Dealing with trolls

There is still much talk in the skeptical community about “trolls” and what to do with them, most notably from Sam Harris. For those of you not familiar with the concept of trolling allow me to give a short introduction. On the Internet, a “troll” is someone who makes comments on forums/blog posts etc with the intent on disrupting discussion, usually winding people up. The “trolling” phenomena has been around since the early days of the Internet and persists until this day.

Trolling varies hugely in nature. It can be rather innocent and frivellous. For example, someone might read this blog, see that I support Norwich City, and leave a comment saying that Ipswich Town are a much better team in an attempt to rile me (of course that wouldn’t work right now as Norwich are in the Premier League and Ipswich have been linked with Emile Heskey). However, all too often it is completely vicious and repugnent, with people issuing rape threats and encouraging people to commit suicide. It’s serious stuff.

So, how to deal with trolls? It’s kind of hard to find any data on them (if it exists, please let me know). I’ve had an idea for a randomised double blinded controlled trial to test methods of combating trolls, but that’s another story. In the meantime, I’d like to illustrate exactly how I feel you should NOT deal with trolls through the medium of Rage comics:

Although it can be very tempting to engage with trolls, doing so will only cause you hassle. You are not going to teach them the error of their ways, and by giving them any sort of publicity you are giving them what they want, and this only encourages more trolls. The best thing to do is not engage with them at all.

Depending on the medium, you will have ways to report them. Although trolls can hide behind the anonymity provided by the Internet, there are ways of tracing them. If you are on a forum or blog, report them to an admin if you can. Users’ IP addresses can be tracked, and if the troll is stupid enough to not use a proxy then they can get banned.

I do speak from a small amount of personal experience on this issue. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember I went to Leeds Skeptics in the wake of them cancelling a talk by known misogynist Steve Moxon. We had a very interesting, thorough and open debate, which I decided to write up. Ophelia Benson at FreeThought Blogs picked up on it, and linked to my blog. A few commenters flew in, and left some comments which were largely unconstructive dismissive statements or just plain insults. Rather than feeding these people who I considered to be trolls, I simply didn’t publish the comments. None of them came back screaming “WHY DIDN’T YOU PUBLISH MY COMMENT?!?” and no-one aimed accusations of censorship at me. This is my blog, and I will moderate the comments as I see fit. The Heresy Club have spelled out their policy, and for future reference mine is pretty much the same.

To sum up, I’ve come up with another Rage comic which shows how I deal with trolls, I suggest you do the same.

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