Attack of the trolls

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I know we’re in the 21st century and thus are far too sophisticated to believe in mythical creatures, but I am here to relay to you the real threat of today’s society. Lurking beneath the digital highway there be trolls.

For as long as there have been blogs, there have been trolls. A troll is a commenter who hangs around your blog for the sheer purpose of annoying and goading you and your other readers.

Trolling is quite different from merely being critical. Obviously, not all of your readers are going to agree with you about everything, but a troll’s comments will rarely have anything to do with the topic at hand. For example, say you review the film ‘Avatar’. Someone might comment that she thinks it is an overrated work and doesn’t understand why people like it so much. That’s not trolling. Even a comment as abrupt as “I’ve always hated that film” isn’t trolling, because, while it’s not particularly progressive, it’s at least an honest response to what you’ve written.

There is no blog that can’t benefit from a little debate. If a commenter disagrees, take a moment to really understand what they are saying and why. Sometimes you might be surprised at how much sense they make. Blogs thrive and die every day due to the kind of relationship one has with their readers. A troll, on the other hand, is not actually trying to debate anything. Their comments are entirely for provocation purposes. The target? Your work and anyone who supports it.

A troll might comment that he/she thinks films are stupid altogether and anyone who watches them is responsible for 9/11. They might comment that you yourself are a published idiot and it’s incredible anyone takes the time out of their lives to read what you write at all. This abuse and irrelevant comments may go on for days on end, derailing any discussion you are having at the time and perhaps even putting off people responding to your comment thread.

For these reasons, it’s best to simply delete comments by trolls. Sometimes it might be extremely tempting to get into an argument with one, as you think you have the vocabulary and finesse to embarrass them into silence, but any response will simply encourage them. Hence the popular advice: “Don’t feed the troll.”

Sometimes disagreements between regular readers can turn into trolling. For example, say that Rachael is a vegan who often comments on your recipe site. Say that Sam is another commenter, and in one comment thread he and Rachael get into a quarrel about the morality of eating things produced from animals. While this is not trolling, if Sam continues to pop up in the thread of every post Rachael comments on to try and pick a fight with her, then he’s turned to trolling. Ultimately, it’s your blog, so it’s up to you to decide when a particular commenter has become a bully.

Recently, the youth volunteering charity vInspired has launched a “lolz not trolls” campaign, asking young people to make a pledge not to troll after a survey reported that almost a third of respondents said that online trolling caused them to lose confidence in themselves.

The survey follows the publication of a US study that found that children who are bullied at school are at a higher risk of anxiety disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts as adults. This means that bullying during childhood has a profound effect on people’s ability to function as an adult. And in 2014, the majority of abuse and bullying takes place via the internet.

So, how can one respond to a troll without addressing it? Here are some suggested ways to combat online abuse from faceless aggressors:

1) Take action. Report the aggressor. Inform and urge the website owner to block any hateful or offensive comments coming from a certain account.

2) Change your passwords regularly. If you feel like prying eyes are watching your every move, you might want to choose stronger passwords to avoid someone hacking into your PC.

3) Temporarily deactivate your social media accounts. Exposing your life on social media has its risks. When trolls start commenting on your profile page you can choose to shut down the channels they use to contact you.

4) Ignore provocative comments. Don’t fuel the conversation the troll starts, it will make things worse. We’ve all tried it but, in the end, replying will only feed the bully’s hunger for attention.

5) Silence makes you look like an accomplice, or at the very least a coward, so contact the authorities. Whether you’re a victim or you know someone who is, don’t be afraid to tell your story to people who have the authority to ban such aggressive behaviour.

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