The Right (and Wrong) Way to Deal With an Internet Troll

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Internet trolls, like broken iPhones and viral Facebook hoaxes, are an unfortunate fact of life in the tech-centric world we live in. Trolls inhabit the comments sections on every major website and social network (and all the minor ones, as well). Whether you frequent social networks, media sites, or discussion forums, you’ve undoubtedly come across a troll or two. Trolls take advantage of the anonymity provided by the internet to pick fights, disrupt productive discussions, and make inflammatory statements with no intention of engaging in a rational conversation.

Trolls are annoying, but ubiquitous. So it stands to reason that responsible internet citizens as a group know how to deal with trolls, right? In many cases, wrong. There are right and wrong ways to deal with internet trolls, whether they’re harassing you or disrupting the discussion at your favorite online hangout. Dealing with an internet troll requires a precise mix of ignoring somebody and not taking what they’re saying to heart. Read on to make sure that you know what to do if (or when) you next encounter a troll in the wild.

The right way to deal with an internet troll

1. Ignore them

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Man using smartphone | iStock

The best way to deal with an internet troll is simply to ignore their existence. Trolls generally aren’t hanging out on a forum or commenting on news articles to contribute relevant or rational statements. So if you see someone making confrontational comments, posting provocative statements, or trying to steer a discussion far off-topic, don’t engage. A troll isn’t there to learn about a topic, and you can’t reason with a troll. They’re trying to bait you into responding to them. Cut off the encounter before it begins by simply ignoring posts that were obviously authored by somebody with bad intentions.


2. Secretly mute them

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Bored man using laptop | iStock

Some people can ignore a troll and simply move on with their day. But for other people, it’s harder to just walk away from somebody who’s making irrational statements or trying to bait the members of an online community into an argument. If you’re having trouble simply ignoring an internet troll, another good tactic is to secretly mute them.
Make sure that you don’t see notifications when they comment on your posts. If you can, mute them so that you won’t see what they post, or hide their comments so that they won’t bother you.

There’s no sense in allowing your blood to boil each time a troll slams your favorite movie or tries to bait fellow forum users into the latest battle in the Android vs. iOS war. Muting an internet troll is a non-confrontational way to get someone’s posts out of your feed (and your face), while leaving them to peacefully (or non-peacefully) carry on with their own activity — at least until a moderator or somebody in a position of authority notices what’s going on.

The wrong way to deal with an internet troll

1. Talk to them

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One of the cardinal rules of internet survival is that you shouldn’t feed the troll. Starve the troll of attention, and they’ll stop trying to wreak havoc on your favorite discussion board and move elsewhere. But if you take the bait, you’ve already lost the war. Trolls are just waiting for somebody naive enough to come along and engage with them. It might seem harmless to reply to ask them to clarify a statement or explain their logic. But remember: This is an internet troll, and there is no logic. Keep your mouth shut and play dead until the troll has moved on.

2. Tell them to shut up

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Were you listening when we told you not to feed the troll? That goes double for you if you’re thinking about telling the troll to shut up. We get it: Internet trolls are supremely annoying. But their endgame is to poke, prod, provoke, and pester you into responding to them. (And that’s when things will get truly out of control.) No matter how annoying a troll is, under no circumstances is it wise to tell them to shut up or get lost. Even a simple comment asking them to stop or telling them to go away will just draw more attention to the exchange, and on some platforms, will give the troll a bigger audience — exactly what they want. The upshot? Don’t tell a troll to shut up. You’ve been warned.

3. Let them see that you’re censoring them

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People walking with man using smartphone | David Ramos/Getty Images

A great solution for dealing with an internet troll is to quietly mute them, which won’t draw attention to the fact that they’re really getting under your skin. But it’s a different animal altogether to visibly block them or otherwise let them know that you’re censoring them. You might be rid of the problem for the moment, but signaling to a troll that they’ve succeeded in ruining a discussion for you is a pretty strong guarantee that, if at all possible, they’re going to harass you again in the future. They may even follow you to a different thread or send you separate messages.

4. Try to convince them of their idiocy

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Are you listening? Don’t feed the troll. Especially not if what you’re trying to feed them is a dose of their own medicine by trying to convince them their logic is wrong or their rationale idiotic. Do trolls really believe all the dumb things they’re posting? Who knows, but this isn’t the time to find out. Whether you’re already stuck in a conversation with a troll or trying to figure out whether you should jump in, keep in mind that it never works to try to convince a troll why they’re wrong.

This isn’t a pursuit for which your leadership of the college debate team or your close reading or Aristotle’s Rhetoric prepared you. Do yourself a favor and save yourself from the epic conflict that’s sure to ensue and jump straight to the denouement. Which, in this case, involves you ignoring the troll and getting to walk away from the thread with your blood pressure at a healthy level and your dignity intact.

5. Demonstrate your outrage

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Man using smartphone and holding to-go beverage | iStock.com/Ridofranz

As if trying to reason with a troll weren’t bad enough, there’s an even worse way to deal with a troll: demonstrating how upset you are. Trolls speak in hyperbole, assume that the world (or at least the internet) revolves around them, act as if they’re entitled to everybody’s attention, and tend to make arguments very, very personal. All of those are infuriating — but it never pays to let a troll know how upset you are. We all tend to say things when we’re angry that we wouldn’t say in a more level-headed moment. Don’t give the troll the satisfaction of provoking you to that low, low point.

6. Give up and let them win

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Ultimately, what a troll wants is your energy and your attention. Don’t resign yourself to the troll’s presence and give them what they want. No matter how obnoxious someone is, you can’t take anything that a troll says personally. You’ll feel much better if you put the time and energy you have into conversations with people who want a productive exchange. Will the troll continue posting stupid comments and spreading misinformation? Perhaps. But you can’t correct everyone who’s wrong on the entire internet. Don’t let a troll sap your energy, and you’ve already won.