Dealing with Internet 'trolls'

Question

I’m getting more involved in blogging and social media, but some people online seem to only want to be disruptive and mean spirited. When I ask them to go away, it just gets worse…any suggestions?

- Wendy

Answer

This question was answered on April 16, 2009. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

One of the precepts of the Internet has always been to empower the individual and all of today’s Internet based communication tools have done a pretty spectacular job of doing just that.

Unfortunately, all individuals have the same access to all of the tools, which means that just like in the real world, not everyone that you encounter will view the world in the same way you do.

Adding to the mix is the veil of the computer which encourages folks to be more verbose, outspoken and downright rude in ways they never would in the real world.

The term “Internet troll” has become the moniker for those that join a conversation simply to cause problems, generate angry responses, sabotage the discussion or to ‘push the buttons’ of others for the amusement of it all.

Whether it’s a deep need for attention or some other psychological tick that drives this behavior, the fact is that Internet Trolls are part of the fabric of the online world.

As irritating as they can become, the worse thing that anyone can do with an Internet troll is to engage them in their game If a troll gets a response to their inflammatory postings or comments, it just encourages them to continue.

If a troll attempts to engage others but is ignored, they generally move on to find easier targets to annoy In most cases, the ‘community’ recognizes the troll’s postings as irrelevant and that they don’t contribute to the conversation and simply continue the discussion which pushes the troll’s comments further down.

If the inflammatory comments are directed at you or your company, engaging the troll with the same type of inflammatory response is not recommended Rather, state your position in a clear and non-inflammatory manner so those that read the thread of messages can figure out that you are a sensible person or company with constructive thoughts.

If you are the administrator of the forum, blog or site, you can certainly remove any comments that you feel are inappropriate, but that won’t always be the best solution (more on that later).

Most trolls don’t realize that they are trolls, but everyone around them does, so have faith in the rest of the community to see through the inciting comments (we’ve all read a string of comments that included this type of behavior and quickly dismiss anything posted by certain individuals).

You’re in good company with this problem as President Obama’s efforts to provide open dialogue via the Internet has been derailed by politically motivated Internet trolls that want to push their agenda regardless of the topic being discussed.

The problem for the White House is managing the posts without infringing upon the right to free speech by those participating In general, system administrators can remove postings or users from a system, but in a political setting, this would be suicide.

This ongoing problem has created some unique ways for the community to patrol its own Often times, you can vote on a person’s comments as to whether they were helpful or not to the discussion.

If enough users of the forum vote down the comment, it gets moved down or even removed automatically by the system In other cases, visitors can use a filter to only see comments that the community gave high marks.

Another interesting tool that helps keep trolls in check is when they post comments that the community finds offensive or inflammatory, instead of removing the comments completely, the comments are removed for everyone but the troll.

This makes the troll think that their comments are being seen by everyone, but everyone seems to be ignoring them Conversely, if a troll knows that their comments have been removed, it often will motivate them to post even more inflammatory comments both in context and quantity.

There is a simple piece of advice that dates back to the early days of the Internet that’s still valid today: Don’t feed the trolls (attention)!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on April 16, 2009