There Be Trolls In That Blog

August 10, 2011

They are everywhere.  Trolls.

In children’s stories, trolls are the creatures that live under footbridges or in swamps, waiting to attack hapless passers-by.

In the real world, they’re the people who sneak around blogs, waiting to attack hapless passers-by.

I attract the attention of a troll every once in a while here on the blog.  In fact, I had one drop by on Monday.  I actually wish I got more, because I always find them amusing.

Blog trolls are important because they can teach a lot about the real world.  Even if you’ll never have to defend your honor against a blog troll, you may have to learn how to handle and tame a real life troll.  And that’s a skill that everyone needs.

Troll Behavior 101

It turns out that trolls, much like bears, seem to operate on pure instincts, and if they are studied carefully, you can learn their behavioral patterns.

First of all, trolls found in the wild are usually not interested in conversation.  They only have one thing in mind: to attack strangers.

Take Monday’s specimen, a troll whose avatar was a pair of piously praying hands.  It opened up conversation with me this way:

“Trained as a pastor? Wow. Lucky you. I figured it was a calling, but you have made it a career option.”

Notice how the troll didn’t bother to learn anything about me to know how absurd its attacks are to me.  Plus, I’m protected by my impervious “like I give a damn” armor, so its barbs bounced off me while I laughed like a pirate.  Similar to this, a troll in March attacked me with all the subtlety and grammar of a poo flinging chimp:

“I truly doubt your faith to Christianity as a religion.”

This of course is the bait that the troll uses to lure you into its crudely designed troll trap.  As soon as you defend yourself, the troll throws up its hands in feigned bewilderment, as if it didn’t expect a conflict:

“LOL! Kinda thin-skinned, are we?”

“Wow dude, way to attack me. That’s so Christian of you.”

Sometimes, another well meaning commenter might find himself ensnared by the troll…

“Whining girl is more like it…Way to come to Matt’s defense. Whiner.”

I laughed out loud for several minutes at a troll that calls someone “whining girl.”  As they heap on fresh criticisms, calling you a “failure” or accusing you of “spreading hate,” the cycle continues, and logic deteriorates, until you decide you’ve wasted enough of your time.  Like I said, always amusing.

Troll Defense 101

Trying to make a troll hug and kiss you never pays.  I have never seen a troll, in real life or on a blog who could be convinced that I was a decent human being.  I have seen real life trolls attack people for years.  Once trolls get that idea that they hate you, they are going to resist ever changing their minds.

Why?  Because changing their minds would require that they admit they were wrong.  That breaks the cardinal rule of trolling.  And in that way, trolls are much like people.

What is there to do?  Take an honest look in the mirror.  Do what you can to honestly admit your shortcomings and improve yourself.  And don’t waste your time explaining yourself to trolls.  Let them worry about all your additional faults.

Or you can just play dead.

Trolling Doesn’t Pay

Here’s the thing, even if you’ve never trolled on a blog or message board, you’ve had people in your life who you’ve wanted to attack and criticize.  You’ve wanted to tell them all the ways they are wrong and you are right, and really put them in their place.  Some people like to troll in public, make signs and tell people they’re going to hell.  Some people don’t have to leave their own home to do some trolling.

But when you indulge your inner troll, what are people going to do?  Defend themselves.

They are going to justify themselves, dig their heels in and tell themselves that they must be right and you, the idiot troll, must be wrong.  They end up being more convinced of their own rightness than ever.  I did it too.  As soon as the troll attacked me, I justified myself against anything it said.

I think half the reason that the world is in this mess we call the 21st century is because half of us are trolls, and the other half are digging in their heels and sticking with their stupid ideas.  It doesn’t matter how smart you are.  No one listens to a troll.

So there you go, some big life lessons, all thanks to the humble blog troll.  So tell us your stories of valor and bravery in facing trolls, on your blogs or in real life!  How do you deal with trolls?  Anyone dare to admit they are a troll in recovery?

38 responses to There Be Trolls In That Blog

  1. I wouldn’t call myself a “political activist,” but I was “politically active” at UCLA when it came to the issue of human trafficking. I was collecting signatures for a CA ballot initiative to strengthen human trafficking law in the busiest part of campus when a guy looked me in the face, said “I love sex trafficking!” and walked off.

    I had never wanted to physically hurt someone that badly in my entire life. Not even that other time when a UCLA football player told me to “F***k off.” But both times, I let the comments slide off my back. (And may have prayed that if they didn’t change their minds, that God would heap loads of vengeance on them.)

