Treat internet trolls like tennis balls and let them sail by, says Sarah Wilson

Former newspaper columnist and the founder of healthy living publisher I Quit Sugar, Sarah Wilson, has warned how the speed of technology in publishing is leading to a lack of “discerning thought” and accountability.Sarah Wilson and Tim Burrowes Publish 16

The media entrepreneur also advised young women columnists tackling controversial subjects not to waste energy on Internet trolls and to simply ignore their keyboard warrior detractors.

Wilson, a former Fairfax columnist, ex-editor of Cosmopolitan and the host of the first series of Masterchef, said she learned during her career to ignore criticisms that regularly flowed her way during her days as a left-leaning newspaper columnist.

But she acknowledged the rise of social media has made it easier for trolls to make their mark and, conversely, more difficult for young writers coming through.Sarah Wilson and Tim Burrowes 4 Publish 16

“I am very glad to be in my 40s, with social media as it is today because I am able to make decisions that are experienced and that have wisdom,” she said.

“When trolls come my way, and I’ve had many over the years when I wrote about something controversial ….I developed a way of dealing with these people. I had an analogy, which I share with a lot of young women today, where if you are lobbed a tennis ball you can put a lot of energy into hitting it back, or you can let it sail past and let it land flaccidly behind you. That would be the end of it.


“I learned that early on in my days of writing opinion columns when you had letters to the editor. You had time to read them at a nice pace and you didn’t really have to reply or engage. That trained me to have a calm way of responding and to not get too upset about it.”

She conceded that considered approach is now harder in a world of instant feedback on social media.

Asked if it was tougher now for young writers coming through, Wilson said: “Absolutely. The speed at which technology moves does not allow for discerning thought. Discerning thought moves at the same pace as handwriting as opposed to keyboard writing and there has been lot of studies into that.Sarah Wilson and Tim Burrowes 3 Publish 16

“We don’t have the space nor the forums for a lot of discerning thought today.”

Wilson added that accountability is missing in today’s media as the number of senior staff has declined.

“I had Andrew Bolt, for starters, keeping a stern eye of me and a bunch of sub editors and editors and other senior operators keeping an eye on whatever I had to say,” she said. “I was held accountable and I learned accountability. That, I think, is missing because you just don’t have that presence [of senior people] anymore.”


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