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March 12, 2013

Don’t Feed the Trolls

Don't feed the trolls
Don't feed the trolls

It’s going to happen eventually. If you have a comments system, or a submissions box, or anything that allows the anonymous public to send you input, it is bound to happen. The more publicly visible those submissions can get, the higher the likelihood of it happening.

I’m talking about trolls. Those rabble-rousers of the Web, the ne’er-do wells, the obnoxious jerks and put-downs. How is one supposed to deal with them?

A Short Biology

What is an Internet Troll? Someone who likes to disagree for disagreement’s sake; someone who just likes to argue. Someone who seeks to make others upset. Those who ridicule as an end-goal, who like to insult others at the slightest provocation. Trolls are the online equivalent of the aggressive person at the bar itching for a fight. They want to cause trouble, and they’ll either find the first opportunity to fan the flames or just instigate it themselves.

One of my corporate clients has had some trolling on their company Facebook Page. For the past couple of days, their posts have been attracting crass, rude, and usually unprovoked comments. These words weren’t directly aimed at the company themselves, or even fellow commenters. The remarks were aimed at the organizations referred to in the status updates.

But the tone and verbiage of those comments was unmistakably aggressive. This was no complaint, but an irate rant. Insulting and profane, these comments had no place on the otherwise benign atmosphere of the company page.

Feeding Habits

So what to do about this? The proper way to deal with a troll first demands knowing how trolls work. Like our aggressive friend at the tavern, the thing they want most is a fight. A direct clash. Therefore, do not give that to them.

Internet trolls always hope to raise some ire. They want someone to take the bait to their scandalous comments. They live for the sucker, he who falls for the lure, the person who argues back.

Arguing with a troll is like trying to stop a fire with gasoline. The more intense and impassioned your retort, the more you fuel the troll’s efforts. The longer you draw out the conversation, the more you saturate the troll with the attention he craves.

Therefore, do not give trolls sustenance. They are already starved for attention; if they realize that they’ll not get any from you they will eventually move on. Don’t feed the trolls, and the trolls won’t stick around.

Deny them the satisfaction of being the center of attention. Don’t cater to their self-righteousness by giving them the opportunity to argue and let them prove they’re right on some twisted interpretation of the facts. Evade their desires to vent their anger and frustration; if they get no release they’ll have no incentive to stay.

Troll hunter

So what to do when a troll shows up on the company Facebook Page? It would be tempting to delete the troll’s comment. But while you might think that solves the problem, you’ve fallen for the troll’s trap.

A delete, or even a ban, is tantamount to an argument. Try to silence a troll by force and the troll will come back louder than ever, no doubt with cries of unfairly being gagged from voicing his opinion, or that you’re hiding what the public ought to know. Using force on a troll only incites the person further. To the troll, it means he succeeded in getting under your skin and forcing you to deal with him. It’s playing into his game.

You could always just ignore the troll. And that could work. It does deny them what they crave. Chances are they’ll still throw a tantrum and try to vandalize more of your page, but eventually they will leave for greener pastures.

But that still looks bad. Even if the troll leaves, what they’ve left in their wake is a bunch of very unflattering things on your page. While it’ no fault of your own, it makes it awkward for any incoming visitors to sift through your content only to come across some profanity or obscene remarks.

Time to look at this in another perspective. Dealing with trolls is not a chore, or something to dread. It’s an opportunity, and a great one at that.

Respond to the troll, but not in an angry, combative, or otherwise aggressive manner. Respond to them calmly, thoughtfully and succinctly. Do some quick homework; view their profile and glance through their interests. Is there some sort of common ground, something the troll holds sacred and dear that you can appeal to? Some trolls are just outspoken grumps, and if you appeal to them where there is a soft spot, they’ll relent.

But maybe there is no chink of rationality in the troll’s armor and he is the type of troll that wants a violent engagement. Respond, but do not engage. Make a benign and diplomatic reply, nothing stuffy and disingenuous, and move on. Keep your response snappy and limited to one post. Do not give them any more than that.

If they continue to rant, do not meet them in kind. The goal is to not be dragged down by their arguments, but still be able to respond to their presence.

When done properly, your response will accomplish many things:

  • It makes you come across as classy, witty, and sincere to onlookers;
  • It shows that you can diffuse situations and win over others simply by using “people skills;”
  • It adds an air of professionalism and expertise. Only the petty fight;
  • It deals with the troll, and leaves evidence that can discourage future trolling.

It’s easy to ignore and dismiss, but it takes skill to acknowledge and negate. When performed well, the troll may even relent or simply skulk off.

Dealing with trolls can actually give you a boost in your social media engagement and reputation, not sully it. Acknowledge the trolls, but do not fight them. Be above the mudslinging, but not so aloof as to lend credence to any claims such people make.

You may find there is a silver lining to being trolled — you can turn it into a golden opportunity for yourself.

What do you think? Is this the best way to deal with trolls, or are there better ones? Share your best tips in the comments below.

Vince Ginsburg is a web designer and blogger for ‘Corsair Media Services,’ ( ) which specializes in online marketing strategies and development. He doesn’t just look at the current state of the Web to figure out what’s going on, but tries to understand why it’s happening.

Always eager for discussion, you can find him at his company blog or Facebook.