20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years: 9. Dealing with Online Trolls

Total Croatia News

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There is no feeling quite like coming home from the pub, logging on, and then finding your name being trashed on the Internet by a number of people on an online forum. 

It happened to me for the first – but certainly not the last – time back in early 2004 when I was running a real estate business on Hvar. There was only one real place to chat about buying Croatian property back then, an excellent forum called Visit Croatia, and it was a great source of leads for me, as well as discussion points of the dos and donts of buying property in Croatia. Back in those days, the Croatian property waters were very murky indeed, and the forum quickly became the place to exchange information and to get some trusted leads. I was on the forum all the time, posting helping hints as well as trying to promote my business and beloved island. 

After a tough day at the office, I retired to the square for a cold one or two, followed by a meeting with a client who had just agreed to buy an apartment in Jelsa. Another sale, another good day, I reflected as I came back home. One last check to see if there is anything new on the forum and then that was it for the night. I was horrified by what I saw. 

I had been gone for about 2 hours, but somehow in that time, my reputation was being openly trashed. No less than 15 different people (curiously all first-time posters) started a discussion on how I was a fraud, only sold properties with unclean papers, added 50k to the price, and a host of other compliments. I started to panic. 

Not only was all this untrue, but what kind of impression was this going to leave for future clients? I tried to defend myself, asking for evidence of what I was accused of, rather than just hearsay, but only more attacks, from new first-time posters, until the late Martin Westby, author of the guide to buying property and a respected authority on the subject, kindly posted this: 

westby.jpgThe threads miraculously stopped. I contact the forum, who looked into the posts and confirmed that they had all been sent from the same IP in Dalmatia. Welcome to competition in real estate, Croatian-style (and I suspect elsewhere too). 

As shocking and upsetting as the experience was, I realised that nobody had died, the world kept moving, and life was more or less the same. A momentary online flashpoint is just that – momentary – and while it might be the centre of your universe, hardly anyone else will care. It is a hard thing to accept if you are sensitive, but it is the reality. 

I have never been one to spend a lot of time in online discussions (I use social media mostly for promotion) and so my early Croatian experience with online trolls was forgotten until I started the Total Project back in 2011. Starting a portal about Hvar was a challenge I really enjoyed, but I was totally aware that I was not a native and did not know everything, nor did I understand all the cultural nuances. Given my ability to upset people without intending to, I would have to tread carefully.  

I remember how sensitive I was to each and every comment in those first few months. If someone objected to something in the article, I might well go and change the article. I didn’t want to upset people. And I didn’t have to consider changing much. After all, I was writing positive stories about the island, celebrating its magic and discovering its secrets in such depth that even locals were commenting that they were learning things about the island by following my article via Google Translate. 

But life – even on Hvar – is not perfect, and on occasion, I would write about a problem or issue. I was trying to portray the realities of life on the island, after all. I was shocked at the anger and level of abuse that was levelled at me.


None said it quite as eloquently as Carrie (fake profile).  The number of comments telling me to go forth and multiply back in the UK was actually quite impressive. Do I respond? Delete the comment? Learning from my 2004 property experience, I chose to ignore. When I posted a photo of Dubrovnik with the caption ‘Dubrovnik is beautiful’ to be told to f*ck off back to London as my opinions were not welcome, I realised I had clearly touched a nerve. 

But things were only just starting, for the real fun began when I started Total Croatia News back in July 2015. Now we were reporting not on a happy tourism island bubble, but the daily news, the good, the bad and the critical. We even mentioned words like Tito.

And so it began…


I was accused of being all names under the sun, and all things under the sun, and I had fascinating agendas, and some of the conspiracy theories were really quite outstanding. Some days, I was a fascist, some days a communist, and some days both at the same time. 

I was particularly proud of this one – if someone can give me an example of neo-fascist LGBTIQ propaganda, I would be grateful. 


After being initially shocked at the ferocity, I started to quite enjoy the abuse as well as fantasise about the lives of my abusers. What motivated them to pour such venom against someone they didn’t even know? And who has the time and interest to comment on articles all the time? My particular favourite when we write about a celebrity arrival in Croatia, for example, is a common comment – Who cares? Well clearly you do, Sir, if you can take the time and effort to comment. 

As much as I would like to follow all the comments on our various platforms, I just don’t have the time, and I very rarely read – let alone comment – on them. And how to respond to those comments anyway? While I ignore most of the comments that I read on Facebook, there are a few little tricks I use which give me the kind of small and pointless victories that make life worthwhile, and I definitely have some favourite examples of abuse, which I wear with pride.


Top of the list is from an online forum in Australia a few years ago, where my name was trashed again. If I could summarise, the conclusion was that I am a ‘Tito cock-sucking British Jew writing fluff to humanise mass murderers in the Jewish style when socially engineering a people for ruin.’

Quite a mouthful, but I have given instructions to have this written as my epitaph on my tombstone. 


It is a good reason that life in Croatia has taught me not to take things seriously, otherwise I might have a wardrobe of orange clothing.

On the rare occasions when I do reply, there are two responses which have proved highly effective. The first is to reply with a simple one-word answer.


Nobody (including myself) really knows what I mean, and it kind of kills the thread in one word. It is neither positive nor negative. 


With so much to read online (and life to be lived offline), I am constantly amazed at the people who object to TCN but continue to read it and then spend more energy telling me how useless we are. As I sometimes point out, there is no obligation to read it, and one sentence tends to stop the trolls permanently (a variation is above) – The only thing that gives me the strength to get out of bed each morning and carry on is the knowledge you can’t stop reading. 

I have yet to have a response (or any further trolling) to that comment. 

In fact, it has been almost a year since I had some proper abuse, or a death threat (mistakenly typed ‘death treat’ by one admirer). I am clearly losing my touch. 

Sometimes, however, one way to stop the trolling is to politely comment on the posts of your trolls, such as below.


I was genuinely disappointed when this former troll was overlooked to replace Zdravko Maric as Minister of Finance. 

I decided to start a section on my personal FB, called Troll Friday, celebrating my trolls. Troll Friday didn’t always happen on a Friday, but more when my online trolls felt the need to contribute. They never commented, and they were rarely heard from again.


But nothing attracts more conspiracy theories more than what I am doing here in the first place running a news portal.

There can be only one conclusion.


Conclusive proof from Dubrovnik.


And Branko is not alone.

I must admit that the thought of me as some kind of Balkan Bond does make me smile, as does the suggestion that I am working for Soros, Putin and Greater Serbia all at the same time. Apparently, TCN has an agenda. I really wish it did – most days I get out of bed wondering what the hell I am going to write today. 


My standard reply to this one is that I used to work for MI6 but now I freelance for Mossad.


So much energy into so many conspiracy theories.


So much fan mail for running a news portal.

Last year I put forward a suggestion to the army of keyboard warriors in Croatia. As they are proud Croats, why not agree that for every negative comment they place on social media, they commit to picking up a piece of trash from a Croatian beach? What a clean country we would have.

I think that the most important lesson I have learned from my relationship with online trolls in Croatia is you have a choice – to feed them and get mired in the negativity that this will necessarily entail. 

Or to ignore them and focus on the many positive things in this fabulous country. Croatia sadly has a default negative mentality, a lot of which is exacerbated by online trolls and social media in general. Why not focus – as I advocated at Leap Summit a couple of years ago – to instead inject positivity into the default negative Croatian mindset? There is an awful lot to celebrate here.



What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email [email protected] Subject 20 Years Book


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