The internet is a strange and fascinating place. It’s full of interesting works of art, entertainment sites, political action groups, cat videos and plenty of pornography, amongst many other things. It’s a virtual space where people congregate and share ideas. However, it’s also a largely anonymous place. This anonymity has encouraged the rise of the phenomenon of the internet troll.
Internet trolls are members of the online social community who are up to no good. These rabble rousing, agitating provocateurs intentionally try to offend, attack, harass and otherwise comment with shocking attention seeking statements. Their motives, comments and styles come in many shapes and sizes. However, they are relatively harmless, and should not be confused with a cyberbully. There is, in fact, a distinct difference between trolls and cyberbullies.
Your typical online troll’s primary aim is to be a nuisance and attract attention. While they may use harmful, racist, derogatory or otherwise mean language, they are normally targeting communal discussion and a community as a whole. Trolls seek to take the discussion away from the intended topic and reshape it on something of their own design and image. If they start targeting an individual with their statements, they then cross the line from being a troll to being a cyberbully. By targeting an individual, cyberbullies are often seeking to shame, intimidate or harass the individual. While trolls are seeking to draw attention onto themselves, cyberbullies aim to target negative, demeaning and harmful attention upon their victims.
Trolls and cyberbullies are the rotten fruit of societies soft underbelly. While cyberbullies are often acting in a criminal manner and probably should be reported to the cops, trolls are just bored attention seekers who are out there wasting everyone’s time by seeking reactions. When you encounter them online, there are several methods you can utilize to mitigate their effects upon your virtual community.
1.) Ignore them
Trolls require attention for their tactics to work. As I mentioned in a previous post, the best way to deal with a troll, especially when you are online and not dealing with them in person, is to treat them the same way you would your neighborhood bully back in grade school and simply ignore them. By not providing them the attention they seek, you are denying them the resource they crave the most. Most of the time, trolls are trolling because they are bored. If you ignore them, and don’t let them bother you, then you are denying attention and their entertainment value is gone. Often times, the old, tried and true methods are the ones that work the best.
2.) Establish a commenting policy
If you are the proprietor of the website, you have every right to establish whatever comment policy you want. As long as you have your site’s commenting rules clearly outlined and detailed. You are well within your rights to ban a troll for violating your policy. Mother Jones has a great example of a well crafted policy on their website.
3.) Delete or report their comments
If you are the owner or moderator of the website being trolled, you can delete or ban trolls from participating. I receive a notification every time somebody comments anywhere on my website. As the host and proprietor, I have the ability to delete those comments of which I disapprove. I haven’t deleted any yet, nor do I plan to delete comments simply because I disagree with their content since I try to foster a discussion, but I’m prepared to delete comments that are offensive in nature. If you aren’t the host of the website, many still offer the option to report a comment that may be offensive in order to trigger an investigation.
While the steps detailed above are the best, most professional, and most appropriate ways to deal with trolls, some people feel it’s best to fight fire with fire. While I cannot suggest or recommend taking the following steps, they have proven to be effective and are all steps that I’ve taken in the past, but you use them at your own peril since they may backfire and egg a troll on further.
4.) Become a Grammar Nazi
In my experience, the majority of trolls don’t take the time to proofread their comments before commenting. While they seek attention, providing them a form of attention they don’t actually want can be one of the best ways to get under their skin. By breaking down their comments and explaining to them why and how their punctuation, spelling, word choice, grammar and capitalizations are wrong, you are providing them attention which they obviously want while also teaching them something useful as well. If you do this to every post they post in your discussion, you are taking the wind right out of their sails.
5.) Unmask the troll
As previously mentioned, trolls thrive because the internet provides them with anonymity. Despite this anonymity, trolls are not very bright when protecting their identity. With a little digging, you can find out some simple information about them (start with the username, most people use the same username on multiple platforms). Once you know their identity, reveal a portion of it, like their first name, in order to let them know you know who they are and they are no longer anonymous. Most of the time, they’ll stop bothering you if they lose their anonymity.
Most trolls use stereotypes, insults, or other sources bound in the fantasy world of fiction in order to get a rouse out of you. If you correct their mistakes, using facts and citing your sources while countering their comments point by point in a well reasoned rebuttal, in my experience, you will most likely never hear a word from them again.
7.) Thoughtfully turn the tables
Trolls say the darnest things. If you take what they say, and respond in a way they don’t expect, you will ruin the fun for them. This can include being sharp witted, snarky, or both. Trolls are looking for a certain type of reaction, by giving them the unexpected, you are fighting back in a way. that will peeve them.
At the end of the day, trolls are pretty harmless compared to some darker dangers and miscreants in the world right now. If you and your fellow commentators gang up on a troll, and reply to their comments by feeding them what they want from a unified point of view, they will start to feel overwhelmed because it’s one of them vs a whole lotta you. By taking the bate, and ganging up on them (virtually, not in real life), they’ll get too much of what they want, and it’ll backfire spectacularly.