THE INTERWEB MAY be a force for political good (as a multitude of middle eastern ex-dictators can attest), but there is also a dark side to online life as cyber-bullied celebrity Charlotte Dawson’s case has sadly shown. Sitting in front of a PC, hiding behind an online pseudonym, some people feel sufficiently anonymous to begin behaving like complete ass-hats. These socially backward netizens are known throughout the online world as trolls.
Trolls might be better known as creatures from JRR Tolkien’s fevered imaginings, but online they can be incredibly unpleasant, and it is this ability to get a reaction from their intended victim that seems to fuel their often tactless and pointless behaviour. The sad truth however, is that trolls crave attention. Targeting a celeb means there’s often an extremely large numbers of people following any online exchange that they may engage in, and sadly, this (as Charlotte Dawson found out) means that the more attention a troll gets, the more vocal and nasty they become.
So now we know that trolls do actually exist beyond the fairy tale realm and that they are as bad a bunch of bastards online as they are in fairy tales, the burning issue becomes, what should one do if one is afflicted online by one of these online miscreants?
First things first, identify your troll. Some of the more advanced (retarded and/or psychotic) trolls tend to use multiple online identities to maximise their online bang per buck and to make it appear that they have more adherents than they really do. If the online platform you’re using allows you to see their IP address, you can easily find out if the multiple trolls making your online life hell are in fact the same zit-faced kid teen with an axe to grind after crawling out from under the digital equivalent of a bridge. Odds are that you’ll not be able to do this, but either way, knowing who the enemy is always makes for a good start.
The next (and most crucial) move is to publicly “out” trolls to your followers, who you should also encourage to block/ignore. Remember the golden rule: Never, ever, never feed a troll. If you give a troll the attention it craves, you’re only encouraging more deplorable online behaviour and making things worse for their next victim. By explaining to your followers that this person is a troll hell-bent on seeking an online fight is not only a good first step in undermining/deflating their pathetic egos, but will also allow you to take the moral high ground should any troll-like activities occur.
From there the logic is appealingly simple – starve a troll of attention and they’ll get bored, and hopefully depart and harass some other poor soul. And that’s the kicker – don’t engage with these online scumbags. Nothing fills a troll’s crazed mind with glee faster than seeing that they’ve got your attention and have scored an emotional direct hit. Even if you’re feeling hurt and/or shocked by something that’s been said, just remember the old adage that “while sticks and stones may break my bones, names can never hurt me”. So don’t reply, don’t even acknowledge that the troll exists. Rise above it. As tempting as a battle of words (or a flame war in online parlance) may seem, it won’t eliminate the troll, and will usually have the exact opposite effect, potentially attracting even more dysfunctional individuals for a troll feeding frenzy.
Having made sure that your followers know this person is a troll and as such should not be engaged with, your next move is to block or ban the troll. Doing this means that they can rant, rave and carry on as much as they like, but as you are blocking/ ignoring them, their baiting won’t have the desired effect as you (and hopefully most of your followers) will no longer see it. Before long they’ll get bored and move along to do their troll business elsewhere.
Once again, depending on which online platform you’re using, you may also be able to ban trolls via their IP addresses. As mentioned earlier, trolls often sign in under a variety of aliases, so name and email banning won’t always keep them at bay. Banning IP addresses (where possible) tends to be much more effective (assuming the troll isn’t savvy enough to spoof another IP address). Either way, the upshot here is that by banning/ignoring trolls, they’ll eventually get tired of the game and move on to bug someone else.
Don’t be a troll
As tempting as it may be to lob a hand grenade into an online conversation, think about how your comments will be received. Would you do this in a real life conversation if the people you were talking were standing in front of you? If you’ve got any doubts, then it might be an idea to adopt another tactic when engaging in conversation. It’s dangerously easy to forget that the text popping up on your computers screen actually being typed by people who have feelings as well as expectations around politeness and online behaviour.
Another trap for beginners is forgetting that online banter can also sometimes be mistaken or misinterpreted for rudeness. In real life a cutting (yet funny) remark can be delivered with a wry grin and a wink so that the intended recipients knows that taking the proverbial rather than being a shit. Sadly, when online, the extra non-verbal cues we take for granted in face to face conversation are not present, so it is incredibly easy to offend – even if it is unintentional. When listening to an online conversation assume good intentions, and when engaging in an online dialogue, make liberal use of emoticons such as the ubiquitous smiley face in online conversations. Either way, if you do offend (and it wasn’t intentional), be prepared to eat some humble pie and apologise. The only thing worse than being the victim of a troll, is being a troll. PAT PILCHER