Published on January 14th, 2013 | by Tom Wake1
How to deal with a troll attack in 3 simple steps
Trolls. Traditionally found under bridges, in fairy tales and parts of Scandinavia. These days ‘troll’ is a name more commonly given to Internet pests who go onto forums and comment threads looking for fights.
What is the difference between a ‘hater’ or cyber-bully and a troll?
I’d better make this distinction upfront because trolls get terribly upset about being given the wrong label – they’re strangely sensitive souls.
A troll wants to start a fight simply for the ‘pleasure’ of getting people riled up and trading insults. A ‘hater’ (saying this word makes me sound like a 12 year old) is someone who sets out to specifically hurt or bully an individual.
Haters or cyberbullies are the people you often hear about on the news making threats against people’s children, posting racist slurs – that sort of thing.
Thankfully if you’re a webmaster or a regular commenter on forums/comments threads you’re more likely to come across trolls.
What’s the best way to deal with a troll without starting a riot?
Stay calm and polite, keep emotion out of it and stay on topic (and ignore anything that’s not).
Once you know a troll’s motivation it becomes a lot easier to deal with them (or rather not to deal with them as you’ll see in a moment).
A troll wants to cause a commotion and get people ranting and raving because they want their presence on a forum or comments thread to be the main focus. They want the spotlight and attention on them.
To do this they will disrupt the flow of conversation, provoke fellow commenters and/or post abusive statements to inflame a response.
Often they will play devils advocate, vigorously defending statements or positions they know to be illogical or untrue in an attempt to get people riled up.
When they get a response they cite that as a victory so don’t show any emotion in your responses – this is the only thing they have to feed off.
Sometimes it can be hard to determine whether someone is playing at being a troll or if, in actual fact, they’re just an idiot. The good news is the process for dealing with trolls and idiots is largely the same…
Webmasters and forum moderators can follow this 3 simple step approach:
1. State the rules – Politely and dispassionately clarify the house rules (for example “Please note personal attacks, swearing etc are not permitted”).
2. Issue a warning – Invite them to continue the debate ‘on topic’ but state that if they continue to break the rules their comments will be blocked and they risk being banned.
3. Ignore them – This is the crucial step and applies to both moderators and other commenters. It is so tempting to rise to an inflammatory comment with a witty and damning retort – but that is exactly what trolls want and will actually make things worse. When you respond to an attack with another attack they have effectively won. Not only have they made everyone look at their comment, they’ve provoked a response and most likely a prolonged debate. They can respond to your attack with another attack and before you know it a slanging ensues and you’ll be banging your head on the keyboard despairingly.
If a troll persistently breaks the rules block them! Give them 3 strikes and stop them for posting more comments. You might want to leave their offending posts and your warning responses up for posterity so others can see that they’ve been treated fairly.
Should you ‘pre-moderate’ or ‘reactively moderate’ comments?
Sorry that sounds a bit like a bad science experiment so I’ll put it another way. Should you let comments automatically go through and then check for foul play afterwards (and if necessarily delete or block offending comments) or should you check all comments before they’re published?
This will ultimately come down to resources. If you have a dedicated team of moderators at your disposal you may want to go the reactive route and pick up on any incursions as you go along.
The advantage of this approach of course is that you can keep the flow going nicely – the disadvantage is that it’s a lot of hassle and work. Can you really afford to take time out of your day to go back and forth and checking forum or blog comments every five minutes?
Most of us won’t have this option so you’ll either want to tick the setting in WordPress (or Blogger or whichever platform you’re using) that requires you approve comments before they appear.
I personally favour this approach both on Insider’s Edge and actually on other websites I regularly use. Why? Because it ensures there’s some sort of quality control.
You wouldn’t tolerate it in a public so why is it tolerated online?
People get terribly upset about their right to speak and be heard online ‘no matter what’ but I think this is a strange position. Of course we should be free to express our opinions but at the expense of others?
I mean you wouldn’t expect someone drunk, aggressive and wearing a balaclava and a name tag that says “Mickey Mouse” to be allowed into a ‘real life’ public debate. Frankly I don’t see why it would be any different online.
Too many forums and comments threads have become poorly moderated cesspits where a couple of lowest common denominator types will spend 18 hours a day posting unreasoned bile and nonsense.
I don’t know about you but if I’m looking for information I don’t want to have to trawl through several thousand pages of pantomime “But you’re an idiot” … “no YOU’RE an idiot”.
The best debates on forums and comment threads are where people can encourage, criticise, share ideas and express opinions but are prevented from making personal attacks.
What do you think? I absolutely love it when people leave comments on Insider’s Edge even if it’s just to say hello. In 2 years I think I’ve only ever had to block one user (this was several months ago) because he kept on logging on and posting sweary, slanderous comments about people at 4am.
Do you think forums and comments threads are on the whole under moderated or over moderated? What experiences have you had with trolls and what do you think the best way of dealing with them is?