There are plenty of ways to handle trolls who leave hateful comments on the internet. Some people choose to ignore and some block, while others retaliate.
Lexie Manion, a New Jersey-based body positivity activist, took a road less traveled: She decided to compliment people who left hateful comments on a recent photo.
The 22-year-old received a slew of nasty comments and messages about her body and weight after she shared a side-by-side photo of herself on October 6, she wrote at Cosmo UK. Responding to the misguided notion that plus-size women must only be truly comfortable with their bodies if they wear revealing clothing, she posted photos of herself in a sheer top and a regular top, noting she felt confident in both outfits.
When some commenters responded with hateful words, she first contemplated making her account private, blocked the trolls and responded to each one. But she wrote that she was still left feeling frustrated and “powerless,” so she began directly messaging them with “genuine” compliments about things like their smile or outfit.
“Though I had low expectations, I hoped the people would be forced to acknowledge they’d trolled a real and compassionate person, then be inspired to think twice in the future before bullying me or another stranger,” she wrote.
Manion said she only got “a handful” of responses to her compliments, but those who did write back again were no longer hateful.
“This made me feel like I had made some sort of an impact, while helping me cope in a way that felt authentic to me,” she wrote.
Manion told HuffPost that giving out the compliments was a challenge at first, but got easier over time. One exchange was especially eye-opening.
“I messaged a girl who had commented to me, ‘Gross. Still gross,’” she said. “I messaged her saying that I loved the spelling of her name, that it was so unique and pretty, and she replied, ‘Aw, thank you! I love yours too!’ I think that interaction was very interesting because it seemed like they didn’t register I was the same person they commented a rude remark to only a few hours ago. I think that interaction goes to show that there is a huge disconnect on social media.
“People think they can say and do what they want, but nothing on the internet is ever anonymous. That girl’s profile had her name attached to it, along with photos of herself, but I believe people tend to think their words and actions don’t have consequences on the internet. It is so easy to type something out and [send] it. It is worlds different from saying something to someone’s face.”
There’s no one best way to handle trolls, but science suggests Manion’s method does have benefits. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology tested the impact acts of kindness have on one’s own happiness. Participants were split into three groups for 10 days, with one group engaging in daily acts of kindness, another trying something new each day and the third given no instructions. People in the groups that tried something new or delivered acts of kindness “experienced a significant ― and roughly equal ― boost in happiness,” according to the study, while the third group experienced no change at all.
“The success of kind acts may be due to the potential element of novelty counteracting adaption effects,” wrote study authors Anat Bardi, a senior lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Kathryn E. Buchanan, now a lecturer at the University of Essex. “Indeed, participants who performed five kind acts in one day every week had a larger increase in happiness than those who performed five kind acts over a week, presumably because performing the acts regularly allowed participants to adapt faster.”
Manion, who openly shares her previous struggles with an eating disorder on her account, received an outpouring of love from supporters on social media. She wrote on Instagram that such support is, in part, what encourages her to keep posting.
“This month’s media exposure was as much of a win for me as it is for you," she wrote to her followers. "Because the more we speak up and break down barriers in positive and empowering ways, the more normalized our work becomes, which means that one day we can do even harder work. While incredible, giving a fat person some of the spotlight for a couple days isn’t where the work stops. There is so much more work to be done.”
There is certainly much more work to be done, both to end harmful bullying and, on a larger level, shift the perceptions of beauty in our society. It’s not easy to act with kindness toward people who hurt us, but Manion's approach is a great reminder that love trumps hate.