Trolls, The Care & Feeding of

The argument over whether to reply (or “feed“) to a troll or not is as “ancient” as me the beginnings of the internet.

One side is : Do Not Feed The Troll
With the theory that the troll is seeking attention/wants to cause trouble/is looking for an argument/is known troublemaker. This treatment works well in a closed environment with few new people & no passers-by or where the troll is of a type that the general public will instantly recognise as best ignored. Like ignoring the argumentative drunk in the pub; the loud-mouth in the classroom; the cat-calls from a building site. Ignore the troll, do not feed the troll, do not give the troll the oxygen of attention/publicity/oxygen*!

If the audience in question are generally “singing from the same hymn sheet”, then Do Not Feed The Troll is the best course of action – with the caveat that somewhere in the general discussion a rebuttal of the troll’s arguments should be made (but not in direct reply to the troll) so that newcomers can see that the troll’s comments and views are not the norm.  Where it doesn’t work so well is on an open forum with lots of passing traffic or a constant influx of new members where people may take the troll’s comments as agreed with if no-one responds and be scared away from the group; they may think the troll’s views are commonly held amongst the users; or mistake the troll for someone who is so admired that no-one will argue with them.

That’s where the other side of the argument comes from: Slap The Troll Into The Middle Of Next Month (think Iron Fist In Velvet Glove though – I tend to be more the Iron Fist in Iron Hand type, unless I really work at it).
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this means descending to the troll’s level. A simple, civilised, polite rebuttal of every post. No name-calling, no abuse – civil, polite, restrained even. A modicum of amusement if you like.  On a usenet newsgroup I frequented, way back when the world was young, someone developed a tactic of posting something like “I can’t be bother to tell you again why you are wrong (link to last time they replied if there was one), let’s share recipes instead.” And posted a recipe for something nice to derail the thread.

I tend to flit between both attitudes depending on the seriousness of the subject & my own energy levels. It comes down to whether I think other people will benefit from a rebuttal (because a real troll certainly won’t) and, sometimes, whether there’s a tiny chance that the poster might not be a troll but simply misinformed and could be open to discussion.  Someone on a fan forum who is spouting things like “[idol] is overrated” to get a reaction from fans of [idol] should be ignored. Someone spewing hatred and abuse into a serious discussion on Disability Rights/Childcare/Education/Misogyny or Misandry should be calmly corrected, but not argued with. A simple correction of their misconceptions and a refusal to engage with them otherwise because the correction is not for their benefit but for your readers’.

Feed The Troll. Don’t Feed The Troll.  Make your own judgement as to what your reaction will be but, please, unless it is a formal part of a group’s rules (or decided by the owner of the blog in the case of a “Comments Troll”), don’t berate people who do respond and correct the troll. That just gives an image of division within a group and makes an experienced troll happy to know that they’ve caused some dissent.

I’ll continue to respond as and when I see fit & Ignore The Trolls otherwise.

* with thanks to the late Linda Smith