The trolls have moved out of their caves and onto the internet.
Unlike the mythological creatures of early Scandinavian folklore, online trolls are real, and dealing with them is never a fun experience.
An internet troll, as defined by Wikipedia, is:
“…a person who posts inflammatory, insincere, digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog), with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses, or manipulating others’ perception.”
Put simply, an internet troll is someone who takes great pleasure in being an insufferable jerk online.
The more people they tick off, the better. Trolls thrive on sarcasm and insults, and they’ve been around for as long as the internet has existed.
Unfortunately, the trolls of today have escalated into a much more malicious force of hate than the original jokesters that were prevalent back in the ’90s. Now, 41% of Americans have experienced some form of online harassment.
What’s more, the number of severe encounters such as cyberbullying, physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment, etc. have sadly become more common.
That’s why today’s topic is necessary.
In this post, you’ll see how to know you’re facing an internet troll, and find a list of tips to add to your arsenal so you’re ready to handle the nonsense right away and protect your peace of mind.
Warning Signs You’re Dealing with an Internet Troll
Some of the warning signs that you’re dealing with a troll include:
- Blindness to evidence: Trolls are notorious for ignoring facts and either doubling down on their stance or redirecting to a new topic altogether.
- Name-calling: Internet trolls aren’t known for their creativity. They’ll often latch onto the latest trending insult and use it in every situation. Hello, “Karen.”
- Topic redirects: This is an old-school trolling technique that’s still around today on chats and forums. Trolls enjoy making off-topic remarks to try and distract posters from the discussion. They’ll also post unrelated images or memes.
- Condescending tone: “Why you mad, bro?” Trolls love to stoke the fire and then act dismissive when people become angry, which only triggers more frustration. And they know it.
- Overexaggerating: While most people use words that aren’t absolute, there’s no middle ground for trolls. Everything has to be on the extreme end of the spectrum. Instead of saying “often” or “sometimes,” they’ll say “always” or “never.”
There’s something about the anonymity of the internet that brings out the worst in trolls.
Most of them wouldn’t dare engage in a direct face-to-face confrontation. But through the computer screen, there aren’t any real consequences to make them think twice about letting their inner nastiness out.
Defeat Internet Trolls with These 10 Techniques
Trolls aren’t picky – they’ll target individuals, businesses, celebrities, politicians… you name it. If you’re on the internet, you’re fair game for a troll.
Here’s how you can shut them down.
1. Don’t Feed the Trolls
The classic internet adage still holds merit. Trolls thrive on emotional responses to their provocation.
It can be difficult to restrain yourself but don’t add fuel to the fire.
If you don’t engage, the troll will hopefully move on.
2. Be the Boss! No Trolls Allowed
If you’re in charge of a platform — whether it’s your social media profile, discussion forum, blog, etc. — you need a list of clear guidelines that includes a “no trolling” policy.
Implementing these rules establishes impartiality. If someone is angry that their comment was deleted, you can point back to your policy and cite a violation as the cause of the removal.
For example, see how the Library of Congress set clear guidelines in their comment and posting policy:
3. Add Moderators to Your Roster
Managing a single, small-scale blog or social media profile is one thing, but if you have hundreds or even thousands of posts and a major troll infestation, it’s time to call in backup!
A team of moderators is a worthwhile investment if you aren’t able to keep up with the troll onslaught yourself.
They can verify comments and deal with policy violators so you can focus your attention on other tasks.
If you don’t have the resources or funds to hire moderators, look into some of the tools available on various platforms:
- Facebook’s comment moderation plugin.
- YouTube’s comment settings for automatic moderation.
- Twitter’s reporting option for abusive tweets.
- Instagram’s reporting option for policy violations.
- WordPress’s comment moderation tools.
- Other blog tools such as Disqus and IntenseDebate, which are two of the most popular.
4. If You Can’t Ignore the Trolls, Call Their B.S.
Trolls aren’t interested in having civilized, rational conversations. Their arguments aren’t logical, and they’re certainly not strong debaters.
