In Norse mythology, a troll is a humanoid being that dwells in isolated mountains, caves or under rocks. In the Middle Ages, the definition expanded to include giants, witches, ghosts or really ugly people. In Scandinavian mythology, trolls are old and strong but also slow, dim-witted man-eaters who turn to stone in the sunlight. J.R.R. Tolkien borrowed heavily from this for his epic tale of The Hobbit. Children’s stories like the Three Billy Goats Gruff show them as hideous, camouflaged tricksters that live under bridges. When I was a kid, a troll was a smiling, bug-eyed, naked figurine with neon colored hair. But despite centuries of myth and folklore, we knew that trolls weren’t real – until now.
There is one type of troll in existence today that is more fearsome and more loathsome than any literature. The Internet troll is a disgusting parasite that feeds on anger and frustration. Rather than hiding under bridges like their mythical ancestors, these trolls lurk in the comments section of any forum on the Internet like newspapers, blogs and even Facebook. They lie in wait for a topic worthy of their inflammatory, offensive and discordant comments and then attack. Internet trolls thrive on contention and take great joy in creating a hostile discussion. They wreak havoc wherever they go and they are multiplying at an astronomical rate. Something has to be done before it is too late.
Recently Dr. Tracy Everbach, an associate professor of journalism at the University of North Texas, argued that the comments for all journalism sites should just be abolished altogether. “You are just giving space to bigots and nuts,” she said in a discussion on her Facebook page. Several solutions were proposed including moderated comments, doing away with anonymous comments but each of those had their problems. Moderated comments take an incredible amount of time and effort to manage. The argument for disallowing anonymous comments didn’t fare much better as it is easy enough to use a fake name or create a fake social media profile to login with.
The Hunt Begins
I decided to test the waters myself and see if logic, reason and sound facts could thwart the trolls. I went to the Dallas Observer’s Unfair Park blog and logged in (their site allows users to create their own alias for anonymity). After reading through the first few comments, I quickly identified the baited comments from two potential trolls.
They were easy enough to identify since the topic was rape and their comments were demeaning and fairly low-brow. I replied with my rebuttal and the trolls were drawn in like flies to honey. They used every logical fallacy technique in the book including false analogies, half truths, non sequiturs, generalizations, post hoc arguments and more. When that failed, they relied on name calling and (my absolute favorite) the emotional woman with clouded judgment argument. I stood firm with facts, statistics, real-world scenarios, source links, and sound logic as I dismantled their arguments.
Alas, I discovered that resistance is indeed futile. Nothing worked and my attempts only made me more angry and frustrated adding fuel to their fire. Eventually, I realized that they would never bend because they weren’t interested in spirited debate or developing a deeper understanding of the world around them – they were only interested in pissing me off (along with every other woman reading the comments).
The lessons I learned in dealing with Internet trolls is this:
- Trolls usually travel alone but are quick to band together against a common enemy. In some situations, they can get very nasty and have even been known to wage a social media war on those who provoke them enough. Watch your back, don’t take on too many at once, and know when to just walk away.
- The only purpose served by posting in the comments is to state the facts and make a case for others to consider. It is not to win the argument or change the mind of a troll – that is impossible because they are only there to cause trouble.
- If you are going to have a comments section on your site, you will have to live with the reality of trolls. As the moderator, you can delete comments if they get too bad or shut down the discussion but that will not stop a true troll (see number 1).
- A comments section is not a necessary function and may be more headache than it’s worth. If you start seeing recurring, disrupting troll activity on your site, it might be time to shut down the comments feature completely. Ask yourself – is it really worth it?
- Internet Trolls: A Modern Fairytale (notanotherlemming.wordpress.com)
- Dealing with Trolls and Negative Comments (bizsugar.com)
- Troll Psychology: A discussion on ‘internet bullying’ (themarshallfiles.wordpress.com)