HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: I am a 'soft troll'. So are you. Don't kid yourself that it's kinder.

You're a smug narcissist who exploits your children. STFU.

Post to public space.

She's a smug narcissist who exploits her children. I wish she'd STFU. 

Post to private chat. 

This is how we talk to people on our phones. And how we talk about people on our phones. 

One of these things is worse than the other, no question. But let's be clear. If you're the narcissist who exploits your children (my hand is up), neither of them are exactly... great.

We live in the era of the Soft Troll. Sent a bit viral by an article by Kate Rosseinsky on Stylist this week, the act of soft trolling is sharing, often along with a helpful link or screenshot, something or someone (or something by someone) that you don't like, with a group of curated mates for confirmation and dissection, usually in a group chat.

After almost two decades of social media, we all understand what a troll is, and unless we're a very specific kind of provocateur or sadist, it's not a label we aspire to. A troll is a bully. An uncaring starter of s**t. The person who says out loud the thing that will press hardest on a bruise, and encourage others to do the same. Trolls make the world a meaner, smaller, more fearful place.

But a soft troll? Just human nature, to be annoyed by annoying people and want your friends to be annoyed by them, too.

Screenshot, post. Ugh.

Screenshot, post. FFS.

Screenshot, post. I just cannot.

I do it, often. 

What kind of things do I share with a soft-troll side of eye-roll? Let's see. 

Smug parenting content that makes me feel like a slacker mother who has never cut sandwiches into star shapes.


Wellness woo-woo that intimates washing and air-drying each individual sesame seed is the only path to health and happiness.

A woman my age who looks half of it, perhaps.

I might speculate about why she looks that way and I don't. She is clearly a person more obsessed with her appearance than I, and that's why. She clearly has more money, more time, more access to fancy witchy anti-ageing spells, and that's why. She's got the good genes, and that's why.

In the old world, we knew this activity as bitching. And it serves an important purpose. Sharing negative feelings is a more powerful bond than sharing positive ones because it builds trust, fast. If I tell you I don't like Betty and you don't tell Betty I said that, I trust you, even if I don't know you very well.

Never mind that if I will tell you, an almost stranger, that I don't like Betty; I will probably also tell Betty that I don't like you. That's the reality of gossip.

In the new world, we do these things in our group chats, and it's called soft trolling. 

And I have been trying to give it up. 

There are studies upon studies to tell you that repeatedly engaging in negativity is bad for your mental, and likely physical, health. But fooey to that. Bitching feels good, the internet is awash with things worthy of critique and we find our tribes by sorting into groups people who see the world the way we do, and people who don't.

That's not why I'm kicking it. 

It's the hypocrisy. 

I can't tell my teenage daughter not to be a "mean girl" online if I am sniping about Betty's injectables in Whatsapp as the words leave my mouth. 


I can't argue my corner that divisive culture wars are making the world worse if I'm a slave to my first knee-jerk prejudices about every headline I read.

I can't expect people to give any work I put into the world the benefit of the doubt if I don't do the same.

I can't defend my belief that women's choices – about life, love, work, motherhood, friendship, family, money, anything at all – are held to a higher standard that's impossible to meet if I'm constantly drip-drip-dripping my judgement on top. 

It's the hypocrisy that keeps me up at night. Literally.

Hormones are stirring me at 2am, and what comes after that is often a looping reel of terrible things. Thoughts about people and words I've said or typed or tapped. The constant feedback soup we all swim in manifests in an acidic pool in my stomach, roiling away against rest.

Still, don't misunderstand me. Considered criticism is what makes us all better. There are plenty of fights worth having. Plenty of public people whose actions deserve far more than an eye-roll. And there's always, always, much piss worth taking. 

But we're kidding ourselves if we're self-congratulating that "soft trolling" means we're not spitting venom on the internet if we're still directing it at each other in an encrypted app or "private" forum with people who'll egg us on.

Just ask the narcissist who exploits her children.

No, actually, screw her. She really needs to STFU.

Feature image: Getty, Canva.

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