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Responding to Internet Trolls and Online Criticism

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Responding to Internet Trolls and Online Criticism

Not everyone you meet in life is going to have the same opinion as you. This is true no matter where you are, be it the real world or the cyber one. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem, since most people are reasonable and know when to hold their tongue. Unfortunately, the Internet provides a degree of anonymity that breeds a foul creature with a mind for mischief: The Internet troll. They often respond to posts and comments in a condescending or crude, obnoxious manner in a deliberate attempt to anger the original poster.


What kind of image forms in your mind when you hear the word “troll” being used? Maybe you get an image of an ugly little humanoid creature with a face only a mother could love. Or, you might think of the hulking monstrosities from The Lord of the Rings movies that use brute force to beat down the opposition. The truth is that Internet trolls are similar to the creatures seen in most popular consumer media. They have a malignant attitude and want to ruin someone’s day. Wikipedia provides a pretty accurate measure of what an Internet troll is:

[…] a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

Essentially, an Internet troll goes on line and makes comments with the malicious intent of ruining someone’s day or derailing a topic under discussion. To make the situation worse, the troll can’t be blocked by a simple antivirus or firewall. A troll attacks your blog or social media posts in order to entice you into reacting rashly, and if you’re not careful, you might say something that you’ll quickly regret. Online “trolling,” as it’s called, can be a dangerous act, as evidenced by Britain’s movement toward punishing trolls with jail time for abusive online behavior.

Trolls Just Do It for Fun.
This might provide a wakeup call for those people who believe that the Internet is a wonderland of crazy kitties and viral videos. Why would certain people go to such lengths to ruin the Internet experience for everyone else? It’s probably for the same reason hackers steal data and create malware and other threats. They just feel like having fun or profiting at someone else’s expense. The anonymity of the Internet is what makes trolling so commonplace. People can supplement their need to be jerks without revealing their true identity, which is the ideal situation for most trolls.

How to Stop Feeding the Trolls
It’s frustrating and annoying when you’ve become the target of a troll attack. You might want to respond immediately and say exactly what’s on your mind, but we recommend that you take a step back and think carefully about what you are going to say before you say it. You need to think about how to respond to criticism. It’s important that you don’t confuse legitimate arguments with those who are arguing for the sake of arguing.

Whether or not you even need to deal with trolls is another issue altogether. If you allow these people do whatever they want on your posts, it could mean the end of any civilized discussion. Furthermore, if their vocabulary is “colorful,” it might offend your regular blog followers. It is necessary to monitor and maintain your comments, but it’s also important that you don’t give in to these trolls. You can either respond, or ignore them; but there is no guaranteed right way to handle these foul beings.

If you respond, be careful. Technology consultant and writer Jeff Reifman suggests that you only address parts of the trolling that are unwarranted. Furthermore, you should respond “only if you have good intentions.” You don’t want to unintentionally start a war in your social media feeds.

Say what you need to say, then let it go. Internet trolls are an obnoxious waste of time, but you need to get the point across to your other followers that you will respond to them, and are capable of defending your opinions or statements with facts. An alternative option is to disable comments on your posts, but this will prevent others from expressing positive comments. Ultimately, it’s a fine line you must walk when dealing with trolls and one must exercise discretion at all times. What are some of your thoughts on Internet trolling? Have you ever fallen prey to it, and how did you resolve the situation? Let us know in the comments.