The One-Third Rule: Tackling Trolls on the Internet
“Do people actually think that [these] are real reviews and customers? No Iamelemental, they dont [sic]. We all know its you stuffing your own reviews, and do you know why? Because you have a neat base idea, that you totally f*cked up with feminist social justice bullshit. I hope you choke on inventory.”
Before I go any further, I want to state for the record that, thankfully, this type of negative comment is actually not all that common in my world. For, while my company, IAmElemental, celebrates strong women in the form of Superpower female action figures, the Superpowers, themselves, are, in fact, universal. And we are very proud of the fact that we are deliberately a “girl targeted, boy inclusive” company, and that our male-to-female customer ratio is actually much closer to 50/50 than the comment above might lead one to believe.
As the mother of two boys, I have recognized a few truths from the very beginning of my journey as a maker of “girl power” toys. Number one on the list is the fact that it is neither necessary, nor desirable to emasculate men in order to lift up women. And, so, we didn’t, we don’t, and we won’t.
If It Bleeds, It Leads
Nevertheless, despite our positive messaging, our toys do not appeal to everyone. And that is as it should be. The world would be a pretty boring place if everybody always agreed with one another. However, having said that, when I don’t like something that I encounter in my social media feed, I simply move on (or mention it to my husband or a friend as an anecdote to ponder), I don’t publicize my negative feelings. Unfortunately, thanks to social media, not only has the world’s population been given a platform to share every single one of our innermost thoughts, feelings, opinions and complaints, but we are also encouraged to do so; criticism – whether constructive or destructive – is expected of us.
There is a reason that the saying “If it bleeds, it leads” has morphed into the word “Clickbait” in modern lexicon. The owners of Twitter, Facebook/Instagram, and YouTube know that fights, debates, disagreements, battles, and full-frontal attacks are exactly the type of content that keeps their audience most engaged and, therefore, logged onto their respective platforms longer. As a result, “Trolls on the Internet” (as opposed to Harry Potter’s “Troll in the Dungeon”) are not going away any time soon.
The One-Third Rule
So, how to deal with the occasional ugliness? In the IAmElemental universe we employ “The One-Third Rule” to keep our stress at bay. The rule is an adaptation of a lesson taught to me many years ago; a lesson I not only initially rejected, but found repugnant in its cynicism.
I first heard about “The One-Third Rule” at a meet-and-greet for parents of my older son’s incoming kindergarten class. He turns 21 this year, just to give you a sense of how long I have been marinating in this philosophy.
My husband and I arrived at the party bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Our son had not gone to preschool, so this was our very first big school event, and we were looking forward to getting to know all of the parents of our son’s future friends. As we stood around chatting with another couple (who actually eventually became good friends), we must have expressed our enthusiasm a little too earnestly and naively, because the wife quickly set us straight. The parent of an older daughter in addition to her five-year-old son (code for battle-worn and experienced), she leaned in and explained:
“You’re going to like a third of the parents. You’re going to hate a third of the parents. And you’re not going to care about a third of the parents.”
On the taxi ride home, her comment was the number one topic of conversation. “How cynical!” we exclaimed. “Totally ridiculous!” we assured one another. Throughout the summer, we continued to talk about her comment, relaying the story to friends, horrified at this woman’s “totally inaccurate and negative” take on the world. And, yet, over time, we came to understand that, not only did her mantra make a certain amount of sense, it was actually applicable to pretty much everything: the workplace, social gatherings of all shapes and sizes, networking conferences, family(!), and, of course, social media.
Recognize & Accept
And, far from cynical and horrific, thinking in terms of “The One-Third Rule” is actually incredibly helpful and, arguably, even good for one’s mental health. Because, instead of feeling disappointment, sadness or anger when we come across someone with whom we don’t connect or bond, “The One-Third Rule” enables us to recognize and accept the fact that we don’t live in a Utopian society where everyone always gets along and agrees with one another. And, even more important, it is not just OK, it is totally normal to encounter people and things that don’t always fit together like a puzzle piece. In fact, we should expect it.
Over time, I eventually found a way to not just embrace the rule, but to apply it in new and useful ways. “The One-Third Rule,” it turns out, is an especially effective tool for dealing with Trolls on the Internet. For example, here is my response to the angry comment above:
“Hi XXX – Have you ever heard of the 1/3 principle? It goes like this: A third of the people are going to love you. A third of the people aren’t going to care about you. And a third of the people are going to hate you. I won’t pretend that the fact that you hate us doesn’t sting. No one likes to be hated. And I wish that I could sit across a table with you to talk this out (because we don’t stuff reviews, buy followers, or tell lies… and we most definitely aren’t the social justice warriors you hate so much). As the mother of two boys, I just don’t fit the profile you’ve imagined. But, I suspect you’re not interested in being converted. Warmest Regards, Julie”
Focus on the Fans
When we first launched IAmElemental on Kickstarter in 2014, we were lucky: we rarely got complaints. However, when an angry email did occasionally land in my inbox, I made it my personal mission to convert the Hater to our side. I wanted everyone to absolutely love what we were doing. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. But, thanks to “The One Third Rule,” I have learned to give far less bandwidth to the Haters and instead, focus on the wonderfully supportive fans. Like the gentleman who posted this on social media recently:
“So, I was looking at my sister’s IAmElemental figures (and if you have kids, I suggest perhaps grabbing some, because seriously, cool stuff here). I noticed that each set has an emotion you might not expect to be a positive emotion.
Set 1: Fear. (Self-Explanatory)
Set 2: Oblivion. (Head in the Clouds / Forgetfulness)
Now, you’d wonder why such things would be considered a positive thing, but think about it. Each has their place – especially if you can control them. Fear? That’s your mind letting you know you might be in danger, and your body preparing for you to either fight for your life or to run away hard. Both of these are positive things, things necessary for survival at times. Oblivion? There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming in the right time and place – having a quiet, happy period with your thoughts, and sometimes it’s good to forget things – it allows you to heal and move on with your life…. I have to say, these figures can provoke thought, they can provide a teachable moment. I like that.”
Because, after all, while the Trolls aren’t going to ever go away, it’s our wonderfully like-minded and loyal audience – the people who appreciate and celebrate what we do – who deserve to be fed, and heartily; not the Trolls.
Julie Kerwin is Chief Elemental Officer at IAmElemental, a privately held toy company creating the first-ever female action figures designed specifically for girls (and boys!). Founded in 2013, the company’s strong, healthy female figures invite kids to develop their character by playing with “Elements of Power.”
IAmElemental launched Series 1/Courage via Kickstarter, and was named by TIME Magazine as one of the “25 Best Inventions of 2014” and “Top 10 Toys of 2014.” The company was named a 2017 and 2018 Toy of the Year finalist by the Toy Industry Association.