An Unfortunate Experience With Internet Trolls

I was trolled twice in two days.

In both instances, my trolls delivered a screenshot of my posts onto their own, personal pages.

As writers and authors, expect trolls, but keep in mind that these trolls CANNOT engage in defamation against you.

Legally, it’s a crime and any troll who screenshots your name and profile, along with encouraging disparaging comments against you need to be dealt with.

So, when can trolls get away with their crimes and when can’t they?

Read on.

 

The Art of Trolling

As someone whose writing and social media brand is entrenched in Libertarianism, I’m often accused by my opponents of trolling them once I share verifiable information contradicting either their chosen candidate or their ideology.

Usually, I’m either accused of being paid by a specific political party and in one instance, by Vladimir Putin, himself, by an opponent.

This isn’t trolling; it’s using verifiable sources to leverage a debate in your favor. And often, when an opponent resorts to calling you a troll, they lost the debate. They can’t win the debate.

However, if they screenshot your argument or any posting and they’re trying to defame you, not only is it trolling, but it’s also illegal.

So, say if I shared some screenshots of such accusers and showed their names and pictures, I’d be in some trouble. Of course, not only will I not engage in such activity; I’ll be vague about it, too.

And if you’re doing this, then stop, go through your blog or social media, and delete any post including this act. Again, it’s illegal. Now, you can share a post or retweet a post or article with your opinion attached. That, you can do. But you can’t actively try to make someone ‘infamous’ just because they said something that hurt your feelings and I don’t care what they said.

Engaging in such a disgusting act can come back on the person you just tried to inconvenience. Their employer might see what was written and fire them on the spot. Their reputation can be damaged. As can their career because of the actions of one or two troublemakers.

Again, in a Libertarian society, as I preach in my own writings, this IS a crime and it should be a crime due to a damaged party. And if there is a damaged party in any way, shape or form, in all intents and purposes, it is and should be labeled a crime. There’s a victim at the other end, in other words.

I don’t care how angry you get, DON’T TRY TO DESTROY SOMEONE ELSE’S REPUTATION!

 

My Experience

The first came on Monday because of something I said two months ago. The profile that shared it came on Twitter and judging from their name, stock photo for a profile pic, lack of a bio and a numbered Twitter handle, my guess is that this is a fake profile.

In this case, I saw the screenshots and initially wasn’t sure what to think, as the Tweet itself was delivered in a rather nonchalant manner. However, after two hours the attack came and I promptly blocked and reported the profile to Twitter.

I only do this when there’s either a fake profile involved, or if there is a real person on the other end actively trying to do harm to you and your reputation. And as authors, it’s something we need to keep.

Now, had I been mean-spirited toward that individual or something I would’ve been in the wrong.

What happened a couple months back was this: These two profiles were debating about American interventionism, and after seeing the generic name, photo, and lack of bio, I simply stated to the other guy that he was dealing with a fake profile and that was it. It occurred in the middle of August.

So, on Monday, October 7th, I heard from them again. My guess is that this particular profile was probably serving a 30-day ban from Twitter or something similar.

The second came on my private Facebook account, when another profile on my friends list and I were going at it over a sport. Each post escalated into something more extreme and we were both at fault for what was to come.

I admit that I posted something I probably shouldn’t have regarding a certain NFL team (read Lord of Columbia and you’ll know exactly which team I spoke ill of). At this case, they lost their temper and screenshot my post to their page, followed by a list of mobsters with abusive comments. In other words, this user knowingly tried to induce a smear campaign and again, this is blatant slander.

Again, if we’re indie authors and technically business owners, we do have a legal right to defend ourselves and our businesses. In any case, you have the right to claim defamation here, especially if someone’s actively trying to harm your personality.

Now, if they post something pertaining to you without mentioning your name or anything related, it’s NOT a crime. If they keep it vague, there’s really nothing you can do. But if they start naming names, profiles, and share photos, you have a legal right to do something, and America’s Founders would’ve agreed.

It’s a lot like warnings nonfiction authors give to students who write autobiographies and memoirs: Change the dates, locations, names, atmosphere, and in some cases, even change the gender, because if the person you might be speaking ill of in a book catches wind and it’s blatant on who you’re talking about, they have the right to charge you for defamation.

