How Talk to Strangers Online Without Being A Troll

Updated October 7, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We Don't Always Know The Best Way To Communicate Online

What is a troll exactly? It's a personality on the internet that is rude or means, pushes people's buttons, says offensive things and stirs up drama. Basically, a bully. It is great to make friends online and have online connections, but you don't want to be a troll. Over time, a set of rules has developed to guide us as to what are good manners on the internet, and what kind of behavior is just offensive. Even in an anonymous chat room, there's no reason to go out of your way to annoy people or hurt their feelings, especially if you decide to talk to strangers about mental health. Making the world a better place often means doing the simple things in the right way. You are also going to feel more connected and happier if your online experiences are positive and kind when you talk to random people.

Learn the Basics

While things like not TYPING IN ALL CAPS and knowing what LOL stands for should be common knowledge, a few people online still haven't figured it out and maybe unintentional trolls. What are the basics? In short, you want to speak (type) similar to how you do when you interact in person. If you wouldn't degrade someone and tell them they are a terrible mother to their face, don't do it online. That may seem really obvious, but the fact that we are using a computer or phone and often with the anonymity of a screen name, some people to act differently than they normally do, and it generally is not for the better.

Know the Forum Rules Before You Talk to Strangers Online

Some online forums and chat rooms are totally free-form and may have no official rules at all though the basics as listed above will almost always still apply. The forums that do have rules have instated them for a reason, usually to keep the forum productive and safe for everyone to be included. Most will, at a minimum, remove comments that are explicitly racist, sexist or personally hurtful. These are often called "violations" or "vios" for short. Others expect users to follow reasonable guidelines when creating new threads and responding to posts.

Simply reading the FAQ, combined with some common sense, should tell you all you need to know. Additionally, try to stick to the topic the message board or thread was created for; if someone is discussing feminism, don't insert a random thought on aquarium care. This would be a good time to either start a new thread, most allow for unrelated topics from time to time, or find another board that suits your interests.

Remember the Person on the Other End

The only reason you're typing something is so that someone can read it, but some people tend to forget (or temporarily don't care) that this person is a live human being. Writing a message that can be difficult to understand, or can be interpreted in more than one way, shows that you might not be as considerate to the other as you could be. If you start to notice that people are not responding back to you, or fairly often you are told that you are outside the rules of the group, it's time to examine your online behavior and see what it is you are doing wrong. If you try and are not sure, you can ask someone on the forum. Many forums or boards have a group leader who can answer any questions you have about your behavior.

If you are not sure about something you are about to post, you can run through a quick checklist: is this helpful? Is this kind? Is this relevant? And if those answers are all "yes" you can feel good about posting. If you are not sure what is kind, a simple exercise of thinking about how you would feel if someone said the same thing to you can help.

Remember that once posted on the internet, you no longer have control over it

Let's say you are not in a good mood and someone posts something that rubs you the wrong way and you unload on them, using foul language and maybe even a racial slur, even though normally you would not do that and do not even believe in what you said, but you were really angry. It takes less than a second for someone to take a screenshot and then you no longer have control. They could re-post it somewhere else and it could go viral and it would be really embarrassing and stressful. Or, what if, you frequently post offensive things and a potential employer goes over your social media history and decides not to hire you. There are a lot of reasons to use good manners online, to others and yourself.

Look for the Right Advice in the Right Space

Anonymous strangers on the internet are often extremely helpful, whether you are trying to fix a spreadsheet error or want to know where in town you can buy an unusual item. Groups can be really powerful and connect people with similar interests and problems. There are groups for parents with kids with disabilities or people who are following a certain diet or weight loss method. These groups can be comforting and be a valuable resource. Still, while everybody needs some guidance from time to time, expecting people to always listen to you and solve your personal problems is going a little far. You do not want to be a drain on the forum and you want to manage your expectations.

If you want to know more about a legal matter, for example, there are websites where you can ask for general information. If you are going through a difficult time, professional help is also available. Depending on the level of assistance you need, this may not be free, but this generally just means you're talking to someone qualified. Following the advice of a random stranger can often do more harm than good. If you are looking for online counseling, BetterHelp is a great platform for this. It is not a forum or a message board, but a site where you are matched with a counselor and you can message your counselor, schedule live sessions including chat, video, and phone. If you start on general forums and find that you aren't getting what you need, or you need more than the group can offer, it might be wise to check into online counseling.

Practicing good manners online is the modern equivalent of wearing a tie and knowing what fork to use at dinner. Using anonymity as an excuse for poor behavior not only harms others but also builds habits that will carry over into daily life. Think twice before you click "Send", don't post anything you wouldn't normally say to another person's face, and, if the tone of an argument is going down fast, just disconnect. You should use online boards and forums to add things to your life, not make life more stressful. If you follow the above-listed suggestions, you should be able to have a positive online experience and not be a troll.

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