Concern Trolling Is Worse Than You Think

The internet can be a wonderful place. People from all over the world can connect and find common ground. And when you're feeling lonely, it's easier than ever before to jump into a pool of people and see who is around. But that same pool of people can have some unfortunate side effects. And one side effect that has become increasingly obvious over the last few years is the poisoning of concern by people known as concern trolls.

It's a term that doesn't really make sense at first glance. Online trolls are usually malicious and nasty, even if their only goal is to get everyone wound up to defend whoever the troll is targeting. And, in a way, that's actually better than what a concern troll does. The Washington Post did a piece on this brand of internet pest back in 2014 and the definition of a concern troll hasn't changed since then.

A concern troll is someone who comments on another person's content and claims to support them. But the troll's comments reveal their true intentions. Common comments are things like "I support you! But some people are going to see you doing X,Y,Z and think you're lazy/stupid/etc". Other versions include "Oh man the haters are going to say [something horrible]. Not me, but other people will!"

The trouble with trolls

They are the online equivalent of the person in your office who points out that you're looking run-down or tired and wonders what others will think. Not them, mind you. But other people. It forces the targeted person to focus even more on a part of themselves that they're probably already worried about. And that's what makes concern trolls so bad, especially when they dig into topics like body shaming.

Grammy award-winning artist Lizzo recently took to TikTok to expose this exact situation. Her video specifically calls out people who comment on videos of larger women that eat healthy and exercise but can't seem to lose weight. The comments that really bother Lizzo are those that insist the woman must have a condition because she's still big in spite of everything.

"What if I'm just fat?" She asks. "What if this is just my body?"

Her question highlights the root issue with concern trolls. They almost always push outdated ideas or flat-out stereotypes. And, in many cases, this can cause serious damage. As Shape explains, situations like the one called out by Lizzo perpetuate the idea that a bigger person is automatically unhealthier. Which, as explained by McGill University, isn't true. Being overweight does increase a person's risk of potential heart issues. But the risk is still lower than that of a skinny person with diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

Concern trolls twist a concept people use to help one another — empathy — into another way to hurt people, all while claiming friendship. It's manipulative and cruel, while ignoring actual science in favor of stereotypes.