    My philosophy is that if you put your writing product out on the Internet, or you stand in the middle of UCLA with a clipboard- you have to say what you believe, believe what you say, dig in your heels, and don’t back down. When the haters and nay-sayers come, don’t become discouraged, but don’t become angry either. Stick by your message, and let that be that.

    • Amen. When you’re standing up for something as important as trafficking, you really have to dig in your heels. Those trolls followed the number 1 rule of troll behavior. They weren’t interested in you. They just wanted to attack you.

    • Right on, Jo. If you’re going to bother writing it, stand by it. If you don’t believe in what you’re standing for (or collecting signatures for) then you’re just wasting your time.

  2. I ignore the trolls in forums and on my blog. Fortunately, I don’t get many on my blog because I don’t usually have strong opinion posts. I don’t like confrontation or arguing, generally. Once in awhile I’ll be in the mood to argue, but it’s rare. I just “step over” their traps. I used to run into trolls all the time on the My Space discussions–very annoying and no longer go there.

  3. “Half of us are trolls.” – sobering!

    I have had many trolls over the years, that is one reason I moderate my comments. I don’t mind opposing viewpoints at all, that is one the great things about blogs, and one of the reasons that I like the platform so much. There was one a year or so ago, I told him that even if he hated Jesus, that both Jesus and I would love him. I gave the address to my church, and mentioned that it is handicap accessible. He never returned.

    Life is full of people that disagree with me – that is part of it. It also has people that try to annoy me for no good reason, John Kerry, Barney Frank, and Sean Hannity and just to name a few. I live and drive in Boston, so trolls are nothing compared to finger waving road rage.

    I have never had the time to purposely try to annoy people, it comes naturally.

    Maybe I am just old, but I had to ask my 20-something at dinner the other night, what is a “douchecanoe?”

    • So, what is a douchecanoe? I didn’t know what it was either.

      • She sort of laughed, rolled her eyes and siad, “oh dad!” The 7-year-old piped up from the other room, “what are you talking about? I want a canoe, well, or a kyack!”

        I never did get an answer.

    • LOL I had to look that up just now. To spare you the cesspool that is urbandictionary, here’s the best definition I found:

      “A person that is so douchey, said douchey-ness travels cross bodies of water.”

  4. I think you’re talking about my first wif3e here.

  5. Just delete their comment and say not one word. I do it all the time.

  6. Spam my friend….spam…
    and of course a little LOL! lol…

  7. Read Perry Noble’s blog piece called “the difference between a coach and a critic.” Very powerful insight. I wrote a blog about snake handlers and a snake handler called me faithless. Consider the source. BTW, at least i am still alive to blog Mr. snake handler!!!!!

  8. Spot-on, Matt. Loved the part about laughing like a pirate. Wish I could have heard you. 😉

    • Me too, when I read that, I had to try it out loud – glad I’m reading this alone. My husband thinks I’m crazy enough.

      • I thought that line about laughing like a pirate was clever! I thought about trying it (and I’m alone!) but decided not to. When I read that you did it, and that I wasn’t the only one who thought of it…I gave it a try and realized that I don’t sound like a pirate. And then I realized, I don’t know what a pirate sounds like!

  9. Man, I gotta figure out how to get enough traffic to attract trolls. I dream of being a troll hunter in my spare time!

  10. When dealing with Trolls, I believe “To delete or not to delete” is the main question. I do love when the occasion whacko finds my blog, it normally makes things a little more exciting. Plus, similarly to bears, Trolls often move on when they find someone more interesting to terrorize.

    Great post, Matt. Lots of practical advice, and a little bit of self-examination required.

  11. It’s so hard not to engage.

    My husband and I have been known to turn into trolls while having an argument. It starts about one thing but quickly turns into a defamation of character, which is what the troll on your last post did.

    Thank goodness, or more accurately, thank God, over the years I learned to be conscious of keeping the argument to the case at hand and avoiding bringing in other issues.

    My church is going through some major upsets and I’ve seen several people engage in manipulative behaviour on FB. Immature at worst, as much as I want to respond, I’ve actually blocked those people so I don’t see it anymore and the temptation to ‘set the record straight’ is gone. As you said, people like that don’t want to be corrected.

    • I think you hit it on the mark: it’s hard not to engage. When we engage, we focus on the fight, on the other person. We lose the reason why we wrote that blog post, or the issue-behind-the-issue in a relationship or in the church. Sometimes we need to dig to get to the root cause. And sometimes, as with your church’s FB’ing, we need to walk away. Sounds like a good call on your part.

