What I learned from taking on my own internet trolls

Before Dylan Marron became a writer on “Ted Lasso,” he produced provocative shows about social issues for Seriously.TV, including a Web series called “Sitting in Bathrooms With Trans People,” which consisted of him interviewing transgender people in restrooms.

Not everyone loved his left-leaning videos, including a viewer who opined online that Dylan should “KILLLLLLLLLLLLLLL yourself you victim complex havin’ b—h boi.” Other viewers weren’t as creative, but as his videos gained popularity — His TED Talk, “Empathy Is Not Endorsement,” has been viewed more than 3.5 million times — Marron regularly received comments online calling him things like “f—-t,” “beta male,” or “cuck.”

Marron responded by taking action, starting a popular podcast wherein he engages in phone chats with the online haters who bad-mouth him. With a corresponding book now out — “Conversations With People Who Hate Me: 12 Things I Learned from Talking to Internet Strangers” (Atria Books) — Marron recently Zoomed with The Post to share what it’s like to talk with the Internet trolls.  

The following has been edited for length and clarity. 

Marron’s TED Talk, “Empathy Is Not Endorsement,” has been viewed more than 3.5 million times.
Ryan Lash/TED

When did you start getting a lot of negative feedback online? 

It was through the social-justice videos and my work on “Every Single Word” [a supercut series wherein Marron edited down popular films into only the words said by people of color, to make a point about a lack of representation on screen] that I was coping with online hate, and those negative comments led to my podcast, “Conversations With People Who Hate Me.”    

You actually started gathering the negative feedback into a “Hate Folder?” 

I’m looking at in on my laptop right now! 

And how did you respond to the comments? 

Many well-meaning onlookers say just log off! I think that kind of advice comes from a loving place, but it often ignores how people have socialized in recent years. So much of our lives is online, it felt like … ignoring it was not an option. At first I was just taking screen shots and filing them away in the hate folder. I was instinctively taking a screenshot and filing it away, taking another screen shot and filing it away. Can I explain it to you? No, that’s why I’m in therapy right now. 

Being a fan of Marron's podcast, Jason Sudeikis reached out to him to be a part of "Ted Lasso."
Jason Sudeikis is a big fan of Marron’s podcast and reached out to him to be a part of “Ted Lasso.”
Apple TV+

You didn’t plan on doing anything with them?     

No, it was just my way of saying I have control of this because I’m containing it in a bin on my desktop, but then my coping mechanism was to share screenshots from my “Hate Folder” and make snarky replies to my friends, identifying typos or faulty logic. If the hate comments were the setups, I got to deliver the punchlines. But I realized the thing I really wanted to do was to talk to some of the people behind the hate comments. I thought it would soothe me to talk to people who disagreed with me so strongly they expressed their feelings with vitriol. I hoped talking to them was a path forward, a bridge we could build towards each other.    

Your impetus to act came after a message from Josh, whose misspelled and grammatically incorrect comment blamed you for the country’s divisiveness and ended by saying, “Plus, being Gay is a sin.” 

I’m not anyone’s therapist, so I don’t know the depths of their psychological history, but Josh was very directly bullied and the connection was very clear. That hurt he got from his high school bullies was then transferred directly on to me. 

And then Josh began getting his own hate messages. 

This is a thing we see all the time now, a victim of online harassment reposts about their harasser, and then people harass the harasser. To me, it’s like no one’s winning there. I understand the thinking. When I see a friend being hurt by someone, my inclination is to tell that person that they suck. But the Internet tide can turn so quickly, so it’s like no, no, no, we’re not going to fix things like homophobia if the harasser starts getting hate about who he is!

Conversations with People who hate me.
Marron notes that his guests are “doing something incredibly brave” in agreeing to come onto his show after insulting him.

In the book you mention the quote “hurt people hurt people,” implying it’s mostly broken, unhappy people who lash out? 

Yes, but that’s only true sometimes!  Some of the people in my “Hate Folder” had robust social circles and healthy family bonds. A couple years after being on my show, my guest Frank wrote to tell me he was now a grandfather. We all know being a grandfather does not an angel make, but I know for a fact that Frank has a very rich family life. His [original] comment was pretty benign, just ‘You are doing something very bad. Proceed.’ I didn’t get the sense Frank was necessarily hurt in the traditional way that Josh was and then transferred that directly on to me.   

You’re always sympathetic to the people who talk to you, even though they started being unkind to you. How? 

My guests are doing something incredibly brave. They’re coming to talk to a person that they hurt! That is one of the most beautiful things to me, owning up to what they said. There are varying levels of success. Sometimes the reaction is defensiveness, and sometimes people skip off into the sunset and say, “Wow I feel radically different, and I’m so sorry.”

Never being a fan of sports, Marron finds himself writing for a show about sports.
Marron was never a big fan of sports — and yet he now finds himself writing for a show about sports.
Apple TV+

In the book you call yourself a “gay guy wearing pearl earrings” who was always “picked last in gym class,” but now you’re writing for a sports show?

I never completely understood sports as a concept but I support them, I’m an ally [laughs]. I have friends who love sports, which I have to cope with, but in terms of “Ted Lasso,” it was kind of organic. Jason Sudeikis has been a kind and amazing supporter of my podcast.  He reached out to me, cold, in the summer of 2018, to say he loves and supports what I’m doing. One thing led to another, and he invited me to be part of the “Ted Lasso” writing staff for Season 3. 

What have you learned from this experience? 

This whole process has taught me that change happens slowly over time. Contrary to what social media tells us — that clapping back as viciously (and entertainingly) as possible at our adversaries is the best way to fight for our causes — true progress happens in gradual, almost imperceptible ways. I think we are all subject to what I’ve started to call “the makeover illusion,” where we’ve been so subjected to the quick before-and-afters of renovation shows and the tidiness of the five-act structure that we forget that human beings don’t evolve in such concise time frames.