actually.

I knew all of the advice that people give about not caring what other people think, etc, and I must say, it's different to understand that in theory versus when you are the object of some very personal, mean comments. Especially if you're not used to getting those in your daily life.

Anyway, eventually I chose to remove them, as they didn't add a different perspective to the video's message, and I moved on. Hopefully, whoever the comment maker was also moved on with his or her life too!

Since then, I've had other kinds of interactions that weren't necessarily 'troll' behavior, but were still concerning in some ways, so I've learned to understand how to view different online situations and handle them, so I thought I would share some insights that might help you and your school or organization too.

Much of this is 'proactive', so if you follow some of these guidelines, you should experience a fairly low incident rate overall. Hopefully!

Here we go:

Number One: Don't be an Asshat.

I guess this is obvious but it has to be said. If you are a jerk to your students, parent or staff, and you don't value your relationships, expect to be trolled. A lot.

Most trolls are people who are unhappy in their lives, and they are doubly 'troll-like' when the object of their unhappiness is YOU or something you did to hurt their feelings or piss them off.

If you treat people with respect, even if they have differing viewpoints, it goes a LONG WAY to minimizing the really intense troll action.

If you messed up with someone, anyone, admit it, and make amends, if you can, as soon as you can. Take responsibility and do the best you can to make things right. Even if you can't make things right, apologize, and be sincere. Most people can understand that stuff happens to the best of us, and situations can be beyond our control. Be human and be understanding and usually, our students, staff or clients will do the same.

Number Two: Try Not to Over-React.

Sometimes, a person can post something that can seem really rude, or hurtful, or crude or insensitive. However, it's easy to get defensive and emotional, and then suddenly escalate the situation to where everyone is bringing popcorn and soda to watch the show.

Take a minute. Take a deep breath. Think about your previous experience with this person, if you have any, and see if most of those have been positive for the most part. Look over the entire thread or conversation, and remember that the internet is terrible for interpreting tone and intent or sarcasm through these quick posts. What might have been funny if it was a comment made in a normal conversation can seem really rude or mean online.

Ask the person for clarification on what they mean. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

You don't have to immediately insult them, then delete their comments and then block them.

(That's how you can create a more damaging troll, though!)

If the comment is not too offensive, just ignore it and move on. If, after your continued interaction, things are going south (meaning poorly), just explain that you have to go do something else and let it go.

Seriously. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to walk away and give yourself a break. Take some time. Get some perspective.

That way, when you come back to the conversation, you can see it differently, and it often can be resolved without further damage or incident.

Remember that the person who is writing is a person too. I think having compassion is a good thing, generally, and within reason!

Number Three: Apologize (Yeah, even if you didn't DO Anything Wrong, from your perspective.)

Sometimes, this works, because something you said or did really rubbed someone the wrong way, and that person totally mis-read the post or blog or situation, and got upset. It might not be your fault, but if you apologize and just say 'I really don't think I wrote what I really meant to say, and I am super sorry about that.', it gives both of you a way out of your gridlocked stance.

It doesn't mean you are letting someone walk all over you. It's called taking the high road, and not getting sidetracked by trolls, or drama, or endless conversations that go nowhere. It's called 'getting back on track' to doing what is really important to you and your vision or business, and giving the person a way to just walk away, even if they 'think' that 'They Won'. The bottom line is, if they walk away, you can get back to work changing the world, and so, in a way, everyone actually wins! The world wins, and you win too. Because you aren't just pointlessly arguing.

Then, you just need to let it all go, and really move on.

Number Four: Avoid 'Poking the Bear'.

If you are a normal person, you have opinions and thoughts and perspectives that are important to share with everyone, to help make change, or make the world a better place. There is nothing wrong with that. That's awesome.

However, it's easy to overstep and trigger people who don't think exactly like you, especially if you enter into political discussions and lifestyle choices or religious conversations.

For example, you could write an article that is against nuclear power, because you want people to switch to solar or whatever, that is going to get lots of people upset, or get people to enter into a deeper conversation or dialogue that is helpful and transforming.

If you say, 'Nuclear Power is for Idiots', then, you're poking the bear. Because there are a lot of people that probably think it's great and the answer and it's the best thing since the invention of fire. You're needlessly firing up those people and will probably get some animate conversation.

If, on the other hand, you say something like 'I'm really concerned about Nuclear Power, because I just don't feel like we are able to safely store the waste from all those radioactive materials, and I am worried for my children, and the world we are leaving for them to handle', that's a totally different kind of expression. It's not poking the bear, and it's more open to helpful, connective dialogue.

You can use this approach with just about anything, and it's helpful. Unless you're talking about vaccinations, or politics, or gun control. Then, you're screwed!

The bottom line is, you can still think in your head 'Anyone who supports Nuclear Energy is a Buttmuffin!' but you cross over into creating problems for yourself when you post that online.

