Warning! Do not feed the trolls.

Trolls… We’ve all come across them, they were around before the web even existed, hanging around in dark corners of Usenet, lurking, waiting to bait an innocent subject.  Today, they’ve evolved into much more sophisticated creatures, not only inhabiting online forums, but living on blog comments, twitter accounts, yelp reviews, and online games – pretty much anywhere a lonely individual sitting at home can find a way to compensate for lack of ‘real-world’ friends.

Today, we’re talking with Andrew Heenan, and his site www.flayme.com/troll.  Andrew is well versed in how to deal with ‘trolls’ on the internet and took the time to share some of his knowledge with our audience.  His advice is great, and for anybody having a headache dealing with a troll, I suggest reading his website and comments below.

For any readers that might not be aware, could you explain in your own words what an internet troll is?
One who sets out to disrupt a forum, by posting in a way that will annoy or humiliate members – the motivation and methods vary, but a troll is no more than a troublemaker, who does it ‘because he can’!

Your site reveals an interesting fact, that the term ‘troll’ does *not* in fact come from slimy creatures living under bridges – so where did it come from?
The anglers among your readers will know that trolling is the art of trailing a bait, hoping that a fish will bite; for the internet troll, it’s all about the response. Just as many anglers will put the fish back after the catch, so the Internet troll has no real interest in the issues being discussed; they are simply entertaining themselves by causing frustration in others. It’s about power – trolls create the illusion of power by manipulating others.

Do you think there are any subjects or behaviors that attract trolls?
Though there are exceptions, most trolls don’t really put a lot of work into their hobby; so you’ll find sexist comments placed on feminist forums, racist or homophobic comments on political forums, and so on. All easy, obvious targets. A particular favorite seems to be the ‘fundies’ (religious fundamentalists), because they seem to be almost guaranteed to bite, however lame the troll’s bait.

What are some steps to get rid of a troll?
The most effective method of troll management is ‘Don’t Feed The Troll’; if it does not get a response, it will move off and try elsewhere; any response is validation of its sad existence, so should be avoided. But we’ve all been taken in; the skilled troll may start with a question or comment that may seem odd, but is not rude, wrong or particularly inappropriate. Once it has you hooked, then it attempts to manipulate you into anger or humiliation. One of the most effective troll tricks is to cause group members to disagree – often ‘planting’ a new member to defend them, with a plea to members to ‘give him another chance’. The resulting dispute allows the troll to leave the members fighting, with no further effort required.

Think back to the most difficult troll you had to deal with, how do you finally stop them?
This question goes straight to the heart of the problem – you cannot stop a troll, unless you are an owner or moderator. But you can manage it.

I’ve never had a problem in dealing with a troll to my satisfaction; I ignore it, I move away, or  I indulge in a little troll baiting to amuse other members. But while I may be happy with that, none of these actions will necessarily stop the troll, and the damage to the forum can continue.

It requires every member to ignore the troll; every moderator to spot them and take appropriate action … and that’s not always going to happen.

If you use newsgroups, it’s no trouble to ‘killfile’ trolls – but you still have to deal with other members’ responses to the troll. They cannot be stopped, because there’s effectively no moderation.

In forums or blogs, it’s a matter of moderation, and on more than one occasion, I’ve ceased to read a blog because the owner failed to prevent troll abuse to the point where the readability was reduced to zero. Trolls can only succeed if someone feeds them – or fails to moderate them off the board.

Any advice you’d like to give to mods or admins dealing with a troll?
I think the best rule for moderators is that it’s important to give the loyal members the benefit of the doubt, rather than worry about the troll’s ‘rights’. If it acts like a troll, and smells like a troll, then delete the posts and suspend membership. Then forget about it! Very occasionally, you may get it wrong, and the ‘troll’ was a confused or inarticulate ‘newbie’ – and that’s shame. But the priority must be to be fair to the forum.

I’ve been told ‘trolls have first amendment rights’ to free speech – it’s a civil rights issue’. Sure they do, on their own websites, and I respect their right to post whatever they want, subject to the law, on their own sites. I’m not saying they cannot troll, simply that they cannot troll on my property – and that’s my civil rights!

And never, ever, negotiate with a troll. Always ignore any email or other approach, as there’s a small risk of a frustrated troll becoming a stalker. But that’s another story …

Finally, is there anything you’d like to mention about your site or what you’re up to in 2009?
I’m always on the lookout for more tips on troll management, and I’m hoping to spend more time on updating the web site this year. But I say that every year!


1 Response to “Warning! Do not feed the trolls.”

  1. 1 Nickyjames January 31, 2009 at 3:41 am

    thanx! this was very helpful to me and the other admins on my site. 🙂

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