Don't feed the Troll

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if you spend a great deal of your time pretending to be an asshole to get a reaction from people...you aren't pretending. You are an asshole.
Ed Brayton[1]

Although originally a non-offensive reference to fishing by trolling for input/feedback on ideas, people quickly viewed this as spam which led to personal attacks later leading to the more common and largely incorrect view that a troll, in Internetspeak, refers to an entity which involves itself in discussions purely for the purpose of disturbing other users and making itself feel important. Because trolls take away from productive work, the standard response is to starve the troll of attention by ignoring it and going about your usual business.

Is it really that prevalent? See for yourself.

Contents

Characteristics

A troll usually has little or no interest in contributing to the development of the site in question and is interested in :

  • Deliberately angering people.
  • Breaking the normal flow of debate/discussion.
  • Disrupting the smooth operation of the site.
  • Deliberately being annoying for the sake of being obnoxious. For instance, using abusive names to refer to all the members on the site.
  • Making itself the main topic of interest or discussion.[2]

Motives

Save a goat, starve a troll!

It is probable that, for the troll, the last point is the most important. To this end it will post deliberately inflammatory messages which generate inflammatory responses; complain about being the victim of the inflammatory responses; endeavor to obtain allies against the discrimination it feels; turn on those same allies, etc. etc. The whole objective of the exercise is to disrupt or make someone do something you wanted them to do for laughs.

If a poster begins to post comments along the lines of, “Can’t you see how stupid you all are?” or “I keep laughing at all of you,” there is high probability that the poster is a troll.

Treatment

Because the troll feeds on having its name mentioned or by generating debate or ill feeling, many internet users either ignore the troll completely or respond with the phrase, “Don’t Feed the Troll".

(Alternatively, on RationalWiki, users can enter {{DFTT}} bringing up this image: Troll - which means the same thing.)

Some users engage in "Troll Baiting." In this unkind sport the objective is to turn the tables on the troll so that it becomes enraged. While mildly amusing in the short term it is rarely successful in driving the troll away.

Most importantly, trolls take away from productive work. The only ethical way to avoid this is to stop feeding the troll and go about your usual work.

How to spot a troll

Usually it is very difficult to tell the difference between a troll and somebody who is simply an asshole or an idiot. It is important to note that a troll doesn't always resort to insults. Some of them pretend to hold ideals that are unpopular on a particular website or forum. For example, if one signs up for a forum that is predominately pro-choice and pretends to be anti-abortion and makes posts in favour of that position that alone could get the same result as just insulting everybody. The best way to spot a troll is to take into consideration how long its posts are. If its posts are short then more than likely you are dealing with a troll. A good troll also doesn't show any signs of anger in their posts so it would be best to keep an eye out for that too. On social networking sites it is much easier to spot trolls. The first way is to look at their profile: if the user has no picture of him/herself then it is most likely a troll. It's also useful to take a look at how old the user's account is. The newer the account is, the more likely it is that they are a troll. Also if this user has contacted you directly on your own page as opposed to a group you are a member of then take that as a tell-tale sign.

Alternative ways to deal with trolls

If you really have to respond to a troll don't post long comments. Try to make your responses as short and concise as possible; it's often best to use exceptionally bland wording such as "Thank you for your comments, which we shall give due consideration." Your main objective here is to disarm the troll's chances of getting an emotional response from other users which will make it give up its attempts. This method is not fool-proof and can achieve the opposite results depending on the troll and how you go about doing this.

Caveat

It is, of course an improper argumentum ad hominem (personal attack), when you accuse a user of being a troll just because you don't like what they are saying or the way they are saying it. Don't accuse someone of being a troll just to dismiss their argument. Just because you disagree doesn't necessarily mean the user is trying to be disruptive, so it is necessary to measure the suspected troll against the description given above.

See also

External links

Footnotes

  1. http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2011/06/ooh_pat_replies_to_us_again.php
  2. Rarely a troll may do small amounts of productive work to disguise its true intentions.
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