A bull, not a troll. Image by Paul Calver.

A bull, not a troll. Image by Paul Calver.


If you're getting any kind of attention or success, you will get trolls. It's a sign that what you are doing is working.

There are a small number of people out there looking to steal some of your seemingly wonderful life and success from you.

Your life is likely to look amazing. First, because we all present a more positive version of our lives online. Secondly, much of the media reinforces the mostly false image that entrepreneur's lives are glamourous and perfect. Which they really aren't. There are glimmers of awesomeness. It's natural to talk about that. People don't want to hear about your hardcore coffee habit and midnight Excel sheet sessions. It looks like self pity. Perhaps it is.

This seeming amazingness causes resentment amongst a small but intense group of men. Trolls are invariably men. Maybe it's about powerlessness, or a desperate way to earn respect and be relevant. When your supposed amazing life goes wrong, they go into overdrive.

Note: Criticism isn't trolling. Critique is important and you must pay attention to it. Trolls are easy to spot. Almost always anonymous, they will not discuss, will not listen, and will always take it a bit too far. Occasionally way too far. 

Vulpine, and thus I, had always had a few low grade trolls. It was kind of fun pushing back when it was all a bit silly. But when Vulpine went bust I got what I'd call a Stalker Troll. Which is not much fun, when you and those you care about are trying to cope with a life changing event.

But this is the internet. I used it to build my company. I was very active on social media and relatively well known, in cycling anyway. Vulpine closed suddenly, despite being seen as The Next Big Thing. It was inevitable, maybe even fair, that some of that positivity would flip around, back at me, as the founder and face of Vulpine, in some form online. It's ok to say I was rubbish. But it's not ok to lie.

This particular troll went a bit bonkers. He'd created an unintentionally amusing elaborate other life to disguise that we were industry rivals. Eventually it went so far that the wider, more grounded 'normal' online community, who normally stay silent, pushed back, having smelt a rat and the troll just disappeared. Thank you. You did a good and fair thing.

Usually it's just best to let them dig themselves in. Don't give them the satisfaction of a response. It is attention and relevance they seek. I found out about most of this stuff secondhand. I was busy with a painful real life. Friends and other business owners had told me to ignore it. It is a bit like saying "Don't think of an elephant!" but I managed it, concentrating on the grim work of trying to ensure the least worst closure.

This chap wasn't getting the attention they craved from me, but they were getting it from other commenters, who aren't interested in the veracity of the information, as the gossipy fun of an internet Pile On. 

It snowballed. It became a game and I was the ball. It boiled up into something with serious legal consequences. Trolls think they act with impunity, usually because they're ignored, not because you can't do anything about it. You can.

I was advised to take action, but I now became aware of their back story. It seemed this chap had some heavy duty personal issues to deal with. It was obvious really. Nobody trolls, certainly not that intensely and that unconcerned for the potential for blowback, without there being something seriously wrong beyond the strange confines of the internet.

I could now feel pity. It felt better to pity and sympathise, than to be the aggressor against someone weak and foolish. I don't want to be an angry or bitter person, it's better for the soul. But I'll admit it isn't always easy to park those feelings.

I hope that they've learned from this and have found some peace and happiness. Anger, bullying and trolling are all expressions of emotional torment. I hope someone was able to intervene and help, before they do it to someone else, if they haven't already, under new pseudonym(s).

Writing that stuff must be as corrosive to the troll as its is to the trollee (real word?!) It must exacerbate their self hate. I wonder, are the cruellest comments and strangest fictions a cry for help? Bullies are most often also victims.

So yea, phew. What an intense example that may illustrate how you can find a way to stop this modern phenomenon upsetting you too much. Because invariably it's going to happen to us all a lot more. 

Trolls will usually just spit something at you, and move on. If you feed them, they will come back. Try not to read the comments, or give them any of that attention they seek. Do reply to valid criticism but never respond to rudeness.

If you're just reading an article and see trolling happening, please say something. They'll often disappear. If it's you being targetted, do collect the information and seek advice. Demand that websites with comments are properly moderated, and flag comments. Site owners have a duty of care.

If it's against a colleague or employee, perhaps in charge of your social media, protect them. Field their opinion. If necessary, take advice then action. You might decide on my suggested 'pity' stance, but of course you can't decide that for others. It's personal. Trolling can be extremely distressing to some and water off a duck's back to others. 

Above all, I try to believe trolling happens because they have problems we aren't aware of. Pity helps us make sense of, and deal with trolling.

Don't hate them. Try to pity the trolls.