No sign over a computer with a scary face

Did you know that trolls, Internet or otherwise, have a mental disorder? So found a study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences. Researchers surveyed 1,200 respondents, giving each one a personality test and then analyzing their Internet comments. The subjects’ behaviors were matched to a “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits that include sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. You remember Machiavelli, the 16th Century writer whose work endorsed deceit and duplicity as tools of control?  The trolls in the study scored highest in sadism. Congratulations.

Unfortunately for us non-sadists and psychopaths, trolling has become rampant in all areas of social activism. You might think marijuana, the last presumed bastion of peace and love, would be immune, or at least, less vulnerable. You’d be wrong. Some have called this booming industry, and Ohio in particular, a circular firing squad, rampant with infighting and hell bent on self-destruction.

Trolls might also be confused with agent’s provocateur sent in by alphabet soup governmental agencies or fearful pharmaceutical firms, both eager to fog an issue with disinformation and frighten supporters into complacency.

But this article isn’t about bemoaning Ohio politics or parsing who is or isn’t trolling. Rather, its purpose is to offer practical tips for dealing with trolls and ways to avoid feeding them.  Tim Johnson, a retired police officer and safety/security consultant from Ohio Cannabis Safety First, offers some smart suggestions. 

It must first be understood that trolls have rights, too. Sadly, some say, but they do. Thanks to our democracy, trolls have rights to freedom of speech, press and assembly. You won’t gain traction in dealing with them if you fail to understand this, and if you don’t, they’ll be quick to use their inalienable rights against you. If what they say is true, enough said. They have the right to voice truth. If you get in their physical space, you may have assaulted them, even if you think they deserved it. And if they crowd together, well, they’re just another clique. 

So, even though you feel like telling them where they can shove their copy of Machiavelli, do your best to avoid confrontation and conflict. Walk away. Don't participate. Dodge the situation. Nothing says you must respond. The troll’s goal is to spark attention or trigger a reaction. It's simple, don't give it to them. The problem for mere citizens is that First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech comes with a caveat: the media’s freedom to irritate and harass those you don’t like can be also be used by trolls to the point where you risk becoming the story. Don’t give them that byline.

Then there’s documentation. Our lives revolve around it: diaries, lists, photos, files. So why not use it to your advantage? Your sixth grade teacher gave you six simple, yet insightful tools: who, what, when, where, how and why. Remember those book reports and essays? That’s what you do with trolling. Following those six precepts, write it down. Record it. Audio-video-photograph and file away it on your computer or in a drawer. This body of work comprises the documentation you will need to reflect on when something must be done.

OK, it’s time to act. You’ve tried to dodge them and endured their sadistic critique, all the while documenting each and every incident. You have several options.

The first is a Cease and Desist letter. With your audio-video-photograph file, have an attorney draft a letter. This letter puts the trolls on notice that they must stop their lying, conniving ways, or else. That the letter has been received is key to further action. They got it, so they must know! Next step civil action?

Another option takes you to the steps of the police department in your local jurisdiction, with documentation in tow. The police can create an incident report, file charges if needed or guide you to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor will decide if the incident and accompanying documentation warrant action. You can also inquire about a citizens filing charge. In this case, the police or prosecutor will complete the charge form and you will file it.

Do not become discouraged if prosecution isn’t granted on first pass. Sometimes persistence and repeatedly filing incidence reports will give you just what you need: more documentation to make your case. In time, your trolls could find themselves in big trouble.

If this sounds like you must become a troll to fight a troll, you may be partly right. While there is no excuse for lying and conniving, you can beat them at their own game by rigorously documenting, investigating and actually creating your own case file before taking it to authorities for processing. In fact, the mere fact that the Free Press is publishing this article should put the trolls on notice that we’re watching them.

In summary, the best ways of countering the Machiavellian duplicity of 21st century trolls in a climate of free speech are to document their deceit, send them cease and desist letters and file incident reports about them with local police, with the long-term goal of civil action or prosecution. But most of all, stay calm, avoid conflict and most of all, Don’t Feed the Trolls!

More trolling tips:

- If someone is filming, photographing or recording you, film, photograph or record them back. Although counter intuitive, it is legal in Ohio to record someone – audio and video – if one person knows. Everyone nowadays carries a smart phone. When being filmed, take photos or videos of the videographer. This has the dual effect of both documenting their actions and letting them know that they, too, are being watched.  

- When filming, photographing or recording someone doing the same to you, do not engage the videographer or anyone else. Do not answer their or anyone else’s questions. Just go about your business, but keep filming, taking photos or recording audio. Practice taking out your phone and starting the camera, video or audio recorder until it becomes natural. This will prevent you from fumbling with it while under duress.

- If you’re holding meeting and are worried about it being disrupted by trolls, designate someone on your team as the room monitor. At the start of the meeting, have this person state the rules of the meeting: save questions until last, do not interrupt the speaker, or remain in your seats. Those who fail to heed the meeting rules can be designated as trespassing. In so doing, they can be asked to leave or removed by security or the police.


Mary Jane Borden is a long-time staff writer for the Free Press. She is President of the Ohio Rights Group, a non-partisan 501(c)(4) organization that advocates for the rights of Ohioans to make medical, therapeutic and industrial use of the Cannabis plant. Borden holds a BA from Otterbein University, an MBA from the University of Dayton and the prestigious APR certification from the Public Relations Society of America.

Tim Johnson is a retired police officer with 20 years of service, a U.S.A.F. veteran and a college graduate whose studies included Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice. Johnson specialized in a variety of areas as well as community relations, field training officer, hostage negotiator, and a crime prevention specialist. He is the Founder of Ohio Cannabis Safety First, an educational and safety awareness website.