On the other hand, if you are an Activist, and you are trying to generate strong feelings, to get attention to something, you probably don't care. You probably don't have a business that you are trying to run, and you are not worried about losing clients or students and you just want to put your opinions out there. So, that's different. That's a WHOLE OTHER thing.

Number Five: Stay Focused and in 'Integrity'.

If you're trying to teach people about baskets, or bushcraft, or survival, or bird language, stay focused on that stuff, and keep going in your business. I'm talking about your official blog, Facebook Page or website here, not your personal pages or social media accounts.

If you're too scattered and all over the place, it's hard for people to get a pulse on what you do and why you do it, and to connect with you. It can be confusing, and confused people don't sign up for your programs.

Likewise, your integrity is everything, so make sure if you're promoting things that you're offering, that you can actually deliver what you promise. Make sure you are going to give people the experiences that they are looking for, and do your best to make good on your work.

If you are focused and in a good place with your integrity, you should be okay. It might push some people's buttons, but that's not the end of the world, and you'll probably not have too much drama going on around you, or your business or organization.

If you drop out of integrity, though, it's going to make it harder to stay clean. Sometimes, trolls are there to tell us that we aren't delivering what we said we would, or that we made a mistake. So, looking within, and seeing if that's true is an important step in the process, to make sure that we aren't deluding ourselves as far as our role in any interaction.

It takes a mature person to admit when they are wrong and make it right, and all we can do is try to be the best person we can be and keep going on with our lives and our work.

Number Six: When None of this Works...

If politeness or reason doesn't work, sometimes, you have to use the ban hammer, and delete and block someone from continuing to post things on your stuff. But it's great if you can do so sparingly, and only after some effort to understand and work things out.

Unless they are just complete tools.

There are a lot of people who will look at what you do, and just think you're doing it wrong. They don't like the way you describe your programs. They don't like you're pictures or what you're accomplishing. They are upset because you're successful and they are struggling (maybe?) and they just want to bring you down, because it is easier to do than to work on their own thing.

We can't always know what is going on in a person's head when they get 'trolly' and even good people can have a bad day, but the bottom line is, it's almost always about them and not you.

People love to project their issues on people around them. It's what they do. It's what we all do.

My Tracker School Troll Story

Well, this is before the internet, back in the 1990's, when I would take classes at Tom Brown, Jr's Tracker School, down in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, or at the Boy Scout Camp, or at the old Farm in Asbury.

It might be familiar. It usually happened when Tom would get in his Hummer and drive away for the evening, or just on break. That was the signal for the Troll Conversations to start happening.

"What do you think he does with all of the money?" was one refrain. (Yeah, never heard that one before!)

"I don't think people should charge this much for these skills." went another. (Ironic, since that person had already paid that much to be learning the skills and sitting by the campfire.)

"I don't agree with how Tom teaches (insert skill here) because that's not how my Pappy taught me...." was also common.

All of this drove me crazy, but it was instructional too, because I got to see Human Nature, up close and personal. People were just doing what people do. They talk. They let their concerns and their worries and their judgements and their projections wander all over the place, and that's what they do.

Me, on the other hand, I worked my butt off in some miserable construction job, full of unfinished basement digging, or crawling around on my back in a crawl space, full of spiders and growling raccoons, to make the money I needed to be able to come to the next class.

A few years later, when I was an assistant instructor, people would call me over to their discussions. "What's your opinion, Rick?" they'd ask. "What do YOU think about this?"

I really didn't want to answer those questions, or even get into it with them. Because when you're asking the wrong questions, almost ALL answers are going to be wrong. Or a waste of time.

I worked for $3.35 an hour, to make it there. I was focused, and I never asked for a discount. I understood why these people needed to complain or stress out about that stuff, but I could care less. All I wanted to do was to learn and focus on getting better, and growing my skills and meeting cool, like-minded people. I didn't care about drama, or being right, or whatever. That wasn't why I was there.

I was there to get skills, teachings, stories and experiences. I didn't need that other stuff.

What's the point?

It's simple. Stay focused on your goals, and be polite. Make sure, if you are going to stir up drama, that you're doing it for the right reasons. Make sure you're asking the right questions, and that you're not just wasting time.

Sadly, unless you are prepared to go to court, you can't stop other people from writing stuff that's not true, or slanted or stretched. You can't stop people from posting stuff that is an outright lie. But what you can do is live your life so that you are being the best example for others to follow, and that seems to be a deterrent to a lot of trolls. Have confidence in your path, and in what you are doing and what you are trying to do.

If you get stuck in something yucky, reach out to others that you trust to help guide you through it, too. You always have help near by, just like in the woods, right? There's always something around us, ready to be used to help us survive and thrive!

Good luck out there with your visions, people! Love what you are doing and where you are going and what you're building! Thank you for your hard work!

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© 2014 by Ricardo J. Sierra