As I posted on Twitter earlier today, the best advice I’ve seen on dealing with Twitter trolls comes from the 11th century Sufi philosopher al-Ghazali and his text “Ayyuha l’Walad”. Al-Ghazali anticipated our social media problems by 1000 years.
By al-Ghazali’s definition, there are four types of Twitter trolls. Below: a description of the trolls, and his advice on how to deal with them.
Type 1: Jealous haters. Advice: “Depart from him and leave him with his disease.”
Then know that the sickness of ignorance is of four sorts, one curable and the others incurable. Of these which cannot be cured, [the first] is one whose question or objection arises from envy and hate, [and envy cannot be cured for it is a chronic weakness] and every time you answer him with the best or clearest or plainest answer, that only increases his rage and envy. And the way is not to attempt an answer.
One hopes for the removal of every enmity
Except enmity arising from envy.
So you must depart from him and leave him with his disease. Allah the Exalted said, “Withdraw from whoever turns away from our warning and desires nothing except the present life.” And the envious, both in all he says and in all he does, kindles [a fire] in the sowing of his deed: as the Prophet said, Allah bless him and grant him peace, “Envy eats up excellences as fire eats up wood.”
Type 2: “Well, actually” Twitter. These folks come sliding in your mentions pretending to be experts on that which they are not. Ignore them too.
The second, whose weakness arises from stupidity, and he also is incurable. As ‘Isa said, upon him be peace, “Indeed I did not fail in bringing the dead to life, but I failed in curing the stupid.” And he is the man who has busied himself in seeking knowledge a short time and has learned something of the sciences of the intellect and of the sacred law, and so he asks questions and raises objections in his stupidity before the very learned one who has spent his life in the sciences of the intellect and the sacred law, and so this very stupid fellow does not know, And thinks that what is obscure to him is also obscure to the highly learned; and since he does not think this much, his question arises from stupidity, and you must not attempt to answer him.
Type 3: People who ask you for information they can find on Google, then don’t believe the facts that they find. They’re hopeless. Ignore.
And the third is one who is seeking guidance and whatever he does not understand of the speech of the great ones, he lays to the defects of his own understanding and his question is in order to seek benefit; but he is dull and cannot arrive at the truth of things. You must not attempt to answer him also, as the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “We, the company of the prophets have been commanded that we speak to the people according to their understanding.”
Type 4: This troll is not really a troll at all. They are asking you questions which may be annoying, but are asked in good faith. It is worth engaging with this person.
But the sickness which is curable is that of the intelligent and understanding seeker of guidance, who is not overcome with envy and anger and the love of worldly vanities and wealth and honor, but is seeking the straight road; and his questions and objections do not arise from envy and a desire to cause trouble and to make trial. And he is curable, and it is permitted to attempt to answer him—nay, it is necessary.
That’s it! Follow al-Ghazali’s advice, and spare yourself a lot of online misery. Sometimes the best social media tips come from the 11th century.