  12. I haven’t had to deal with trolls on my blog yet, probably because I am such a wimp when it comes to anything confrontational. However, I’m working on a series of posts for next month that may change things–if anyone actually reads them!

    One of the things I love about your blog, Matt, is that everyone is so respectful of one another. This is the only blog where I read not only the post but all the comments as well.

  13. When I see a troll I send them this:

    Works like a charm!

  14. Let’s say the internet is like a bridge. A very large bridge that allows you to travel all over the place. People often cross that bridge and comment on the lovely things they see and the questions raised by what they see. It is a lovely thing, this bridge.

    Unfortunately, the bridge is so big that it allows all kinds of people to hide underneath it. Lurking. Sneaking. Slowly devolving from the glorious human they once were into . . . a TROLL!!

    That’s about all I got for that one.

  15. I have not really been much of a troll … since Christ got a hold of me. Before the internet was the bees-knees (and before I began my walk with the Big Guy), I was one of those annoying brats who would stir up things just because I could. I took being a peace-maker very literally later.

    I have had two trolls over at my blog. For one I had to delete the comments, as I would rather have a family-friendly site (I know some of my younger cousins and young friends from church read my blog from time to time). The other I kindly replied, just in case anyone got the wrong idea based on their baseless attack.

    I try to live by Proverbs 26:4-5 about answering fools. Sometimes ignore (and/or delete), sometimes respond. We should try to do it in love, too!

    Good work, Matt!

  16. You know, the only time I got a really nasty comment was when I wrote a guest post for Stuff Christians Like. And I broke the cardinal rule. I engaged. I fought back. Believe it or not, the guy apologized. Maybe he wasn’t a real troll, just a guy that needed me to tell him how wrong he was. Which is something I’m always willing to do, but not in a public forum. If someone wants to attack me, fine. But they’d better provide a real identity and a way for me to respond. I’m not a fan of anonymous comments, especially nasty ones, which I consider the digital equivalent of putting a flaming bag of dog poop on someone’s front doorstep, ringing the doorbell and running away.

  17. Hello, Matt. I hope you read this and my comment doesn’t get lost. I have been dealing with someone blogging my real name and stuff about my children since March. I keep hoping he will stop. Sometimes he says nasty things about my 17-y-o son, other times he dedicates songs to him or writes an entire post about things like he’s having a party, can (my son’s name) show up… he will let my son punch him, ignore him and eat all the food but just please show up I’m begging you sort of thing. He goes to school with my son and is nasty b/c his friendship didn’t work out.

    He has my blog address. I feel like I can’t say what I want to on my blog or talk about what I am going through. It will only upset this guy and make him realize that it works and that I am afraid.

    He called my house about a month or so ago and I told him not to call again. Then his dad left a bible verse threat on my fb page. (You know, cause one of these little ones to sin, better you had a millstone tied around your neck and you were cast into the sea, you need to repent kinds of posts.)

    My older children sometimes like to go to church. Guess where he suddenly decided he needed to “find God.” Yep. Kansas City is a miiiighty big place, but somehow “God” led him where they go…

    All that to say, there is hope. I am hopeful. This “child” turned 18 and I no longer have to try to go through his crazy parents for help. If he directly threatens us again, at least we can go to the police. Maybe. If they listen (they haven’t before). He is starting to blog about another person (and get all obsessed about her, which means crisis diverted from US… maybe it is wrong to feel that way) and maybe over time he will stop.

    SOMETIMES it is hard to know what to do. Ok, thanks for listening and I feel better being able to say it even if I can’t speak freely on my own blog for the present moment. :)

    • This sounds very creepy and outside the “normal” boundaries of appropriate behavior. I pray this individual gets some help and for protection for your family.

    • Woah! That is ridiculous! I’ve never heard of such a thing. Yeah, I hope that situation gets resolved, and quickly.

      • Thank you, anonymous and Matt. It’s been pretty hard. Your troll is only funny b/c he hasn’t gotten dangerous, yk? Though do you ever wonder who it really is and whether it is someone you know when you get comments like these?

  18. Love this!
    The thought occurs to me that somehow people forget that those they disagree with or don’t care for are people with feelings, that deserve respect and care. How do you go about reclaiming that compassion in society?

  19. This Blog is stupid!

    You are stupid!