Online trolls have been the bane of rational, civil internet users since the beginning of the web.
It turns out, when you give certain people the shield of anonymity to hide behind in the form of a computer screen, things get ugly.
Internet trolls started popping out of the woodwork as early as the ’90s, when online discussion boards, comment threads, and groups were just beginning.
Trolls exist to inflame any type of discussion (back in the day, “flaming” meant igniting a personal, vindictive attack on someone simply because they didn’t share your views).
In other words, trolls like to be jerks for the sake of being jerks. They don’t care if they’re wrong or right, they just want to make others angry for the fun of it.
Sometimes, trolling can even escalate to death threats, bullying, and psychologically-damaging harassment, as seen in this tale of a brand social media manager:
To this day, trolls emerge from the dank recesses of their troll caves to stir up trouble in discussions, on social media, and anywhere they can make people mad.
For the rest of us, there are ways to fight back and maintain civility, friendly discourse, and fun in our online communities – not in spite of the trolls, but in direct opposition to everything they stand for.
Let’s look at how to defeat internet trolls.
If the platform belongs to you (e.g., it’s your social media profile, your blog, or your discussion board), you can and should institute a “no trolling” policy.
These are guidelines that let every single person who interacts on your platform know that trolling behavior will not be tolerated, and what will happen to those who do troll (will they be banned? will their comments get deleted?).
This comment policy from Content Marketing Institute is a great example:
Make sure you write your policy in clear terms and post it on your site or platform. Link to it as needed so people know the rules.
If you’re having a troll problem, moderation can go a long way toward keeping the issue under control.
For example, if you have a sprawling blog with hundreds (or thousands!) of blog posts, there’s no way you can monitor that by yourself.
Enlisting a team of moderators to vet comments and deal with violators of your guidelines (see tip #1) will help you encourage a positive, welcoming atmosphere and keep those trolls in their caves.
If you don’t have the resources for moderators, there are tools out there for every type of platform:
The M.O. of any troll is to get attention. To quickly put out their fire, one of the best ways to deal with them is to ignore them.
I know this is hard, especially if the troll is posting offensive, abusive, or hateful comments. You don’t want to condone this behavior, but at the same time, a troll usually posts this way just to get a reaction from someone. Give them that reaction, and the troll wins.
Don’t waste your time arguing with a troll – it’s exactly what they want.
Sometimes the best thing to do is quietly delete the comment and move on. After all, actions speak louder than words.
Sometimes, ignoring a troll just isn’t an option.
Thankfully, a troll is not out making logical arguments. They aren’t masters of debate. They just enjoy stirring the pot.
If you can, calmly ask them to back up what they’re saying with facts. Usually, they’ll have none, and will lose steam pretty quickly once you deflate their “argument.”
This one is pretty clear-cut.
If you don’t want random trolls posting comments and spewing hate on your social profiles, you can block those people, make your accounts friends-only, and screen everyone who follows you.
On Twitter, you’ll find the setting to make your account private under More >> Settings >> Privacy and safety >> Protect your Tweets.
Your tweets will only be visible to people who follow you and people you approve.
You can also block people right inside their post or comment.
This is definitely time-consuming, but could be a good option for people who are dealing with out-of-control trolls who won’t stop.
A troll posts with the expectation of stirring up anger and arguments. If you ignore the content of their comment and instead respond with kindness, they won’t know what to do. It’s like pouring water on a lit fuse.
This example from actress Gabourey Sidibe’s Instagram shows what I mean – she responded to messages of hate with love and kindness, which stopped a troll in their tracks:
Another way to thwart a troll?
Respond with humor instead of the expected anger or indignation. They won’t know what to do with themselves.
As you can see, J.K. Rowling does this flawlessly. Lesson learned.
Truly, the only way to destroy a troll is to rise above the fray.
Don’t stoop to their level – it’s exactly what they’re out to get you to do.
Internet trolls want anger. They want big reactions. They want drama.
If you can, take the high road. Ignore them. Delete their comments. Block them. Respond with kindness or humor – something they’re not expecting.
Maybe, just maybe, we can make the internet a better place, one interaction at a time.
All screenshots taken by author, August 2019