Trolls on your website

In my book, Campaigning for Clean Air, I state my philosophy of blogging: No Trolls!

I strongly believe that you should not allow trolls onto your blog.  Your blog has your name on it.  What you allow to be posted is your own business. Joe’s freedom of speech is not impaired when Joe is banned from your blog. He can post many other places on the internet. He can start his own blog. When you are moderating comments on your blog, the “delete” choice is often your best friend.

Why should you ban trolls from commenting?  Studies show that negative comments undercut the credibility of the original blog post. That is what happens with just one negative comment.   If Joe is  a true troll, there will be more than one comment!  He will come back and keep posting.  You can waste huge amounts of your time by answering him.  He may also annoy your readers, who expect a pleasant and informative experience on your blog—but—Joe’s back!  (For more on this subject, with links,  please read the blogging chapter in my book.)

Similarly,  you can prevent people from posting negative comments on your Facebook pages and other social media. All social media platforms have “ban” and “block” types of functions. You should treat anything with your name on it the same way you treat your website: No Trolls!

Unfortunately, you don’t control everywhere you post, and you may well encounter a troll in a context where you cannot ban them easily.  So we have to talk about trolls.  Sometimes, there you are, on a newspaper comment stream, or on an email list discussing energy issues, or something like that.  And you have attracted a troll.

The definition of a troll

First of all, let’s be sure we have our definitions straight.  Not everyone who disagrees with you is a troll.  In my opinion, a troll has the following characteristics:

  1. Repetitive posting;  Whatever you say, they will answer it.  Their answers will quickly become repetitive, and are often very long.  When you respond, they will rephrase what they said earlier.
  2. Repetitive Links: They use a limited number of links to older or obscure articles and books. These are the articles that support their position.
  3. Having the last word. They must have the last word, and they may well wear you down until they get it.

In terms of the last-word issue, I once tested the responses of a troll on a local newspaper website.  He had the last word in our comment exchange.  I waited for about a month, and there was no further activity on that thread. After a month, I posted something.  He  posted an answer within hours, once again regaining the final, last-word position.

Other bad behavior

There are other things that many trolls do, but not all trolls do these things. Some non-trolls also act this way.  Some people:

  • Bring up their favorite subject in the comment stream, and come back to it repeatedly. (They hijack the conversation.)  However, they don’t necessarily answer every comment that disagrees with them. Repetitive answers are the mark of a troll.
  • Are sarcastic, insulting, or condescending.

These are just standard internet discourtesy, not troll-dom.  We have to take stern measures with trolls, but there is no use getting upset about every fool on the internet.

So, we can now recognize the troll disease.  What’s the cure?

Neutralizing Trolls

Let me repeat: If you have the control, don’t let the troll post.  Not on your blog, not on your Facebook page, nowhere.  But you don’t always have the power to prevent posting.

In a public space where you are not the moderator

the main strategy for neutralizing trolls is to shift the conversation from a discussion of their claims to a discussion of their behavior.

In other words, don’t argue facts, but instead get the listeners on your side by pointing out rudeness. Unfortunately, in some cases, it  may become necessary to stop posting in places where trolls run rampant.

Here are my main suggestions for dealing with trolls on a website you don’t control.

  1. Appeal to the moderator.   If there is a moderator, point out the rude actions and appeal to the moderator.
  2. Brief answers. You can change the conversation with brief answers.  First, answer the troll briefly and factually. He will come back at you.  Your second answer should be something like “Looks like we will just have to agree to disagree!”  He will write a long answer to that.  Your third answer will be something like: “You are repeating yourself.  As I said, I think we must just agree to disagree.  That’s what I’m doing, anyway.”  In other words, only argue facts in the first answer.  After that, point out his rudeness and stop answering. Hopefully, this will get the audience on your side. Even if you don’t sway the audience, you won’t be spending the rest of your life on a comment thread with a troll! If  he keeps posting, he will be talking to himself.
  3. Evaluate the time and rewards. Consider what your time is worth, if you are posting where trolls run rampant. Evaluate whether the people you are trying to reach are actually on the website, newspaper comment chain, etc.  Maybe your audience is on that website, and you have to hang in.  Maybe your audience isn’t there, and you shouldn’t be posting. Use your time wisely.

Please help

Let’s make this post into a powerful resource against trolls.  Do you have a favorite technique for dealing with trolls?  Please share it in a comment!

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The Fremont Troll (graphic) lives under a bridge in Seattle  Fremont Troll, from Wikipedia

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