How to Handle Internet Trolls

For the Sake of Being Contrary

Wikipedia defines an Internet troll as, “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 […] with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response […], often for their own amusement.” If you’ve spent time online reading the comments’ section of any articles or posts, then you have no doubt witnessed the infuriating behavior of an Internet troll. They enjoy arguing for the sake of being contrary. They debate anything you say, not necessarily because they disagree, but because they enjoy frustrating you. Trolls live to spoil your mood and ruin your day.

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Some take advantage of easily attainable anonymity—creating fake profiles in just a few minutes. However, others have no problem posting from their real profiles where anyone can see photos of them with their families. No matter how they appear, there’s just something about hiding behind a keyboard that seems to bring out the worst in people. The next time you encounter an Internet troll, consider using my suggestions below to handle them.

1. Ignore Them
They want reactions. They want attention. Just move along and don’t engage them. You will not change their mind or their ways. Trolls are not here to learn. They are not interested in listening. They want to insult their way into your life, leave a wound, and then pour salt into it. They may even share your point of view, but they exist solely to get a rise out of you. When you ignore them you render them powerless.

2. Avoid Them
If you don’t want to attract trolls to your page, don’t post publicly. Most often the trolls come out when you post publicly with a trending hashtag. If they don’t know you personally, they’re definitely coming for you. Trolls love to cause emotional harm to strangers, because they feel there won’t be any consequences. If you want to limit trolls, post your messages to friends only. This helps protect your privacy too. While you hopefully have a selection of friends with a variety of different opinions, they are less likely to troll you. Since they actually know you they will be more likely to treat you with respect, even when posting dissenting opinions. Posting privately is the one surefire way to keep Internet trolls off your page and from fighting with you and your real life friends.

3. Combat Them?
Did someone’s online comment absolutely infuriate you? Do they speak in favor of everything you’re against? Can you not sit idly by and let them continue to spout ignorance? Then it may be time for you to reply! Please do so with caution. If you have a lot of information about yourself that is public on your profile, make it private before engaging trolls. If you have a very uncommon name, it might be extremely easy for people to find sensitive information about you online. Google yourself first and see what you discover. Know that your profile photo and cover photos on Facebook are automatically public, so any comments on them are visible too. You never know who is just an all-words coward, versus someone who may threaten you and actually make good on scary promises. You don’t want to pick a fight online that could lead to danger in your real life. That being said, people do argue online all day long. So if you want to fight with a troll, use humorous points to take on their opinions. Be tactful in your replies and do not attack them personally. Instead, ask them to cite their sources. Keep your responses brief, so you waste little time as you bait them. They will devolve into a sputtering pile should you remain calm, happy, and concise.

4. Differentiate Between Trolling and Conversing
Don’t assume anyone who disagrees with you is a troll. Look at their word choice and syntax. If the tone of their sentences feels respectful, and they use credible sources to back up their opinions, chances are they want to share their well-considered perspective. If they use polite language, why not give thought to their dissenting opinion? Some people enjoy conversing with others who have differing opinions. If they engage without name calling, treat them as a fellow open-minded friend. Perhaps each of you can see a new side to an argument.

Another Perspective

Though Internet trolling often functions only as a means of belittling others, it’s possible that it could positively change someone’s mind. What if you enjoy when others are contrary? Sometimes I appreciate how trolls aggressively tear apart a way of thinking. Even if I disagree vehemently, and think they’re being rude, on occasion, it can be eye-opening to think about something in a new light. While I do not suggest that you abandon your deeply held beliefs because you read some entertaining trolling, I do feel it’s important to attempt to understand different perspectives. If something strikes you as a new idea, then do some research and reconsider your opinion. It’s possible for even a loathsome troll to plant a helpful seed.

2 thoughts on “How to Handle Internet Trolls

  1. Kathy

    At the risk of being viewed as an internet troll myself, I offer up my humble opinion: I think the whole answer can be reduced to two words: “Block ’em!” But that’s just me. 🙂


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