Look, mommy! A Troll parade!
Bah, who am I fooling? There's nothing noble about trolls. No, I do not refer to the billy goat devouring fell beasts of olde but rather internet trolls: those obnoxious, half-witted fiends who spend all hours of their day posting insults, criticism, and absolute rubbish on forums, blogs, and YouTube videos.
As with all volatile species, trolls come in different shapes and sizes. At the base level you have The L33t-Speaker, usually aged between twelve and forty. This trouble-causing individual usually holds the intellectual prowess of a single-celled organism and often considers grammar a gross inconvenience. Their trolling sessions are mostly comprised of infantile babble like, "Ur blog sux, u need 2 get layed cuz ur stoopid." Not an incredibly difficult group to deal with as their comments are usually profanity laced or blatantly idiotic. If you have the capability to delete comments, this is a good group to do so with. If not, their attempts to grab attention are most often goofy enough to ignore.
Slightly higher up the ladder is The Skeptic-- usually a college student or older individual who believes just about everything on the internet to be fake, false, or worth correcting. This troll usually makes the effort to spell check, making it more difficult to distinguish them from genuine negative feedback. They can often be personally offensive to the author's intelligence and do everything they can to make themselves sound smart and everyone else sound dumb.
On a similar plane is The Insult-Swordfighter, that irritating vintage of troll who just can't help but pick fights wherever they go. Like the previous classes they can be very degrading and are highly capable of baiting naive authors into foolish debates. You see a lot of these on websites like The Denver Post.
Other flavors of troll include the Upstart Political (who considers anyone who does not agree with their political or religious opinions a moron), Mr. and Mrs. Easily Offended (who are very quickly ruffled by people with opposing views), and The Sneak (who cleverly masks his criticism as a genuine response but, in truth, is always looking to drag other commentators into a brawl). This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course.
A few things to keep in mind when dealing with trolls:
- Do NOT Feed the Trolls!: This is a common phrase used in MMORPG forums. Trolls are hungry for one thing above all else and that is your attention. The more you respond to their prodding, the more they view you as a source of entertainment. Like many school-age bullies, you take away their power when you ignore them. Resist the urge to even make small jabs back. Giving them no attention is the greatest insult of all.
- Take the High Ground: With some trolls, a response may be required. If you do choose to respond, a good way to avoid stroking their egos is to take the high ground... You do not have to coddle them but do approach them with dignity. Even if their viewpoint is ridiculous, you can say, "We can certainly agree to disagree," or, "It is always interesting to see a counter-viewpoint, though please understand that name calling is unnecessary." Again, only respond if you feel you need to do so to maintain professional integrity. While this is a waste of time with The L33t Speaker and Insult-Swordfighter, it sometimes works with Skeptics, Upstart Politicals, and the Easily Offended. As before, it's usually easier to just ignore them.
- Not all Negative Comments are Trolling: In the last article, I referenced store owners who consider every bad review to be an act of defamation. Don't go down the same extreme road where all negative comments are registered as the work of a troll. Some months ago, I got a response from a reader who disagreed with me giving Wikipedia a spotlight as a writer's tool. He was passionate about his opinion, and due to a bug on Examiner, sent me an email indicating that he was offended that I may have deleted his comment. I very easily could have cried, "TROLL!" and ended up in a textual brawl with him. Instead, I wrote him back, politely indicating that I was certainly sorry that his comment had not shown up (he couldn't have known about the bug), and that I was actually very interested to hear it. When he did post, we were able to carry on a short, intelligent exchange where we cordially agreed to disagree. I treated him with respect, and I, in turn, earned some of his. Be willing to accept critics, opposing viewpoints, and conflicted readers... but learn how to distinguish those from the venomous sort who are just looking for attention.
- The Trolling Litmus Test: Here are a few red flags you can look for to determine if someone is trolling. While there will always be exceptions (for example, I've known a number of autistic gamers and others on psychiatric medication who often came across like trolls even though they did not intend to), this should give you a general idea of what you're dealing with. As with all things, keep context in mind...
- They are blatantly degrading and rude
- They treat you and other commentators inferior
- Their comment is off-topic
- They take bits of what you write out of context to start a fight (make sure they didn't just genuinely misunderstand what you wrote)
- They post very frequently, responding negatively at every opportunity
- They lack common courtesy
- They use profanity on a site where it is prohibited
- They're vulgar
- They use obvious tactics to prod people into fights
- Their comments are not simply base critical thinking but are intended to belittle others
- They don't actually state a point, they just disagree for the sake of disagreeing
- They don't seem passionate about the subject, yet are determined to contradict
- They try to encourage fights between other commentators
- They use racial slurs, stereotypes, and other generalizations
- They are unwilling to offer counterpoints if their views are challenged
- Do NOT Try to be the Troll-Slayer: This one kind of plays parallel to the "Don't feed the trolls" point. Many a gullible video blogger has gone down in flames after posting a response to trolls online... A famous example is the "Don't call me a homo!" kid on YouTube, a disgruntled lad who got fed up with trolls making constant inferences about his sexual preferences (forgive the use of the word in this article, that is what the video is known for). He responded by making a furied video blog where he told the YouTube community to stop calling him a 'homo' with the panache of a near-mental meltdown. The young man not only received thousands of comments where people continued calling him names, he also ended up in hot water after making a response to VLogging satirist Ray William Johnson with a threat of violence. I have to agree with the advice Ray gave the offended young man and others like him: if you publish videos or content online, you will have to deal with trolls. If you cannot deal with them or with criticism, you should not be publishing content online.
Even if you don't go so far as to make something as wild as a response video, do not get it in your head that you are going to confound a troll with your dazzling wit, saving the internet community from their rantings... The troll will just keep on trolling, whether you confound them for a moment or not. Seriously, ignoring them is the best course 99.99999% of the time.
NOTE: If you want to check out Ray's VLogs, be forewarned that even though they're hilarious, proceed with caution if you're sensitive to content or have kids. I've yet to see nudity or anything pornographic on there, but he does drop a healthy share of F-bombs and offensive jokes. His impersonation of trolls is hysterical.
- Remember Trolls are People Too: Alright... I've pulled quite a few literary punches over the course of this post and it's now time to play devil's advocate. Despite how rude they can be, behind every troll is a human being-- a person who, for whatever reason, has been conditioned to believe their internet bashing is appropriate behavior. It does not excuse what they do, but the truth is most bullies use their tactics to deal with deep-set issues of insecurity, inadequacy, and bitterness against the world. Some have been dealt a lousy card in life. Some are jobless and still living with their parents. Some experienced abuse or may have personality disorders... Some just have just been fighting for respect all their lives and learned the wrong way to do it. While I don't suggest anyone to attempt to be a troll's guidance counseler, remember that there are any number of infinite reasons why a troll acts the way they do. Do not reinforce their bad behavior by 'feeding' their dysfunction... but do remember you're most likely dealing with a very insecure human being.
In closing, be prepared for trolls. Know how to spot them and most of all how to brush off their insults. We all deal with them, but it doesn't mean they have to win every time.