The Trouble with Trolls

A staple in fantasy lore and children fictional stories is the troll. An ugly and evil creature that eats little kids and goats. But there’s another kind of “troll” that exists in the real world. I’m talking about the trolls that lurk on forums and boards.  Wikipedia defines this “troll” as someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional or disciplinary response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

To be clear, I am NOT talking about someone who may disagree (even passionately disagree) with a topic or opinion you have. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m no stranger to engaging in or sparking provocative discussion and conversation. I have no problem with people who disagree with points of view I have. Those discussions make life interesting. But, there’s a way to do it where you’re not rude or mean-spirited. Trolls will tend to offer vapid comments like “that sucks,” or “you’re lame” or they’ll drop the F-bomb every now and then. Trolls basically suck.

My wife, Tasra, and I recently got an email from such an individual this week. We were honored to be on This Week in Photography with Frederick Van Johnson. We had a delightful interview that covered everything from our career history, social media, working as a husband and wife team, and Tasra’s foray into professional photography. The troll who contacted us sent a nasty email that seemed to come out of left field. We were at a loss as to why someone would go out of their way to send such an email in response to what really is such a neutral interview. We weren’t talking politics, or religion, or camera brands or what our favorite OS is. However, something we said really set this person off enough to shoot us that email.

Trolls seem to be alive and well.  World renown cinematographer and F-Stop Academy co-founder Philip Bloom recently posted a fun video shot with a pre-production Canon 7D. He got trolled by someone who basically said the video was lame and not a proper test of the camera (despite the fact Philip made a point to say this was not the real test, but just something he wanted to put up for fun). Celebrity portrait photograph Jeremy Cowart recently made a promo video for a great cause called Help-Portrait. Chase Jarvis blogged about it and some anonymous coward posted how Jeremy was just doing this to publicize himself and look pretty (Come on. Give me a friggin’ break). Last year I had someone send me a nasty email because he was upset with all the photographers I had on my podcast F-Stop Beyond (a podcast that is billed as a personal interview) who talked about their faith.

DEALING WITH TROLLS

Normally I would ignore such an email as the one Tasra and I got this week (see advice below). But, since this is a topic right in line with the kind of issues I discuss on this blog, and since I like to offer advice to y’all about such topics, this seemed like a great teaching opportunity.

Often times, trolls are people who in earnest may have valid points to make, but they just lack the social graces of making their points in a way that offers constructive criticism. It’s up to YOU to be the bigger person, look beyond their venom, and see if you can get to the heart of their response. If you can do that, and in such a way that can offer something of value to the other forum readers, you can turn a bad situation around. Sometimes, a troll is just a bitter person who wants nothing else but to make your life as bitter as theirs. And sometimes, trolls are people who are jealous.

Depending on how you interpret the “kind” of troll you’re dealing with, there are two main ways I suggest you reply to them. Admittedly, they are very hard to do, and I am NOT an expert at doing either. These are truly ideal ways to handle trolls:

  1. Kill Them with Kindness: if someone sends you a mean email, or posts a mean-spirited comment on a forum or blog post, try this method. With as much sincerity as possible, thank them for their input and try to acknowledge some part of their communication that may go to the heart of what they’re saying. Jeremy Cowart replied to his anonymous troll by be self-effacing (joking about his “pretty hair”) and addressing specifically some of the troll’s comments.  It seemed to work. This was a case where the troll had some points that had merit, but the way he made them rubbed people the wrong way and seemed rude. By addressing the heart of this person’s point, Jeremy was able to make some headway. They same anonymous person commented again and his/her comment the next time was significantly less nasty.
  2. Ignore Them: truthfully, most of the time the best thing to do about a troll is just to ignore him/her. These people often love the attention they get and if you reply to them (even if you try the “kill ’em with kindness” approach) you’ll just be adding fuel to the fire. In the case of the person who responded negatively to mine and Tasra’s TWiP interview, there really was nothing I could gain by replying to his email. He/she seemed to have a subjective hatred for how we came across, and there was no objective response that would change his/her feelings about us. There would be nothing to gain by engaging this individual in a conversation.

Have you had experiences with trolls? If so, how did you handle it and what was the outcome. Please share.

8 thoughts on “The Trouble with Trolls

  1. One my blogs was mentioned on one of the Adobe Killer Tips sites…I enjoyed the spike in traffic…and ignored all of the anonymous posts that were venomous. Envy is a sin that we all have to be careful not to give in to.

  2. Trolls most definitely do suck! Thanks Ron, for the insight. I've been trolled, especially when it comes to political discussion. I know politics are controversial, but hey, let's talk about the issues as civil Americans! Trolls really are an example of the dark side of social media. I guess it is the other side of transparency and “authenticity.” You get to see the good and bad people have to offer. I always call trolls out if I have the chance. I don't spend too much time on it, but if someone is disrespectful or rude to me, I'll let them know in a nice way, but stern. Trolls are the equivalent of someone coming up to you in a crowd and getting in your face and yelling obscenities and harsh words at you. It's a form of aggressive and abusive behavior.

  3. Thanks for sharing Ron. Until 5 mins ago, I thought I was the only one haunted by trolls! It seems that the more you put yourself out there to engage the larger community, the likelier it is to attract trolls. I have chosen to ignore them. One person even setup a bogus facebook identity, asked to be added as a friend and then flame me on my wall. Wow! The effort that he put in to spread his bitterness!No that I enjoy in what happened to you and Tasra..with the trolls and all that…but I am glad that you shared this. I don't feel alone.

  4. Ron, reading this reminded me of three rather golden rules that have worked for Cinevate and myself personally in the online world.1. Maintain impeccable manners online….always.2. Direct your energy towards folks who conduct themselves in a similar fashion, and who support what you do. This doesn't mean you should ignore valid criticism when it's rudely presented…but the rules govern how you will respond.3. In questions of ethics, if the outcome benefits all parties, then the behavior or action in question is almost certainly ethical. What I find 100% of the time is that people respect honesty and good manners online, and will often summarily dismiss your troll (online or personally) for what they represent.Cheers,Dennis Woodhttp://www.cinevate.com

  5. Ron, reading this reminded me of three rather golden rules that have worked for Cinevate and myself personally in the online world.1. Maintain impeccable manners online….always.2. Direct your energy towards folks who conduct themselves in a similar fashion, and who support what you do. This doesn't mean you should ignore valid criticism when it's rudely presented…but the rules govern how you will respond.3. In questions of ethics, if the outcome benefits all parties, then the behavior or action in question is almost certainly ethical. What I find 100% of the time is that people respect honesty and good manners online, and will often summarily dismiss your troll (online or personally) for what they represent.Cheers,Dennis Woodhttp://www.cinevate.com

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