Internet trolls: feed them, ignore them, or embrace them?

January 23, 2014
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Internet trolls: good or bad

In the above video by the Idea Channel, Mike makes the argument for and against internet trolls, which we thought we would address with our own experiences. You’ve heard the phrase, “don’t feed the trolls,” but do they actually serve a purpose? Where does trolling end and harassment begin?

bar Internet trolls: feed them, ignore them, or embrace them?
First, we should consider that the idea of anonymity is fading online, so trolling behavior is often associated with a real person and their real name, so some trolls have become quiet over the years, while others have willingly taken on trolling in public under their real names. That said, most people that troll under their names are not sending death threats, rather being argumentative, which should be embraced to avoid the echo chamber. But when someone threatens violence or insults in an effort to bully, harass, or hurt others, the usefulness of their behavior diminishes.

Personally, I have both fed, ignored, and embraced trolls, but it depends on their intentions. Let’s examine:



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  • Feeding the trolls: I find myself giving trolls fodder with arguments that are not personal to me. Arguing over the merits of whether Twitter is valuable or not is not personal to me, and I don’t care if someone tells me I’m retarded (their words) for using Twitter. In this instance, I’m openly feeding the trolls and sometimes even provoking for fun. Consider it trolling the trolls. I’m okay with it, and they are too, and it’s kind of fun for all and we let off steam.
  • Ignoring the trolls: I get tagged in a lot of inappropriate stuff on Facebook and sometimes it’s funny, but other times, it is truly harmful to my reputation. Recently, someone posted an extremely racist photo and tagged me in it. I untagged myself and didn’t say anything, because with that particular troll, if I react, they’ll just get worse and start posting racist photos on my wall and so forth. I’ve found that in some instances, ignoring actually does make it go away, because they’re looking for a reaction. If they’re harassing my friends on my wall, I have to react (reprimand, unfollow, block, depending on the severity).
  • Embracing the trolls: you’re going to think I’m weird, but there are a few people I’ve met online through their trolling and I’ve actually become friends with them. Often, it’s political, and by not shutting out their opinion (although dripping with rude sarcasm and condescension), I have learned to see the bigger picture and I have honestly expanded my horizons and my thought patterns by being open to others’ opinions, even if they suck at delivering them.

And then, there is harassment

Trolling is one thing, harassment is another. Harassment can be a continued string of threats, or just one rude comment designed to hurt, but it is never called for, and never acceptable.

I once posted on Facebook a story about the declining number of death penalty cases in America, and I didn’t opine as to whether I thought that was good or not, but someone made an assumption. They began commenting that I was the reason crime in America is on the rise. I disagreed. They commented that I was a bad Republican. I asserted that I’m an Independent voter, and while I tend to be more conservative, I don’t believe in a correlation between taking the death penalty off of the table and increased crime.

So far, so good, right? Civil-ish discourse.

Then, he said that my inability to reason is why God killed our son.

…what?

Because I posted a news story from CNN in 2013 about death penalty cases, I deserved to have a stillborn son in 2004? He could have called me a moron and moved on, but he had to cross the line.

When people behave as such, it doesn’t further any conversation, expand any minds, or help anyone to see a bigger picture, it is only designed to make the troll feel better about themselves through abuse. I’ve never received any death threats, but I have been stalked, I’ve been harassed, and demeaned on a regular basis, and while much of it I ignore, there is literally no use for hurtful insults.

Tell us in the comments about a time that you were the victim of an internet troll who went too far.

Further reading

As Mike mentioned in the video, there is more reading and viewing on this topic:

AGBeat Chief Operating Officer: Lani, named 100 Most Influential, as well as 12 Most Influential Women in Blogging, Bashh Founder, Out and about in Austin A Lister, is a business and tech writer and startup consultant hailing from the great state of Texas in the city of Austin. As a digital native, Lani is immersed not only in advanced technologies and new media, but is also a stats nerd often buried in piles of reports. Lani is a proven leader, thoughtful speaker, and vested partner at AGBeat.


  • http://freetraffictip.com Tinu

    If they are true trolls, it’s highly unlikely that I will feed or embrace them. It’s more of an issue of bandwidth than anything else. Each little hole of unproductive time sucks a piece of my soul and sometimes money I could have earned, with it.

    But when people approach me with a controversial view that they actually want to debate, and not just call names or waste my time, if there’s the possibility that one of us may actually influence the other’s point of view, I engage. I’ve had online conversations with would-be racists, guys who were (mostly) pretending to be sexist to get attention,

    The comment that guy made about why you lost your son – the line he crosses is way in his rear view… that’s way over the line and it’s awful that this happened to you.

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