Don’t Feed the Trolls


Editor’s Note: Jesse Was Here—A Program of Beyond Type 1 was inspired by Michelle (Alswager) Bauer’s experience after her son Jesse’s death. Michelle’s unwavering commitment to the type 1 diabetes community + her support for others is the basis for this program supporting + building community for those who have lost someone to type 1.

Remember a few weeks ago when our entire social media feed was lit up with outrage about a gorilla? Then the gorilla was taken over by an alligator and the alligator was taken over by a gunman.

I don’t mean to make light of three very tragic events. That’s not the point of this article.

It’s now 2016 and whether we like it or not social media has divided us amongst our own friends, our own communities.  It used to be a common piece of advice given by my own grandmother many years ago, “Never talk about politics or religion at a dinner party.”  Well, pull up to the Facebook dinner party because politics and religion seem to be the least of our social media worries while we battle each other over the right to bear arms, police brutality and other social injustices.

I recently read something a woman wrote about the “Blame/Shame” of parents. (You totally know these parents.) The perfect parents who say, “If that was my kid…” This woman stated that when an accident happened—like when baby Jessica was trapped in a well (not as old as me? Google it!)—no one pointed fingers at the parents. Instead, we formed a fierce circle around those parents, that community, and prayed (or whatever you do when you are scared, worried and want a good turn of events). You didn’t hear, “Where were the parents? Why was the well open? Why didn’t the police get there sooner?”

So let’s now dive into what all of us here call the DOC. From an outsider view that would be the “Diabetes Online Community.”  The DOC has many faces. We have organizations such as Beyond Type 1 with a small army of creative people putting out good vibes, advice and monitoring their newsfeed. You have the ones like JDRF, ADA, DRI talking about what’s new in research.  Then there are the groups started by well-meaning parents who want to have a community for others to discuss things like their diabetes management or the newly-diagnosed who are just learning the ropes and asking veterans for help, searching for local diabetes activities—you know the drill.

But one thing all of those social media outlets have in common—the Internet troll.

“In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who shows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers.”

We’ve all seen them, lurking, spewing hate and finding ways to poke well-meaning threads started by good people.  Their number one past time is to poke and prod you to throw angry hate back at them. They feed on it. And of course what is the best advice we are given? Don’t feed them.

Hi, My name is Michelle Alswager, and sometimes I cannot stop myself from feeding a few pieces of angry bread to a troll.  Okay, maybe I’m even guilty of feeding a whole loaf of ticked-off-Sara-Lee to a troll who is blaming a parent for not checking a child for ketones. Or a troll who says it’s the parent’s fault that a child died from type 1 diabetes (T1D). Or how about the troll who says, “My child’s blood sugar has NEVER been over 200.” And I’ve participated in threads where we tell off these trolls and tell them to go home, but instead they just set up camp and smile that we took the bait.

Now most parent-organized informational pages and nonprofit pages monitor the feeds for appropriate behavior. But this last week I personally stumbled across one that said they have no time to police it—police yourselves, they said. Police ourselves?  We are a news outlet, not a forum, they said. I’m sorry, what? If you produce an editorial piece that has your opinions as to what happened in an event—such as saying “we can only guess the mom might be charged with neglect” (might?), you have a social responsibility to monitor the trolls on your page.

Now in all fairness to this “news outlet,” it proposed that I write a column in rebuttal to this troll’s crazy antics of attacking the mother of a 15-year-old who passed away from T1D, because she had an agreement not to police his meter. I mean, she blatantly said it was the mother’s fault AND called her something rather ugly. The “news outlet” went as far to say that they welcomed her comments because it got people talking, even if they didn’t like what she said, she had a right to say it, they said.

I denied the request to write a rebuttal because I refused to a) give them free content that they would let trolls spew on without moderating and b) feed the blaming/shaming of parents. You see in their world, there are no “accidents.” Someone has to take the blame for everything bad that happens. It’s just simply okay to allow this troll to live there, blaming.

For my part I chose to unlike the page so it will no longer appear in my Facebook feed and I chose to write this article for Beyond Type 1 instead. Because I trust Beyond Type 1 with reporting responsibly to our community. For your part, I’d like you to consider what my friend, Laura, said this morning on her Facebook that appeared in my feed about topics that appear in your feed, and the Internet trolls that eat them:

“Whirlwinds are everywhere … you get to choose which ones you will allow to blow over. Free will is the strongest of energies under love. Love is the strongest vibe.”

Let’s show love and compassion here in the world of diabetes. The DOC was created to support, not dismantle. If you see ugliness and hate on a page, maybe it’s time to simply unlike the page and go elsewhere. Because we simply cannot support moderators who feed trolls.

Read Ironman—A Woman’s Continued Advocacy for Her Son by Michelle Bauer (Alswager).

WRITTEN BY Michelle Bauer (Alswager), POSTED 07/08/16, UPDATED 09/29/22

Michelle has been a strong advocate in the “d” world since her son, Jesse, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000 at the age of 3. After the sudden loss of her son at the age of 13, today 18 years after the diagnosis, she continues to advocate, educate and push the envelope in her son’s name. Michelle is the founder and executive producer of the documentary The Science of Inspiration: Diabetes and Athletes—otherwise known as “Triabetes”—about 12 athletes with diabetes completing an Ironman triathlon. Her diabetes credits include working as a moderator on the JDRF Online Diabetes Support Team, as an executive director for two diabetes organizations and she also participates each year in the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes. She is currently the sales director for Diabetes Daily and a member of Beyond Type 1's own Leadership Council. In addition to spending a lot of time on her road bike, Michelle is a three-time IRONMAN finisher (in fact she raced with the ROI Endurance Team at IRONMAN Wisconsin 2015). In her spare time she also works with other families across the world who have lost their children to type 1 diabetes with our program "Jesse Was Here." Michelle resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband Jeff and their combined six children.