Care & Feeding of trolls

We have all seen trolls in chat rooms and forums online, they seem to be everywhere, but what are they, what causes them to be that way, and how do we deal with them?

Before we get too far into discussing how to deal with trolls we need to define what a troll is. In general terms a troll is someone who posts messages that are inflammatory with the intent of provoking others or disrupting the topic of the thread of conversation.

Of course we have all heard the common adage "Don't feed the troll." And invariably this does not work because someone will feed the troll, someone will give the troll the emotionally driven response they seek, to starve a troll would require everyone abstain from responding, even when the troll ramps up their efforts. This is the real world, sooner or later someone will feed the troll, so obviously this solution has flaws.

Other solutions have been to ban the troll, criticize the troll or even to shut down the forum the troll is using to troll. All of these have flaws, ban him, he will just make a new ID. Shut down the forum and move somewhere else, the troll will follow. And of course confrontation will just feed him and make him more active.

So, what can we do? Some of the more successful solutions are to ask the troll to give details of why they feel a particular way, or to agree with them on some points. Overall the biggest step is to keep your head and keep your cool, knee jerk reactions are just going to feed the fire. Perhaps there is a middle ground that can be negotiated.

Learning effective communication is key of course, the following is some advice for communication:

  • Keep calm - Getting emotional and responding without thinking it through will more than likely make things worse, not better.
  • Choose your words carefully - Veiled threats, hidden emotional undercurrents, passive aggressive methods are all going to cause the issue to get worse.
  • Be polite - Insults and treating someone like garbage is just going to rile them up more.
  • Be verbose, but not too verbose - Something too short will not tell people what you really mean and leaves a lot to be assumed (and assumptions are dangerous), but don't be too long, people will zone out and not really read what you are saying.
  • When quoting prior comments, use enough to make sure the context is there, but don't go quoting the whole thing if it is long.
  • Don't assume, ask - If you are nto clear on what someone meant, ask them to clarify it, but don't ask in a way that says you have already assumed the worst.
  • If you are trying to diffuse a situation, use soft words like "I think", "In my opinion", etc. Talk to the subject matter, not the method used to communicate it, picking at someone about their spelling is not productive.
  • Avoid logical fallacies, these weaken your argument and give strength to opposing views, I should probably list these, but that would make this article much longer, so I will work on another article just for fallacies.

Hopefully people will think about this a little and the world will be a little better. (Yeah I know, leave me my fantasy world...)

7 Mar 2011 12:00:00


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