From the Underworld comes the Troll

Recovered from the Wayback Machine

(Insert your favorite mental image of troll here)

Introducing the troll

We all know what a weblogging troll is; it’s the person, man or woman, who writes a comment or comments in post after post trying to pick a fight with one or more members of a comment thread. This is not to confuse the person with the random abuser who comes in through Google and writes, ‘This site sux’ or something to that effect. No the troll is nothing if not persistent.

A troll can appear, day in and day out, and almost become a friend through familiarity. Almost.

Sometimes the troll only appears when you post on a specific topic. Other times they appear after a long absence, write a flurry of nasty comments, and then disappear again.

I know of one troll who is fast gaining somewhat legendary status among many of the weblogs I frequent for the length of his comments; not to mention the vitriolic nature of most of his writing–when you can understand it.

Now, we can all get into little flame fests in comments, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; after all, if this was all sweetness and light it would be extremely dull. In addition, we can all get cranky, passionate, determined, angry, pissy, whatever depending on topic and other people’s responses. But this is not the same as being a troll.

No, a mark of a troll is that their only purpose in commenting in your post is to pull attention away from what you write, and what others write, on to themselves. They want the spotlight, but rather than start their own weblog and maybe dwindle into obscurity (and a troll most likely will, because they primarily only know how to write in an antagonistic style), they’ll come and steal yours. In doing so, they’ll wreck havoc on your space and what could be a good discussion thread.

What’s frustrating about a troll is that they’ll tell you what you’re doing wrong, again and again. If you ask them, then, why they keep coming back, they’ll say something to the effect of, “It’s a freeworld and I’ll go where I want to.”

You can’t appeal to a troll’s better nature to just leave, and it’s illegal to shoot them. So what can you do with a troll?

Bake them, mash them, put them in a pie…

The surest approach is to turn off comments, or require stringent comment registration.

Unfortunately that’s allowing your space to be controlled by another person–a malevant person who wants nothing more than to demonstrate his or her power. In addition, you lose out on the casual passerby who also happens to have something pretty terrific to say; or to the anonymous person who again, has something worthwhile to bring to the topic.

You can keep your space open and delete the troll’s comments, instead.

A good approach. However, this carries with it a risk. For instance, the troll could keep coming back with the same comment, forcing you to spend a lot of time cleaning your comments. In addition, other people will invariably respond to the troll, so you’re left with the dilemma about whether you should delete their comments, too.

You could also block them, by blocking their name or IP address.

This is usually not effective. The troll will just switch providers, or even use a proxy to write their comments; blocking on an IP is not worth the time. Also, anyone can change their name from comment to comment.

In addition, there’s an unsual risk associated with this one. When I blocked that aforementioned troll, who is getting a dubious reputation of troll extraordinaire, he actually went into other people’s weblogs who I read and started writing about me. Some of what he wrote was just odd; others of it was a deliberate attempt to embarrass me. Then I was forced to have to ask the weblogger to remove the comments; not all were happy about having to do this, because they didn’t believe in deleting any comments.

I now have a policy in my comments that you don’t use my space to bash another if the other isn’t around to defend themselves, or if the other isn’t the topic of the post.

Reason with the troll

You’re kidding, right?

Okay, so what can you do.

Don’t feed the troll

Ignore them.

This was the hardest one for me to learn, and is a policy difficult to adhere to at times. However, unless their comment is pretty horrible, letting it slide and not delete it or even acknowledge it exists is a very effective weapon against the troll. It takes away that power they wanted. Nothing deflates the troll more than to just ignore them.

More than that, though, you have to educate your other commenters to just ignore the troll.

There’s a couple of primarily political weblogs I read that have a very persistent troll in them (not the same troll). These are people who write comments almost invariably counter to the general flow of conversation; enough to know that they’re not writing about what interests them, or responding to the thread, as much as they want to pick a fight.

In each of these sites, they get their fight. The other semi-regular or regular commenters almost always fall for the bait and respond and the thread degenerates into an incoherent brawl. Eventually the site owner will come in and say, “If you don’t like what I write, why do you come back?”Of course we know why he or she (mainly he I’ve noticed) keeps coming back — look at the nourishment they suck out from the post and the comment thread each time they come back?

What the site owner should be saying is, “Folks, stop feed the troll.” In other words, educate your other commenters not to respond to the troll.

This isn’t to say that you should ignore people who disagree. Disagreement, even passionate, satirical, biting, snarky disagreement is healthy in this environment. If a person is disagreeing with the topic, you can tell by their writing that they are responding to it.

The troll, on the other hand, is not responding to the topic as much as they are trying to take over both the topic and the thread. Sometimes the difference is subtle; after a while, though, you’ll see a pattern form, and you’ll know if you have a passionate commenter who disagrees, or a troll.

However, even ignoring the troll may not impact on the densest, most obtuse, of the breed. That’s when you have to bring out the big gun…

The big gun in troll defense


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