7 Ways to Defeat an Internet Troll (and Stay Sane in the Process)

7 Ways to Defeat an Internet Troll (and Stay Sane in the Process) 3

2nd December 2015

By Carolanne Wright

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

At one point or another, most of us have experienced an Internet troll. The unmistakable characteristic of overtly aggressive responses — which quickly morph into personal attacks and distract from the topic at hand — are usually a dead giveaway of a troll’s presence. It’s made clear early in the exchange that the person in question doesn’t have the least interest in honest debate — you can throw as many studies, facts and solid verification of your position into the mix, but the information will go unread and unacknowledged as the troll plows ahead with their destructive agenda. They sow nastiness and discord whenever they appear in comment sections of blogs and forums, or social media platforms like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

Certain subject matter tends to be a breeding ground for troll activity — like articles about the dangers of vaccinations or genetically modified food, even fracking. As we attempt to discern fact from fiction during our daily forays into cyberspace, it’s just too easy for someone to hide behind an alias and spew forth disinformation.

You may have wondered, as I have countless times: What exactly are these people after? How do we fend them off, and stay sane in the process?

Portrait of an Internet Troll

Last spring, I shared “A Parent’s Response to the New York Times Article: Eliminate Vaccine Exemptions” on social media. I felt the article was well-researched, backed by solid facts and invalidated many of the arguments posed by those who advocate mandatory vaccination. Initially, the comments about the piece all had the familiar voice of readers who follow my page. Not everyone agreed with the article, but the debate offered good food for thought. In other words, it was a debate in the truest sense of the word, not a mud-slinging contest. Even when people became heated in their viewpoints, the discussion rarely veered off-topic into personal attacks.

That is, until the post somehow made its way to a pro-vaccine Facebook page. Then all hell broke loose. The discussion turned from a debate on vaccine exceptions and safety to a very personal “defending your life” episode. The three trolls that entered into the comment fray were outrageously aggressive, hurling slander like there was no tomorrow, while failing to offer a single shred of factual information supporting their stance. And they were tenacious, not giving up until they had the last (usually irrelevant) word. As moderator for the post, I was at an impasse: should I block these troublemakers who are bullying other commentators, or let it lie in the spirit of free speech?

I chose the later, but to this day, I question whether it was the right approach.

7 Ways to Defeat an Internet Troll (and Stay Sane in the Process) 1

Looking at the bigger picture, trolls are only interested in one thing: eliciting an angry, emotional response. They’re deliberately provocative and offensive. Their goal is to disrupt, for whatever reason. Many have speculated that some trolls are paid industry shills bent on countering truth with disinformation for the sole reason of protecting profit. Or that select trolls are actually government lackeys doing the bidding of their masters.

It’s difficult to validate these claims, unless a whistleblower comes forward or solid information is leaked. Nonetheless, we can become more discriminating in our approach toward debate on the Internet.

Trouncing a Troll

Steve Streight believes trolls are a special class of sociopath. In his article, How to Identify and Defeat an Internet Troll, Streight gives several tips on how to tackle the increasing problem of these cyberbullies.

  • Ignore the troll. Simply refuse to interact with him or her. Respond to others, just not the troll. This option is a tough one in cases where the troll is intentionally spreading misinformation. We have to weigh the risks in the overall picture of truth seeking. If you do choose to respond, always take the high road and don’t sink to their level of personal attack or offensiveness.
  • Post “don’t feed the trolls” in the tread, then leave the debate. Some go so far as to post a specialized graphic with the message. Whichever you use, the bottom line is that you are identifying the agitator, but not taking the bait.
  • Keep hammering away at your viewpoint, harden yourself like steel, and never give in. If you want to disturb the troll for a short while, just to give him a taste of his own medicine, you can relentlessly restate your opinion, in complete oblivion to anything the troll says, like you’re not even reading his remarks.” For subjects important to you that tend to attract quite a bit of troll activity, keeping a file on your computer with relative studies, thoughts and factual references can save you untold hours of research when faced with repeated troll attacks.
  • Beat the troll at his own game by pointedly misinterpreting his or her statements. This is an effective method for derailing a troll and triggering upset. Twist what they say in a manner that makes it appear as if the troll is agreeing with you. “I agree. Thanks for seeing my viewpoint. We seem to be on the same page now. That’s exactly right. Glad I was able to convert you to my opinion.”

On top of that, Adam Dachis recommends that we “kill with kindness” in Make Quick Work of Internet Trolls by Using Cognitive Therapy:

“Ask questions to clarify (e.g “Why do you feel that Python is so bad? What do you find wrong with it?”), and kill with kindness (e.g. “It’s OK to prefer Perl, we’ll still accept you here”). As frustrating as it may be to be nice to someone who isn’t, sometimes people just want to be heard and accepted.”

I’ve also come across sites that have “ground rules” pinned to the top of their Facebook pages and permanently posted in the comment sections of websites. By being proactive and alerting commenters upfront that certain types of posts will not be tolerated (profanity, personal attacks, etc.) — and explaining the space is for healthy debate — moderators are in a better position to delete comments and ban trolls from the get-go.

And Lifehacker offers this closing pearl of wisdom:

“The best defense for keeping your sanity intact is to just have a sense of humor about it. It may seem insensitive to say “just grow a thicker skin”, but like it or not, it’s very effective. Susannah Breslin, contributor over at Forbes, once said if you “get hit over the head enough times, your head goes numb”. It’s absolutely true. Just remember that if you’re getting trolled more often, it’s probably because they see you in a position of power, which means you’re doing something right.”

Previous articles by Carolanne Wright:

About the author:

Carolanne Wright

I’m Carolanne — a writer, chef, traveler and enthusiastic advocate for sustainability, organics and joyful living. It’s good to have you here. If you would like to learn more, connect with me at Thrive-Living.net or visit Twitter.com/Thrive_Living.


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