How to Deal with Internet Trolls

Internet troll
Don't fall victim to an Internet troll. Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Are you active in social media? Do you have an Internet presence? If you have been online for a while, you're probably familiar with Internet trolls. These are the people who come out and attack folks who are willing and brave enough to put their opinions out there.

Who are the Trolls

Sometimes they're the people who seem the least likely to do such a thing. They may be the most mannerly people in person, but once they have the anonymity of the Internet, they throw their etiquette out the window.

Where are the Trolls

You'll find Internet trolls in a variety of places. Many book, movie, and music reviewers delight in starting trouble for the artists. Most politicians have to look over their shoulder to tamp down the dangers of trolls who thrive on half-truths and lies. Some of them are willing to attack the church with misrepresentations of something they know nothing about. You'll find them on forums, searching for victims who appear vulnerable.

What Trolls Do

These trolls like to send inflammatory messages to spark arguments and crazy-making drama. They'll stop at nothing to evoke anger and sometimes even tears.

What do you do when you're attacked by an Internet troll? The first time it happens, you might be tempted to explain yourself or try to calm things down. It won't be long before you realize you're only adding fuel to their inflammatory ways, and if you continue, things will blow up and they'll get what they want.

Internet trolls are obnoxious and abusive. Their goal is to make your life as miserable as theirs. I've experienced their malicious encounters, as I'm sure most people reading this have. It's a miserable thing to deal with.

Determine Whether or Not It's a Troll

Before you react, determine whether this is a troll or someone who is simply having a bad day.

One way to do this is to compliment the person and say that although you disagree with their comment, you appreciate their perspective. A reasonable person will agree to disagree and may even apologize for his or her behavior. A troll, on the other hand, will continue provoking with inflammatory comments that may escalate until they get what they're looking for.

10 Ways to Handle an Internet Troll

Here are some things you can do to decrease the impact a troll can have on your life:

  1. Understand who you're dealing with. Most Internet trolls thrive on drama, and if they create it, all the better. The worst of the trolls are psychopaths and narcissists who refuse to let others get away with having an opinion that differs from their own. When you know that you're not dealing with a normal, well-adjusted person, you'll be able to handle the situation in a calm manner.
  2. Ignore the disrespectful person. When someone posts disrespectful or mean comments designed to get an angry reaction from you, you can try ignoring them. This doesn't often work, but it can be a good first line of defense before you move on to something stronger.
  3. Understand that this is a no-win situation. Don't get into a discussion with an Internet troll because they don't think logically. They refuse to pay attention to reason. Even if you give in (actually, especially if you give in) just a little, they'll want more. 
  1. Resist the urge to reason with a troll. According to a "reformed troll," many of them do it out of boredom. Their own lives lack the stimulation they need to stay interested, so they stir up trouble. If you give them what they're looking for, it will only get worse, not better. Internet trolls don't care about reason. All they want is to bring you down and get a reaction. They'll say whatever is necessary to do this, and trying to reason with them is futile.
  2. Don't give them the attention they're seeking. Whether they feel ignored at their jobs or neglected by their families, they see themselves as not getting the attention they deserve. So they go online and find places to get the attention they want. It becomes like an itch they can't scratch, and once they get reactions from people, they keep doing their reprehensible deeds.
  1. Don't get angry. When a troll comes after you in the Internet, they're trying to get a negative response. Getting angry gives them what they want, and they'll continue their behavior as long as they get it. Most of us who have experienced the wrath of Internet trolls experience that blood-boiling moment when we feel like lashing out. If this happens to you, stop, step away from your computer, take a deep breath, and remember that any reaction from you is feeding the troll.
  2. Address the rest of the audience. If you feel the need to address the situation, don't speak directly to the troll in your comments, Instead, mention the situation to the group. You might write something like this: "I see that we have a troll among us. Let's continue our discussion in an adult, respectful manner." There may be more than one troll, but if the group is worth staying with, you'll find others who are in agreement with you.
  3. Vent to friends and people you trust. You may have been pushed to the limit, and you feel a rant coming on. Rather than directing it at the troll who will delight in anything you say, turn to a friend or someone else you trust and let them know you're about to let loose. Most people who care about you will offer their sympathy and maybe even tell you about their own experience with Internet trolls. It's important to know when to stop. Venting might make you feel better, but don't get too carried away, or that person you're talking to might turn around and run when she sees you coming. 
  4. Block the troll. When someone posts negative comments about you or something you say on social media, most of the time you have the power to block them. They might continue posting these things, but they lose some of their power when you can't see whatever it is. Eventually they'll move on to someone else, to find what they're looking for.
  5. Report the troll. If you are on a public forum or social media site with a moderator, report the troll. Most sites won't tolerate disrespectful comments from any of the participants, and they have the power to deal with them. No one has the right to threaten you or anyone you are associated with. If you ever feel as though you're in jeopardy or danger, report the troll to the police or someone who can protect you.

    Extra Caution for Children

    All of the above suggestions are for adults dealing with trolls. If you are a parent, protect your children from these awful people by keeping them off public forums. If they have to get online for a class, closely monitor their activity to make sure these trolling bullies don't attack them.

    Resist the urge to use reasoning and letting the troll know they are doing this to a child. They don't care, and the worst ones might take advantage of children's vulnerability. Report any alarming or illegal comments to the authorities who are better equipped to deal with threats than you are.