A forum, by definition, is an open-communication arena where like-minded individuals can share and help each other – be it for a game, a particular subject, or even for a medical condition. So what do you do if you receive a comment that makes you cringe, a review that makes you rant, or feedback you’d like to forget?
Do you try to explain yourself or debate that person? Do you try to reason with them and show them the error of their ways? Do you take it personally?
If so, you may be opening yourself to an internet troll. What you can expect is a laundry list of insults toward everything from your writing style to your mama’s heritage.
When you’ve spent the time and energy to research and write a great piece, or you simply voiced an innocuous opinion in an open forum, being sniper-hit by some anonymous creep can be truly disheartening. Why do they do that?
Simply put, they have nothing better to do.
The internet is a wonderful place to learn and share ideas. People from all walks of life, all over the planet, can discuss their experiences and expertise in a seemingly safe environment. The problem is that it is a safe environment for everyone – including bullies. Anonymity breeds boldness. They can say anything they want and not have to face any consequences. Bullies thrive on the internet, especially in forums.
IDENTIFYING A TRUE TROLL
You don’t want to overreact. You can get a bad taste in your mouth from a random post or get your feelings hurt by someone who didn’t mean any harm, this is perfectly natural. Take a breath and make sure you’re not taking something personally that might not have even been meant for you. Before you start a war, make sure you’ve got a real troll on your hands. Here is a three-step process to spot a troll:
#1: Identify the difference between constructive feedback and insults.
It happens. You spelled “its” or “their” wrong. You posted a dead link or asked a question in the wrong area. You cross-posted by accident. Some well-intentioned person lets you know. You thank them and fix it. End of exchange. This is not a troll, this is a person who truly desires to help out – we are all in this together. Constructive feedback is how we learn and grow. This is how forums work for the greater good. This is not a troll, this is a kindred spirit.
#2: Determine their agenda
As you can see, most people just want to help. Some are curious, and some simply don’t know any better. Be gracious, but don’t be too lenient. Frankly, a true troll’s agenda is always the same: they want attention, and the more negative, the better. They thrive on being mean.
#3: Determine if the offender is knowingly baiting you.
Are they new to the forum? Are they new to the internet? Is their first language the same as yours? Are they genuinely curious or just jerks? These are very important questions that are relatively easy to answer, just read their other posts. The difference between a newbie and a troll is intent and tenacity.
INTENT: True trolls spend their time scanning the web for anything that will allow them pick fights. They are very good at what they do. Most of us envision some pimply-faced loser giggling to himself as he corrects your grammar and insults your historical references or OS, but this isn’t what the average troll looks like. The meanest and most effective trolls are over-educated snobs that simply love to argue. They honestly feel that they are better than most everyone else (even though they obviously have an abundance of free time due to their lack of actual friends) Think “Frasier” with PMS and severe mommy issues. These trolls will spend hours crafting the perfect comeback and, even though their wording may be artfully fashioned, their attacks have about as much class (and purpose) as a drive-by egging. Their intent: bully someone until they cyber-cry.
TENACITY: No matter what you do, these bullies will not give in. They simply won’t let go, even if they’re proven wrong. You can’t win, period. They have the tenacity of a pitbull on steroids, minus the cuddliness.
Bottom line: If you are viciously attacked for an honest mistake, a question, or a valid opinion in an open forum, you can assume you have a troll on your hands.
HANDLING A TROLL
How do you handle an internet troll? There is only one rule:
#1: Do. Not. Engage.
Replying to a troll only encourages them. They will continue to argue, bash, and rant even if you agree with them. Many blogs and forums have pictures reminding you to “DNFTT” – do not feed the trolls. Heed them. Remember, a troll’s food is attention – any attention. You have the right to ignore, delete, unfriend, or whatever other method is available to silence them, depending on the site. Let it go. They are not worth your efforts.
For those sites that do not allow you to monitor and/or delete comments (a certain bookseller named after a large river comes to mind), just let the trolls do their thing. Do not answer them or try to explain yourself, you’ll only make yourself look worse. Most people recognize a troll when they see one. If you investigate, you’ll find that (assuming they consistently use the same user name) they are never helpful to anyone. They are always cranky. No one else will pay attention to them, so neither should you.