It’s easier for us fiction authors to get away with this, especially if there’s a disclaimer in a book’s front matter. But still, authors like J.K. Rowling, who based many characters on people she knew, remain as vague as vague can be, and for good reason – to avoid defamation suits.

Again, the social media war escalated to a place it never should’ve gone, and I’ll take full responsibility for my own actions for writing my own stupid post in retaliation for something else. But never in a million years did I believe this particular user, who I’d known for over four years, would actively try to harm my reputation.

I’m writing this article because as writers, it’s easy to be accused of defamation and for those of us who inject subjects we’re passionate about into our work, it’s easy to be defamed.

I’m not saying you can claim defamation in response to a bad review from a verified purchase unless the review is abusive. They have the right to their own opinion. But to go out and actively try to harm another’s reputation is where a red line is crossed and yes, you do have the right to call foul, just as they have the right to call foul if you blatantly write about them.

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Defamation

The Do’s

Always, always, always change names, dates, and locations. For fiction, this is easy since I tend to write fantasy. But with my upcoming Braden Hawk thriller, I changed the names of the setting of the towns the work is located in. I based every character on particular people, so again, it’s all about ensuring I change their appearance and names enough to avoid potential defamation.

When talking about who characters are based on, remain vague. I based Patrick O’Day from Lord of Columbia on this loudmouth I knew from the days I worked as a personal trainer. I based Savannah Rivers on this athletic girl I crossed paths with during my days as a trainer when I was twenty-four.

Now, for people with marketability such as politicians and celebrities, it’s a lot safer to say you based a character on them or their character is an amalgam of them. It’s far different when basing characters on those in the public eye.

For works of nonfiction, consider changing the gender. If you had a drunken stepdad who beat on you when you were young, change it to a stepmom who verbally abused you. As much as you want to expose people, remember they have the same rights as you, regardless of how horrible they are. Don’t cross that line because a situation can escalate to a crazy level.

Don’t publish a work without finding a beta reader or two who might know of the people you based your characters on. Let them read through your manuscript to see if it’s vague enough to hide the fact you based characters on real-life individuals. If they’re in doubt, don’t publish.

Don’t assume the people you’re basing characters on won’t find your work. They probably won’t, but they or someone close to them can, and that will spell trouble.

 

Conclusion

For me, it was a lesson learned in one instance: Don’t say what your entire NFL fan base is thinking about their chief rival, or their players. Now, as writers, it’s okay to be a Firestarter, as it creates dialogue when engaging on social media and even in your works.

I’m a Firestarter and I always will be. I enjoy it. I enjoy reading what other people have to say and I enjoy seeing them attack my own belief patterns.

But for another, attack the issue that’s being written about, and don’t get personal with others to the point either you or they are actively, blatantly, trying to destroy a reputation you spent the last eighteen months trying to build.

If someone is being abusive toward you and trolling you constantly, block them. If someone comments on what you’re sharing in a rude manner, just block them. Honestly, block them, cut ties with them, and forget about it.

Don’t engage in a social media war, especially if you’re on a business account. Again, you can be a Firestarter; I encourage it. Especially if it’s part of your brand and your target audience expects it. Stephen King does this all the time on Twitter, but again, much of his reader base leans Liberal. King can and should do this. His fans love it.

Even if you’re an indie author like me. Not a single day passes where I won’t criticize Donald Trump and his consistent flip-flopping on foreign policy, my views on why I believe Americans need to be armed to hold their government in check, and why I believe Austrian economics is better than both Cronyism and Socialism.

I expect backlash, but in most of my social media debates either with other writers and in some cases, random profiles, I almost always find middle ground and compromise, which is what debates and my own brand is about.

But I’m not going to screenshot so and so and claim how they insulted me so I’m calling on my following or friends list to join me in a smear campaign. And in return, I don’t expect them to do this either, nor do I expect you to. So just don’t do it. Again, it is a crime because there’s an injured party attached and it can escalate into a lawsuit if the victim’s reputation is damaged to the point it affects their private life.

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