You see them everywhere you go on the internet: anonymous users with nothing to say but rude, off-topic or annoying comments aimed at making you angry. The only cure is to just stop caring, and while that's easier said than done, these tips should help you overcome their spell.
Photo remixed from an original by Peter Bernik .
The word "trolling" actually comes from a fishing technique in which one casts out bait to catch fish -- and that's exactly what internet trolls do. They use rude statements and other techniques to try to "lure" you into getting angry or responding. Their only goal is to get you angry -- just like your sibling used to do when they'd poke you or repeat everything you said. Often, they latch onto powerful individuals, in order to feel more powerful themselves.
Trolling on the internet started on Usenet newsgroups back in the day, but now you see them everywhere -- internet forums, blogs, YouTube and even Twitter. The problem is now that in today's day and age, all of us are subject to trolling -- not just those powerful enough to have their own blogs. This means that ignoring them becomes a lot more difficult, since you're far more emotionally invested in the things you do and say, and the trolls have that many more mediums to attack you. Here are a few key things that will help build up your thick skin and help you stop caring about what pesky bridge-dwellers are saying on the internet.
Don't Feed the Trolls
You've probably heard this phrase numerous times before. It's the cardinal rule of being in an internet community, and with good reason. Avoidance is and has always been the best course of action, hands down. The majority of trolls thrive on the confrontation -- after all, they're singular goal is to get attention -- so the more you ignore them, the better. Downvote their comments or block them if you're on a forum that supports such features, and move on. It's incredibly tempting, but try to ignore them the best you can. Don't respond to them, not even to call them out as a troll, and they'll go away. Even a simple comment like "please stop" or "go away, troll" can bring attention to their comments (either by lengthening the thread or, in some forums, actually causing that thread to move higher in the chain). If a troll returns to their computer with zero replies, however, or if their comment just floats to the bottom of the thread, they'll go looking somewhere else for the attention they crave. Showing them that you can be baited, even a little bit, is just asking for more. Image by xkcd.
They're Attacking Boredom, Not You
One of the easiest ways to spot a troll is their completely lack of reason. Trolls will lash out and be purposely offensive to draw you in, rather than actually saying something of value. In their statements, you'll see a very "I'm right and everyone else here is wrong" attitude. Chris Shiflett over at Swiss Miss put it best:
The lesson I've learned is to be wary of those who [take pride in disliking things] . The ones who seem to think that being critical is the same as having good taste. Those people almost never have good taste, so their opinions don't matter.
So, even if what you've done isn't so great, just remember that those who can't say so with grace, those who seem to take pride in criticising you, their opinions don't matter. It may very well be that you've created a masterpiece, and they're just children.
He says it doesn't take any sophistication to be a graceless critic, and he's dead on -- if there isn't anything of value in their statement, then you shouldn't be putting any weight on it. Don't let the haters affect you; they're hating because they're bored, not because you've necessarily done anything poorly.
They're Not Worth the Energy
In the end, do you really need to waste your energy worrying about what one or two sad, bored people are saying about you? No. Blogger Scott Stratten explains the concept of "emotional currency" and how it relates to dealing with trolls:
In a nutshell, you only have so much emotion to go around. It should be spent on people who value it, who value you, not some douchenozzle that just finished a 36-hour bender on World of Warcraft and is pissed his wizard lost an epic battle on the island of Corinthian. There are way too many incredible people in this world, and Twitter especially that are worth your time.
Just because the internet has a lot of psychos doesn't mean it isn't full of awesome people, and time spent arguing with trolls is time that could have been spent having meaningful discussions with others. Furthermore, he says, time spent worrying about what trolls thing is time you could have spent on the people that actually matter. Do you really want to drain your energy on something that isn't worthwhile?
Learn to Laugh at the Situation
A positive attitude can get you through anything, and while you can keep yourself from responding to a troll, it's nearly impossible to ignore them altogether -- even if you take steps to de-troll your internet. The best defence for keeping your sanity intact is to just have a sense of humour about it. It may seem insensitive to say "just grow a thicker skin", but like it or not, it's very effective. Susannah Breslin, contributor over at Forbes, once said if you "get hit over the head enough times, your head goes numb". It's absolutely true. Just remember that if you're getting trolled more often, it's probably because they see you in a position of power, which means you're doing something right.
How to Respond When You Get Locked In
While I highly recommend avoiding the trolls at all costs, if you accidentally get yourself lured into a discussion, you can either try avoiding, or attempt to fizzle out the argument yourself. We've talked about using "cognitive therapy" once before: if you kill them with kindness, you'll thwart their plans much easier. Software developer Shlomi Fish explains, using the example of a troll that bashes specific programming languages in a forum thread:
It's very simple:
- Ask him what he means; interrogate him:
- "Why do you feel that Python is so bad? What do you find wrong with it?"
- Agree with him (but use a softer language):
- "Yes, Perl is a nice language, and I agree that Python has its downsides and/or trade-offs in comparison to Perl."
- "It's OK to prefer Perl, we'll still accept you here."
This will make the troll lose steam and help you find a common ground.
Some may disagree with this method -- I personally think it's better to just ignore and move on -- but if you do get caught responding and can't just turn back, you can change your tune and try to kill them with kindness. It could be a way out.
Learn to Separate Constructive Criticism from Trolling
Lastly, it's worth mentioning that, as I've said before, there are some cases in which someone may be rude or put you down, but they're just tactless. If you can extract any constructive criticism or valid arguments out of someone -- even if it means sending them an automated response telling them to be nicer -- it can be worth your while. Being mean isn't the same as being a troll, and sometimes it's OK to give someone the benefit of the doubt before ignoring them altogether.
It takes a bit of practice and conditioning, but the main goal is to just stop giving a crap about what other people think -- especially those that have nothing useful to offer. Got any of your own tips for dealing with trolls, either on the internet or in real life? Sound off in the comments.