29

A common advice on dealing with malicious users is:

Do not feed the troll!

What does this mean, what is the rationale behind this, and are there any exceptions?

29

Because the primary purpose of a troll is, well, to troll: to feed you inflammatory remarks that you react to.

That is their only goal*. They are not interested in the content of your reactions other than as material to further trigger you with.

In short, trolls are bullies.

Since that is their only goal, no (type of) reaction from your side is going to change their behavior. Only when they are forced (e.g. their communication channel is blocked) or get bored, will they stop. This leaves you with two courses of action: ask others (like a website moderator) to block them, or ignore them.

There are stories of people reacting in other ways and get the trolls to stop, but those are the exceptions. Do not expect that you can outwit them, especially when several of them band together.
Even when you have the technology to attack them back, success is not guaranteed beforehand, and you must seriously ask yourself if you want to take that trouble and risk.

When you are the victim of a troll, what there is to learn is to not care. You can only learn/teach yourself how to deal with them, there is nothing you can change with them.

BTW. Not everyone agrees with what I write here, but I think it is the general consensus.

Two interesting PBS Channel episodes about 'Are there different kinds of trolling?':
The Experience of Being Trolled (22 Jan 2014)
When Is A Troll No Longer A Troll? (21 Sep 2016)
and a TED Talk by Whitney Philips: Why study villains, scoundrels, and rule breakers?
And to sum it all up: Glove and Boots.

* Some (like 'Ken M') do it as an art form. But that's not what you were talking about.

  • It is worth adding that while, as you mentioned, there are stories of successful "troll sniping" (out trolling them), it normally requires someone feeding them first. If they know what they are doing, their opening moves are typically pretty well rehearsed and thought out, so it's going to be hard to out wit them, but when they start responding to someone instead of controlling the dialog, it becomes much more possible to hop in when you are at an advantage. Millage certainly varies though, so not feeding in the first place is generally preferable, even if you are good at sniping. – AJ Henderson Jun 9 '16 at 13:10
  • It might be worth noting that some of the articles you linked to seem to be about a different definition of "troll". In some circles the definition seems to shift from "person seeking attention" to "person with bad manners". While "real" trolls sometimes pose as persons with bad manners, not every person with bad manners is trolling. Some are just genuine assholes. – Philipp Sep 22 '16 at 13:03
  • You don't have to ignore all troll's posts, just parts that don't contribute to productive conversation. If people have some experience with internet they'll already ignore meaningless posts and trolls would interlace things that should be addressed with offensive remarks. If you produce level-headed responses to actual questions then troll would get bored just as well. This is harder than simple ignoring though. – Daerdemandt Nov 15 '16 at 8:18
13

I would suggest that you're asking the wrong question. Once you "get" the whole troll thing, it's obvious not to feed them. What isn't obvious, especially to those who haven't met trolls before, is that arguing with them (a common response when someone is wrong on the internet) feeds them.

So we have this sequence:

  • community is minding its own business
  • people sometimes say wrong things
  • other people tell them "that's wrong" and demonstrate why
  • community continues to be a community, people learn from each other
  • ...
  • troll says outrageous thing
  • other people tell them "that's wrong" and demonstrate why
  • moderator says "don't feed the trolls"
  • troll loves the responses and stirs up more of them
  • troll-corrector gets mad at troll, at those who aren't correcting, at those who suggest troll-corrector is wrong, at moderator, ...
  • troll loves it and goes for more
  • troll-corrector-supporters get mad, troll-corrector-detractors try to educate or shout down troll-corrector, ...
  • troll is happy as can be and tries to ramp it further...
  • ...
  • maybe community calms down, maybe not, maybe lessons are learned, maybe not

The real answer to "why should trolls not be fed" is an explanation of what trolls enjoy, and why they post what they do. Once you successfully get that across to the person who was feeding them, they will naturally stop feeding them. The hard part is

that sensible, earnest, useful thing you're doing? The same thing that has served this community well in the past? You need to not do that for this user because this particular user is a troll and your earnest corrections are just food for the nasty behavior.

It's a lesson that typically takes several tries to learn.

5

I think occasionally its important to feed a potential troll to check whether they are really trolls or not.

  • Sometimes smart people who want to be helpful seem troll-like, but when it's clear they were saying things that could be misunderstood they will act with decorum.
  • Sometimes trolls (and other bullies) put on pretty faces and people don't notice that they are bullying a sub-part of the population, but asking the right kind of question can provoke a more completely troll-like response, so the whole community sees what is going on.
  • 3
    This sometimes (very often) happens with questions on SE sites: you see a (badly written) question (usually by new people) where you think: "Are you serious (or maybe trolling?)". Here your advice works: write a friendly comment asking them for clarification. But that's with questions of course - trolling is more common in comments. – Jan Doggen Jun 10 '16 at 14:08
3

While I agree with the top answers, I'd like to point your attention to the different kinds of trolls.

Your reaction may for example depend on whether the person only made one "trolling" comment. I believe in that case it is better to react by giving your perspective. In this case "not feeding the troll" means not giving them more room for further trolling by remaining calm and avoiding controversial/aggressive statements.

If on the other hand you have a "serial-troll" someone who trolls repeatedly, I agree with Jan Doggen, that you are better of just completely ignoring them.

  • By definition, a troll is someone who post trolling post/comments repeatidily. – Walfrat Nov 9 '16 at 11:56
-1

The term "troll" originated from fishing, bait is attached to one or more hooks which are dragged behind the boat in the hopes that the fish will "take the bait".

It became an internet term to describe a person who would "troll" a forum waiting for someone to take the "flame bait". It then quickly morphed to become a person who trolled. A "Troll" became a term as one who posted for reactions. It soon became synonymous with the term "griefer", though a "griefer" is specific to online gaming as one who is there to cause grief and ruin everyone's good time, rather than play.

Once the term "Troll" became a noun, it merged into the old meaning of a malicious monster known for a voracious appetite and general malice. Telling people to ignore him/her and not to take the bait quickly became "PDFTT" one the Usenet, which is an abbreviation for "Please don't feed the troll".

What people mean by "PDFTT" is to not give them the attention or reaction they desire. It has been proven to be the only effective way of dealing with trolls. On the Usenet, before there were ignore buttons, the typical reaction would be to call what was termed a Passive Ignore Simultaneous Strike, where everyone would simultaneously ignore the troll. This was the most effective way to deal with someone as they either reformed or went away.

The Passive Ignore is not used these days thanks to ignore buttons and stronger moderating, but the warning to not feed the troll remains.

-2

Trolls are attention seekers/lowlives who have little to do so they go around insulting users and other things as such. Not acknowledging their short Internet lives will make the troll go away and not get this attention they so crave.

All they want to do is cause trouble and provoke other users, getting the reaction from the users they pick on.

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