Stay calm and simply ask for facts and sources to back up their unsubstantiated claims.
Chances are, they won’t have any, and they’ll sputter into silence. All they really wanted was a heated, passionate debate, and you denied them that.
Every time they make a wild statement, counter it with a polite request for evidence.
5. Kill Them with Kindness
It’s hard to respond to hate with kindness. But since trolls are usually looking for a fight, reacting with an opposite approach often stops them in their tracks.
One particularly uplifting example was posted on Funny Side of Tumblr. An exchange started with a furious mother attacking someone for “making her child sick” because the youth was exploring their gender identity.
Rather than reciprocate the anger by becoming defensive, the user responded with kindness, even complimenting and ultimately connecting with the upset mother and answering her questions.
What started with, “My child is sick due to you!” drew to a close with, “Bless you, if I have more questions I can ask you.”
Tumblr users showed appreciation for the way the situation was diffused:
It’s worth noting that this shouldn’t be your expected outcome. In this case, the aggressiveness came from a place of fear and confusion, but in most other instances, trolls aren’t going to come around.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to show a little kindness. You might make a difference in someone’s life.
This conversation would have ended a lot differently if anger had been met with more anger.
6. Disarm Them with Humor
Much like with kindness, trolls aren’t usually equipped to respond to humor. Their goal is to make people mad, not make them laugh.
Laughter is troll kryptonite.
If you need some inspiration on how to fight trolls with humor, check out Wendy’s Twitter.
The brand has become well-known for its tongue-in-cheek humor when responding to trolls.
Wendy’s even goes so far as to regularly invite other brands to be roasted.
However, be cautious with a humorous approach. It’s easy to cross the line and become offensive in the eyes of your audience.
7. Have Friends-Only Social Profiles
This solution is pretty cut-and-dried. If you don’t want random trolls commenting on your posts, keep them private.
Obviously, this won’t work if you’re a business, influencer, or someone who needs to reach the public, but it’s an easy way to keep your personal profile safe.
On Twitter, you can make your account private by going through More > Settings and privacy > Your account (you’ll have to put in your password again) > Protected Tweets.
You can also update photo tagging options.
On Facebook, you can run a privacy checkup to update your settings. Click the drop-down arrow, then Settings & Privacy > Privacy Checkup.
Remember that you can also set individual posts for private, friends, friends with exceptions, specific friends, only you, or customized visibility.
8. Block, Ban, or Report Trolls
While this option is more tedious, it’s sometimes necessary if you have a troll that just won’t stop.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and most other social media platforms give you the option to report a post for being abusive, among other options like unfollowing the person who posted it.
9. Decompress Before You Reply
Remember – a troll’s goal is to make you and other people upset. Don’t let them achieve their goal.
Before you type a response, try this:
- Take a deep breath.
- Walk away for a few minutes (minimum).
- Remind yourself it’s not personal, and it’s not worth getting upset.
When you’re composed enough to return and address the issue, try to keep a clear, open mind.
Replying when you’re angry isn’t going to end in a peaceful resolution.
10. Stay Professional
One of the worst errors you can make is confusing an unhappy customer for a troll and responding in an unprofessional manner. Stay calm and factual.
If someone is complaining about your business, apologize and try to redirect the conversation to a private channel so the issues can be resolved outside of the public’s scrutiny.
If someone is nitpicking a typo or other minor mistake, thank them for pointing out the error, fix it, and then don’t engage any further.
Whether you’re answering a troll or a real customer, remember that your comments are public, and the rest of the community is watching. In most cases, people are less concerned with what the problem was and more with how you handled it.
Trolls are Only as Big as We Make Them
Internet trolls thrive on drama.
If you stoop to their level, they’re winning.
It’s not about being right or wrong. If you stop engaging the trolls, you’re taking the oxygen away from their fire.
Take the high road, and leave the trolls far below.
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Featured image: delcarmat/Shutterstock
Image #8: Created by author, September 2021