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Dealing with Internet Trolls, Part II

How can you tell if you’re dealing with a real troll?

In Part I of this article, I cited definitive studies supporting the conclusion that Internet trolls are, indeed, horrible people. More specifically, they score high on the “Dark Triad” of narcissism, sadism and psychopathology (that latter, a profound lack of empathy for others).

Portrait of a Sophisticated Troll

How can you tell if you’re dealing with a troll–as opposed to a legitimately disgruntled customer or other individual just wanting to be heard?

Sophisticated trolls will often try to engage you with flattering feedback and bogus personal information designed to win your sympathy and establish trust. At first, they may ask innocent sounding questions. Then, when your guard is down, they’ll hit you with provocative, even libelous comments.

They won’t respond directly to any questions you may ask them. Instead, they talk around an issue, making it impossible to pin them down. In addition, trolls often use fake web addresses and fictitious online identities that lead nowhere.

Three Essential Troll Containment Guidelines

  • Surveys indicate that sixty percent of people ignore the attacker. If the attack is via email, with no social media audience witnessing it, that’s usually the best strategy, as the troll will then often move on to another target. In that situation, just document their posts and move on.
  • However, when there is an audience witnessing the situation, it’s better to deal with the attack in a matter of fact way: calling out their behavior by posting a comment something like: “Hey, folks, looks like we’re getting posts from a troll.” –If you have a unified online community, they’ll usually support you in dealing with the attacker.
  • Finally, never respond in a manner that engages the troll at their gutter level. This only gives the troll what they want–to engage them in an irrational, unwinnable argument. Much worse, your audience may then see you as just another troll, rather than the aggrieved party.

In my next and final installment of this article, I’ll discuss additional troll containment strategies, including the increasingly popular alternatives of censoring or entirely blocking online posts.


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