It was bound to happen: a troll landed on my blog. “Congratulations —you’ve made it!” friends said. As in, I’d become an established-enough blogger to have attracted the attention of a troll. A commemorative plaque would have been nice, but my very own troll? Not so much.
It’s fair to say that my blog Love That Max is Not Evil. Max is my son, he has cerebral palsy and he rocks. I write the blog to inspire other parents, get inspired in return, and bitch about our insurance company. I welcome opposing viewpoints and lively debates (otherwise, why blog?). I can’t recall ever suggesting kicking puppies or punching babies. So I wasn’t prepared for seriously personal, cruel comments. Here’s what went down when a troll invaded my blog.
TROLL REARS ITS HEAD
Troll showed up the day I spoke out against a meme that made fun of a girl with Down syndrome. Troll (who posted as Anonymous) claimed I was being hypocritical since I had once confessed to calling a kid who was slow “retarded” when I was a child (and didn’t know better).
A little later, this gem cropped up:
“She did not even want her own son, max, when she found out he was not perfect! That’s right! The woman you are throwing roses at said eeeewwww I don’t want him to her doctor. What kind of mother does that?!?!?!?! Oh, wait, I know! One who then attempts to make ammends by writing a blog in an attempt to appear the perfect mom.”
When Max was born, he had a stroke. I was out of my head with grief when doctors told us all the terrible things my newborn was at risk for — not talking, not walking, intellectual disability, hearing and vision problems. “I don’t want a child with special needs,” I blurted, which I shared in Max’s birth story on the blog. Now Troll was flinging those words back at me.
Over the years, people have said dumb-ass things. Fly-by commenters have been cruel, especially when a video I’d made about the word “retard” ended up on the homepage of CNN. But nobody had ever gone so low. Troll’s last bit of loveliness:
“You don’t have to be responsible for what you say as long as you use your disabled kid as a shield.”
I’ve always had a pretty liberal approach to comments. I rarely erase any, unless they’re full of curses or paid links. I moderate ones that are more than several days old, to avoid spam. I’ve never made readers register, to make commenting as easy as possible. I also haven’t wanted to get into a volleyball tournament of deleting a comment, only to have it crop up again.
But Troll’s comments festered in my head. It wasn’t that I took them to heart — I didn’t. I’m proud of the blog I’ve built, and I’m a (mostly) good parent. I was just furious that someone thought it was OK to say things like that, in the most cowardly way possible. And then it bothered me that this was bothering me.
WHERE’S THE TROLL REPELLENT SPRAY?
I couldn’t call my mother (“What did you say? You have a troll? Honey, are you feeling OK?”). I couldn’t rope in the FBI (although it be awesome if they had a Department for The Extinction of Trolls). Unlike bed bugs, there’s no exterminator for trolls. And so, I ignored the “don’t feed the trolls” way of the web and went with the Mother Teresa approach. My comment:
“Anonymous, I’m sorry you are such an angry, bitter and closed-minded person, it must be hard to live that way. I’m not going to bother counteracting statements you’ve made, which are exaggerated, untrue or just plain ridiculous. I’m going to pity you. Please, get yourself some help.”
To which Troll responded (this time roping in my daughter):
“You pity me and I will continue to pity your children. I will pity max for having a mum who didn’t want him and sabrina for you already saddling her with caring for max after you die. Sad to saddle with being caregiver for her brother. What if she wanted to choose a career where she travelled extensively? Or wanted to marry someone who did? She can’t even choose her own lifepath because you’ve given her the responsibility of caring for her brother after your death. And having a 3rd child?! How selfish can you be?! If this one comes out gorked too, it’s ok cause sabrina can look after both.”
Now, I was furious.
I SEEK COUNSELING
I posted in a private Facebook group I belong to, asking what to do. Several people mentioned having a comments policy that clearly explained which ones would get deleted. One woman created a helpful badge: “Above all, stop and think what you are saying!” (nice sentiment, but not effective troll control). Some people had an it’s-my-playground approach — as in, it’s my blog and play nicely or I’ll kick you out.
I took some consolation that readers were sticking up for me. Said one,
“To Anonymous': I find it fascinating that someone who claims to find Ellen so repellent also seems to know a great deal about her blog posts. You’ve referenced her religious preference, her daughter’s name, her contemplation on having a 3rd child, heck, I’ll bet that you could even name her favorite colors & hobbies if pressed. My question is why? Why do you continue to read a blog written by a person whom you find so infuriating? Is it boredom, jealousy, loneliness, all of the above? Whatever the reason, I hope that you can find another way to pass the time because trolling on blogs is kinda sad, don’t you think? Sincerely, Kimberly”
Troll lashed out at some. A dad of a child with Down syndrome spoke up. Wrote Troll,
“I looked up ur blog (creepy family photo btw!)”
That night, I switched my comments to “moderate” before I went to sleep. My husband gave a reading of Troll’s comments in a creepy voice that made me laugh.
AND THEN I KICKED TROLL’S BUTT IN A PEACEFUL WAY
The next day on the blog, I mentioned the potty-training success Max had at school, and that he still wasn’t fully trained at home. Said Troll,
“Lazy parenting affects the child more than you realize.”
When people started defending me again, and Troll went off the deep end, I’d had enough. It’s a privilege to get comments; I didn’t want my readers wasting their time or energy doing battle. And so I wrote:
“Anon, darling? I’m going to start deleting comments like the above going forward because this blog is a place for productive conversation and I don’t want readers to waste time responding. Cheers!”
TROLL WANTS TO SPA WITH ME
For the next couple of days, no Troll. I wondered if it was gnashing it’s teeth, gearing up for another attack. Or perhaps Troll had been called back to The Mothership. I checked the blog frequently for comments. For the first time since starting it three years ago, I felt anxious about it. It was a home invasion.
Three days after Troll appeared, an email with the subject line “Confessions from A Nony Mous” showed up in my inbox. Troll, it seemed, was named Donna (or so Troll wrote):
“I’ve been researching for an article I’ve been writing called “Life Lesson Learned Under The Bridge” [OMG — it really was a troll!] and I wanted to apologize for the things I have said on your blog.”
Troll wanted to share a draft of said “article” with me. After a meandering story involving Troll overhearing someone speaking out against the word retard, Troll wrote:
“I, as well as my son, have physical, mental and emotional disabilities, along with my loving soulmate who has physical disabilities.”
“I would like to personally apologize to Ellen, Max, Sabrina and Dave. During my research, I ended up on her amazing blog, Love That Max, and as a troll, said some very nasty things. Ellen, I did not mean them… and you handled yourself with remarkable grace. I applaud you….”
And at the end of the note, this:
“I would love to share a spa day, one filled with laughter, wine and friendly conversation… and a few sexy cabana boys feeding us grapes while we lounge on golden thrones like the goddesses we are.”
Did I feel satisfied? A little. Relieved? Yes. Most of all, though, I felt sorry for this person who clearly had ISSUES. And that she had no cabana boys in her life. You know, unlike me.
I have yet to delete Troll’s comments though I plan to; I don’t want the words there for my children to someday read. There will be other trolls, I’m sure, for as long as I keep blogging. I doubt I’ll ever again get an apology, and it doesn’t matter, because the troll who came forward confirmed what we always suspect: There really is something wrong with trolls. There has to be, whether or not they’ve been diagnosed; only people with real problems leave nasty, cruel, anonymous comments on blogs.
But I sure wouldn’t mind Troll Repellent Spray.
What’s the worst thing a troll ever said to you? Tell me in the comments, and we can all commiserate.
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Photo credit: Flickr/chillihead