How To Stop Caring About Trolls And Get On With Your Life

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:

  1. Ask him what he means; interrogate him:
    • "Why do you feel that Python is so bad? What do you find wrong with it?"
  2. 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.


Comments

    I believe it was once paraphrased:

    You either get trolled, or you live long enough to see yourself become the troll.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

      Actually this article is a little precious.

      An alternative definition to trolling is just an opinion that challenging or mainstream. I don't think we want a 'lovefest' discussion for every article.

      For those who feel like they have been 'trolled' I humbly suggest they grow a pair.

      I accept your lack of respect for life, and your need to troll, due to the fundamental problem with this site not having a need to register before commenting.

      Did I do good? :D. See how I steered the conversation away :P

    Or just let trolls troll newfa* trolls trying to troll trolls.
    Thats always a laugh.

    http://cache.ohinternet.com/images/thumb/7/73/Trollface.png/500px-Trollface.png

    Let the babies have their bottle!

    Trolling is fun, ya'll should try it yourself someday.

    It's not so much the trolls who in general you can ignore because the rest of the forum can recognise them as well, for me, it's the total lack of respect when answering some one else's comment. I guarantee people who talk to others with so much hate, will be as demure as a pussycat face to face. Get them in a situation where they can say what they like with impunity and they're six foot tall and bullet proof. Now add the ability to sign in as what ever name they like and it's belligerent moron heaven...

      You are so stupid!

        Why?

      So true. Used to be a horrid troll who used to lurk in these forums hysterically abusing anyone who disagreed with him. I tried to be nice, but that only seemed to inflame him further. Eventually he just disappeared, or changed his name, or got a girlfriend or something. He wasn't really imaginative so if he did change his name, it'd probably be something vaguely similar to his old moniker. But yes, I do agree with you a bit. Similar to the 'car of idiots' phenomenon when you get abused by a bunch of heroes in a car, but outside of the car and away from their mates, they're as quiet as kittens #}

        If this silly rant is any indication, clearly you were one of the heroes in the car.

          Silly, yes. Rant? Hmmm. If so, I'm quite proud that I managed to keep it under a thousand words. But thanks for the feedback. I always appreciate constructive and witty criticism.

    i dont wanna sound rude or trollish, but that 1st picture was totally photo chopped...

    *just being ironic

    You can't ignore my troll charms...

    p.s.,

    damn iPhone 4S is crap - sucked in Apple sheeple - Siri is crap also

    The funny thing, is that everyone on the internet thinks everyone else is the troll - trollaphobia...

    The simplest "solution" to the troll problem is just to grow up. Either ignore them, or have a good laugh. Trolls can be a lot of fun, if you're not a humorless priss. If you're going to get all bent out of shape by what somebody writes on the internet, the problem is with you, not the troll.

    The last poster totally misses the point.

    i HATE trolls

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