I regret nothing.
I’ve written and spoken extensively about how to treat trolls online. How to reach out to them and see them as people. Those rules still stand and I think patience and grace are important to remember when dealing with people.
Which is why some of what I’m about to tell you may sound a little odd coming from me. So I want to clarify that most of those rules are for what I would call a “peacetime” response to hostile people. Because during peacetime, hostile people aren’t all that common or all that hostile. They may be hostile in some sense, but are mostly reasonable and can be dealt with.
That’s not necessarily the case right now. We’re not in “peacetime,” I’m afraid. We’re so hostile towards each other, especially online, that I think it’s fair to call it “wartime.”
During wartime, the rules change a little. Right now, reality is up for debate. Truth is up for debate. Science is up for debate. Trust is up for debate.
And they shouldn’t be.
So understand, this isn’t about Trolls and how to deal with them. Those are creatures we know. Today, this is about how to deal with armored trolls, which I like to call “Super-Karens.” They are a new level of organized anger we’ve never seen before. And they can’t be reasoned with.
Before you get angry and close down…
Hear me out. We knew this was coming. In 2 Timothy 4:1-4, the Bible says this:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. [emphasis mine]
This sentiment has always been present in our society. The difference now is that it is moving toward becoming the rule, not the exception. Pastors are in a difficult situation now like never before in that they are often caught in no-win situations where two groups are yelling different sets of “facts” at them and demanding they take action. Hopefully we’ll get back to understanding that just because an issue has been politicized does not mean it is political.
Maybe social media managers can help? Here is a little guidance I would like to humbly submit for your consideration.
When do we block, ban, and hide social media Super-Karen trolls on social media?
How do we know when to cut the head off the snake? Will two more appear? Will they shout “Hail Hydra!” after you do? For most of these, I think there needs to be a teaching moment where the Super-Karens are warned first and/or you reach out and seek to instruct them on basic human decency before banning. I still hold to that. But you will quickly be able to tell whether you have a troll or a Super-Karen on your hands using the guidelines below.
Using your own judgement, you shouldn’t feel guilty at all for blocking or banning someone in one or more of the following situations…
They do not respond to simple requests
A disregard of your requests to stop commenting in a certain way only gets one strike in my book. I ask you to stop, you don’t stop, you don’t play anymore. I warned you.
What one such request might look like is “If you would like to continue talking about this with one of our pastors please reach out in private message with your email and we will get in touch.”
If they comment again, there will be no more conversation. They can still reach out, but their public convo privileges are hereby revoked.
They are belligerent
Belligerent means a person who is overly hostile and aggressive. Another word used to describe a hostile person is used in 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7 (verses used to describe those who aspire to be spiritual leaders) that may also apply here. That word is “pugnacious.” How perfect is that? A word to describe trolls that actually sounds like a type of dog that looks like one. Brilliant.
A hostile person is someone who can be presented with an answer but until it’s the one they want to hear, they’re going to continue their hostile, aggressive, and foolish behavior until someone either shouts them down or mutes them. They are like a firehose that shoots lava that cannot be turned off at the source, only pinched off and restrained at the mouth.
These are bad-faith actors who don’t really want to learn anything and are certainly not after truth, they’re after their truth. They aren’t interested in hearing your opinions, they’re interested in hearing their opinions coming out of your mouth.
Which offends the very core of who I am, so…bye.
They do not respond to reason
If you decide to engage with a commenter because they have spun off into conspiracy theories, wild accusations, or unsubstantiated claims about your church or pastor, watch for how they respond to your answers.
If they simply refuse to accept your answer, then end the conversation publicly. Let them know that you’re not going to debate them any further and that you’ve given your answers. If they would like to continue the conversation to reach out to your staff designated to handle the situation best.
If they continue to be belligerent about it and refuse to take your option or concede that the conversation is over, then ban them from the space. Bad behavior does not deserve to be tolerated and is not entitled to a platform. Especially not yours.
They are vile or hateful
Name-calling, mocking, or hate-filled comments are deal-breakers. Adding adjectives in front of or behind someone’s name is a childish form of mockery, which tells you what level of maturity you can expect from such a person.
When a person is using offensive language, mocking leaders or people in the church, mocking our faith, or throwing incendiary comments around to get a rise out of someone, they forfeit their privilege to interact on your church’s social media account. Do everyone a favor and remove them after you’ve publicly warned them about their behavior.
They are racist
Your church needs to know where you draw the line (in my opinion, it’s a zero tolerance policy), but you need to know when to lovingly confront and instruct a church member either publicly or privately and when you should remove them.
Racist comments are not worthy of respect though people are. However, these comments must be dealt with clearly. Whether that means hiding the comments and messaging them, responding in public, or messaging them privately with your rebuke is up to you.
Just make sure it happens. We can’t tolerate this type of thing in our churches anymore and need to denormalize passive racism where we can. Sorry if you’re tired of hearing about racism. I’m sure people of color are tired of experiencing it.
It’s not easy
In today’s cultural climate, it’s difficult to deal with all the hostility. Many pastors are calling it quits and walking away from ministry and who can blame them? So please, pray for your pastor and leaders, pray for your social media managers, and pray for your people to see truth as God sees it.
Otherwise, I fear we will only continue to damage the reputation of the Good News we are supposed to represent.
Seth has been in ministry for over 20 years, recently serving as Communications Director at a thriving church in North Dallas. He is also the host of The Seminary of Hard Knocks podcast, blogs at sethmuse.com, and has his Masters of Arts in Media and Communications from Dallas Theological Seminary. Seth specializes in helping church communicators use social media and content marketing to find common ground with their audience to empower them for spiritual growth.