Dec 7, 2011

[The Web] Don't Feed The Trolls!

Internet trolls have been around ever since the first BBS platforms came into being. While we often praise the benefits of how much more connected everyone is to one another through chat, email and all that good stuff, this has also led to us being increasingly exposed to the diverse opinions of others. Through sheer statistics, that means a lot of potentially good and bad conversation right there.

Before trolling was something that was primarily limited to web forums, news groups and later email groups. But with the rise of social media and the domination of the likes of Facebook and Twitter, exposure to internet trolls is now higher than ever. And worse, we're no longer dealing with the traditional trolls that would hind behind some persona or forum handle - sometimes it's your own social media contacts who seem to be living under a bridge - and they've certainly developed a taste for goats.

Even of the best of us will eventually lose their cool to a troll at one point in time or another. It can't be helped - they live for this sort of thing and do their best to target the most emotionally heated subjects in order to get a rise out of you.

There's a very fine line between healthy intellectual discussions and mud-slinging trolling sessions. And in the world of social media, everyone stands the risk of falling into troll tendencies as well.

First, let's name the beast, shall we? To defeat the troll (and to avoid becoming one), you need to recognize the signs of a troll. Before it was about looking for the most insulting, annoying and aggravating in the forum - trolls were very vocal and quite easy to spot. Now it's a lot more subtle and what can start out as a decent discussion can eventually mutate into this unrecognizable mass of emotion that has been totally derailed by the troll.

Internet Troll velu ill artlibre jnl
Image via Wikipedia
Trolls primarily want to trigger an emotional response since that derails logical discussion and makes the whole exercise of conversation rather moot. Some are skilled in determining your emotional hot triggers, which they exploit through seemingly logical / factual argumentation or simply repeat annoying actions to get to you. This can include someone sticking to a particular point of view and not acknowledging, accepting any counter-arguments presented. Thus you can see the risk we all have of exhibiting troll-like behavior at times - no one likes to feel that they are wrong. And in the social web, you'll find that a LOT of people like to present themselves as better / superior / smarter / being in the right.

When on the web, keep an open mind. If you yourself remain closed in your opinions, then you may be better off not participating in discussions that run counter to what you believe without being prepared for a bit of an argument. You may walk away feeling hurt or feel like you had become the victim of trolling. Or you may leave feeling oddly smug because you have in fact become the troll. Never think you're immune from this sort of thing.

English: Humped-back bridge with A Troll under...
Image via Wikipedia
The mistake we all get into is trying to reason with the troll and bring him over to our side of view. But in many cases, the troll has pretty much made up his or her mind and will spend the rest of the discussion enjoying your attempts at changing the situation. But since they're resolute in not accepting an alternative point of view, the discussion is effectively at a standstill and your repeated attempts (no matter how logical) will fail. And this is what the troll wants - he wants you to give up on reasonable argument and descend into emotional responses like insults and name-calling. And this is where the troll thrives.

It's weird to see troll-like behavior outside of forums, but it happens all the time now with the help of social networks. And worse - we now have faces to attach to the behavior since they're often people we have accepted into our social networks as contacts. Some of our closest friends may turn out to enjoy trolling on the web - and you're probably going to find out through sites like Facebook and the like. And this has become highly prevalent on comment-supporting news sites, especially when they resort to more social commenting systems like Facebook or even Yahoo's diverse platform.

First of all, don't panic.

Okay, I just wanted to quote Douglas Adams - but the advice is generally true. You need to remain calm when you find yourself trapped in a troll argument.  Cooler heads will prevail and descending into a emotional backlash moment will only give the troll wants he wants - hence the feeding reference in the title. Your emotional reaction is what the troll will thrive on.

Troll nicht fuettern pink
Image via Wikipedia
Some sites then recommend you try and salvage the discussion using various methodologies. One popular method is to try and compliment the troll and his / her point of view as an opening statement in your next response. Then you move on to a new counter point, but avoid being overly critical of the troll's view. It may help diffuse the situation and then get everyone back to talking about things in a reasonable manner.

But when even this works, do not feed the trolls. If you really want to end things, you need to deny them the attention they clearly crave. So this means ignoring their continued replies and try to address those comments / responses that are still constructive in nature. Given enough time, the troll will give up and go away.

On the flip side, the troll may escalate things by resorting to abusive language and such, which then becomes grounds for them to be reported by whichever forum moderator or social media platform administrators you can reach. The time for direct confrontation is past - let the "authorities" handle things.

Remember, trolling is no longer exclusive to a small subset of the population. Given a heated enough issue appearing within our social networks, anyone runs the risk of resorting to trolling tactics. It's important that you keep this in mind before you next type a response and accidentally escalate the situation.

And in the case of your social networks like Facebook - remember your Wall is your personal space. Feel free to curtail privileges as you see fit when it no longer fits in with the kind of things you want your friends and family to be exposed to.

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  1. I know this is well past your post date, but I want to say how tremendously useful this post was. Thank you. I think I can outlast the troll. I'm trying to at least.

  2. You're more than welcome! This was definitely one of those posts that will remain forever relevant.