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How You Can Be a Force For Good In a World Filled With Online Trolls

Why is the Internet such a nasty place? Why does it seem like there are trolls found around every corner? It doesn’t have to be this way. Each of us can make a difference, simply by making an effort to post positive things throughout the Internet.

Back in 2012 a bunch of nasty readers started attacking young inventor Aidan Dwyer, after he had invented an intriguing solar tree design. Instead of encouraging this inventor, age 13, to keep up the great scientific work, know-it-all trolls came along and started trashing both young Aidan and his creative design.

Why? Why were people so evil to trash down Aidan instead of encouraging his innovative nature? Wouldn’t inspiring a young inventor make our future world a better place?  

For that matter, wouldn’t using the Internet to encourage everyone in their positive endeavors, make the world a better place?

Josh’s Story

I first thought about taking this approach when I came across the story of Josh Yandt, a young high school student whose father had died. In the midst of dealing with this tragedy, he started to withdraw from other students, and was bullied.

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After moving to a new home in the city and attending an inner-city school, Josh felt invisible – like nobody knew who he was or even cared. The bullying didn’t stop. So Josh did something few people do when faced with such a situation: he used positive actions to let people know who he was.

Every morning, he started opening doors for students. He greeted them by name and said good morning. At first they didn’t know what to think, but after a while everyone knew who Josh was. Everyone liked Josh.

At the time this story was published on LittleThings.com, there were few comments. I loved the story so much that I decided to encourage Josh, on the very off-chance that he might read the comment.

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The post received 38 likes over the month it was published. There was even a follow-up thank you from someone I suspect may be part of Josh’s local community.

Then I realized: maybe someone from the community would show Josh the comment. Maybe it would encourage him to continue speaking to kids about being bullied – to continue making a positive impact on his community. And if a single positive comment can encourage people to continue living their lives in positive ways, isn’t that a powerful way to influence the sort of world we live in?

Negative Stories Get All the Comments

Exploring the web, I noticed an interesting pattern. Negative news stories or blog posts, which tend to draw in negative comments and trolls, are usually overflowing with comments. People appear to love socializing and debating about negative stories.

One example was the 2013 case where 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick was driven to commit suicide by the taunting of a bully at school. The story was about the bully ending up in jail for what she had done.

The negative actions of this bully were attacked in the comments area of this news article – she was called names, and people even posted that she deserved to die.

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This may reflect the general problem with commenting on the Internet. The ability to post anonymously might be half the problem – this was recognized by YouTube in 2012, when they forced commenters to use real names.

Another part of the problem: negativity breeds negativity. The bad stories in the news – the crime and tragedy in the world – seem to end up with comment areas that are bursting at the seams.

It doesn’t have to be that way; not if each of us makes a conscious effort to seek out positive stories, and comment on them. To praise those people who do the right thing.

Making Fun of Fat People

The most tragic form of troll is the one who attacks nice people. One example of this was an article in Salon written by Rebecca Golden, where she detailed what it was like to be bullied because she was overweight. She almost committed suicide at 12 years old. Still, she managed to drop 300 pounds after reaching her lowest point, a commendable achievement by anyone’s standards. Still, the bullying continues today.

She is the kind of person who deserves praise and encouragement for surviving, and for having the ability to take a public stand.

Unfortunately, the comment area reflected more trolling by the same sort of people who probably bully people in real life.

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What’s the point? Why spread such hate and animosity in a world that already has too much of it? Why not be a better person, and spread positive feelings and motivation to people who so obviously need it? Imagine how uplifting and encouraging it would be for this girl to be commended and praised for her achievements this far? Imagine the motivation she would have to further improve the quality of her life and the lives of others?

Thankfully, there are some commenters out there who have mastered this.

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Yes, there are good people in the world and they are online too. We need more of them.

Family Adopts Eight Brothers

Another example was the wonderful story from late 2014 of the Nebraska family who first fostered, and then adopted, eight brothers – all born from an addict mother who could not keep them.

It was a heartwarming story of a family graciously opening their hearts and their home to children in need, and helping to keep these siblings together. It’s a selfless act that would most certainly change the world by shaping the type of men these boys will become when they get older.

This positive story got 176 comments. Unfortunately, it attracted a few trolls (using anonymous names, of course).

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Thankfully, there were also the positive commenters filling the comment thread, which these heartwarming stories seem to draw more than the negative news stories do.

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As you can see above, most of the time when these stories are published, the people who know those involved – or even the person the story is written about – are reading every comment. Just think of the power that gives you, as a commenter, to compliment, encourage and motivate those people to continue their wonderful work.

And doing so also encourages other people reading the comments to follow suit, to do similar good in the world, and to make the world a better place as a result.

Molly – A Bullied Blind Girl

Then, you’ve got the truly positive and motivational stories out there. Like the story of Molly, a girl who lost her vision from a degenerative eye disease.

She told the story of how she was bullied after falling blind. How no one believed her, because she had learned to use her other senses to make her way around the world. She told of the things she had managed to achieve in her life despite the scars of that bullying. Despite the limits of being blind.

She is a beautiful young girl, with a very bright future. She survived the depression following her diagnosis, and she is now a successful young woman with her own apartment, making her own way in the world. Her story should be overflowing with comments and positive encouragement in the comment area.

Yet there are a bare 5 comments on that article above. Barely 11 comments on her YouTube story. Thankfully, this is in fact where you’ll find some of the good people of the Internet actively encouraging people.

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Unfortunately, there are far too few of these good people, and far too many mean people on the Internet these days. Which group do you fall into? Do you spend your time spreading comments that hurt people, or comments that help to make the world a better place?

The Power of Words

Patrick Rothfuss wrote in The Name of the Wind:

“As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” 

These days, people toss around words as carelessly as they toss out their weekly garbage. In many of the same ways, people give just as little thought to the impact of their words on the world, as they do the impact of their trash.

Wouldn’t it make sense to give conscious thought to how you words will affect people, how they will impact those lives, and how those lives may impact the world? Every small pebble of a comment you cast into the Internet can have a ripple effect upon the lives in those stories, and upon the lives of those around them.

So why not be a positive voice in a sea of negativity? Why not shine your encouraging light into the darkness of the Internet? Maybe together, we can make the web a more positive and uplifting place to explore.


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  • eric assange

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