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You have probably heard various opinions about how to deal with people who write insulting or provocative remarks on various Internet forums (also known as "trolls" or people who "flame"). The most common is "Don't Feed the Trolls", which says that all the people in the forum should avoid responding to the troll. However, as you will see below, "Don't feed the trolls" is also a wrong and ineffective approach for dealing with trolls.

Luckily, I discovered a much better way to handle criticism in the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, which is an internationally best-selling self-help book by Dr. David D. Burns for learning how to deal with periods of clinical depression. The book teaches cognitive therapy, which was proven to be effective in dealing with a variety of mood disorders. The book has helped me a lot both in learning the cause of my psychological conditions, and in giving me tools to overcome them.

cover of Feeling Good

This post will focus on a certain chapter in the book called "Verbal Judo: learn to talk back when you're under the fire of criticism", as adapted by me to the world of online, Internet-based, communication. What this chapter does is instruct depressive people (and other people in general) how to properly handle criticisms from their peers. The super-executive summary for this post is: "On the Internet, don't be right - be smart."

One final note: I am not a mental health professional and this is not professional psychological advice. I believe anyone is allowed to give such insights from their knowledge and experience, just like everyone is allowed to give their opinion on computing or on legal matters, while stating the usual disclaimer. So don't blame me if this thing back-fires, and use your reason and judgement with what I'm saying here.

Case Study

Someone joins a Python IRC channel and says "Perl rocks my socks and Python sucks balls, LOL. Python programmers are incompetent imbecile losers, ROTFL…"

(I'm giving it about Python to avoid Perl-elitism on my part. I'm also using "him", "he" consistently, though the troll might be female. )

What not to do?

  1. Criticise his judgement:

    • "Python does not suck, and you are being rude."
    • "WTF are you saying? Everybody knows that Perl sucks."

    Saying sentences like that will likely irritate the troll further, will likely yield an even more aggressive response from the troll, and will only escalate the heat in the conversation.

  2. Don't feed the troll" - i.e: ignore him. Someone will "feed" him eventually and the troll may continue trolling and feeling he's right and superior, or alternatively that the Python people on the channel are being "jerks" for not responding.

  3. Ban him / call for banning him - a great way to create another enemy, and can also possibly start some "was it right to ban him" converations. Will also negatively contribute to the channel's atomsphere among the channel members.

    The troll may also prove to be a useful resource in the future, or can be taught to love Python eventually.

  4. Tell him not to troll. - you're labelling him, insulting him and making him feel like he's alienated. Some people may still respond harshly.

  5. Cancel the project, or close the channel - may seem very far-fetched but in a project I was involved in and made some suggestions which were perceived as annoying, I was told that they actually considered cancelling the project. Naturally, this is throwing the baby along with the bathwater, so you certainly must not do that.

What to do instead

So what should we do instead. It's very simple:

  1. Ask him what he means. ; interrogate him:

    • "Why do you feel that Python is so bad? What do you find wrong with it?"
  2. Agree with him (but use a softer language):

    • "Yes, Perl is a nice language, and I agree that Python has its downsides and/or trade-offs in comparison to Perl."
    • "It's OK to prefer Perl, we'll still accept you here."

    This will make the troll lose steam and help you find a common ground.

  3. And eventually negotiate a common ground: "Would you agree that some people like Perl better and some like Python better? (And some may like both equally.). Maybe you can still write Python code and be productive in it while still not in love with it. Who knows, maybe you'll even grow to like it. Feel free to stick around and ask questions."

(After I originally read that in Feeling Good, I immediately thought that it made immediate sense, and that it will likely work in most cases. However, later I thought that I probably would not have thought about it myself.)

Repeat that a few times and the troll will eventually calm down and will become more friendly and hospitable. Some people who've read a draft of this article claimed that such a person will probably troll further in the future, and so one should get rid of him as quickly as possible. While this may often be the case, one should understand that it is not always the case for all trolls. Moreover, you should learn to tolerate people that have some bad personality traits which you don't like, instead of deciding right away that you hate them and don't want to have anything to do with them. I have decided to do that, and often found these Internet people to be of some value, whether in entertainment, knowledge or technical help.

On the other hand, if you dismiss every one as a "troll" for any small problem, your community will not grow a lot and you'll leave people with a lot of bad taste in the mouth.


The rest of this post gives more useful advice for communicating with people who are making provocative statements, and can be read at your own leisure. After you've read that, you may wish to practice what was said here using role-playing, by one of the following scenarios:

  • Someone comes on a FreeBSD channel, and claims that Linux and the GPL have "won" and that the BSD licence and the BSD clones have no future.
  • Someone joins a channel of the GNU project and claims that the GPL licence is an "evil", anti-capitalistic and anti-commercial licence, that does a lot of harm to the open source world.
  • You are talking on a Perl channel, when someone joins and says that "Perl is dead".
  • You are chatting on a mailing list or chatroom dedicated to development of open-source software when someone says "Why are you people spending so much time making sure your programs run on Windows? One should prohibit running FOSS on Windows! Everyone should avoid porting their software to Windows? By providing Windows users with great FOSS software, you make sure Windows remains popular and are working against the cause."
  • You are discussing Emacs when someone joins and say "Emacs is a bloated operating system that lacks a good text editor. Only losers use it. vi FTW!".
  • You are on a Vim channel, when someone say "Everybody knows that vi sucks! Emacs is the only one true editor. Vi users are lamers.".

You can probably think of others.

Some Advice for Communicating with Trolls Properly

  1. Relax: don't worry if you don't get everything exactly right.

  2. Communicate clearly: write in the best spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalisation, idiomatic speech, etc. that you can, no matter how bad the troll's messages were in this respect.

    It may be a good idea to avoid too high or complicated words, because many foreign speakers of English often have poor English vocabulary.

  3. Don't criticise what he says directly or the way he says it (Style over substance etc.)

  4. Avoid logical fallacies: see the Nizkor project about them and the List of fallacies on the English wikipedia.

    Especially avoid ad hominem: "You're under age and much younger than me and not a lawyer, so you're not qualified to give your opinion about open-source licences."

  5. Be polite and friendly.

  6. Don't be too terse. Write coherently, and explain what you want.

    Proper human communication has a lot of redundancy, but people prefer it this way. Even in Information Theory, you cannot compress an arbitrary amount of data to a message which is too short.

    Short and Sweet Cartoon

  7. On the other hand, don't be too verbose, as people won't bother reading you. It may be better to put a claim and reiterate.

  8. If using E-mail, always do bottom-inline post and never top-post (unless you know better than that, which you probably don't). When top-posting, the one who responds can often reply not to the point or miss many important posts:

    1. Quote a selected message
    2. Disarm the troll using the methods above.
    3. Repeat.

    See the English Wikipedia article about posting style for more information.

  9. Don't selectively trim the message without leaving enough context.

  10. Don't mis-interpret or jump to conclusions - ask the troll what he means if you don't know.

  11. Try to avoid using aphorisms, proverbs, "famous" quotes, rhymes or verse etc. Instead use free-form, coherent speech and say what you want in your own words.

    The problem with aphorisms, and their ilk are that they tend to project authority, and usually backfire because a person intuitively knows that.

    Sometimes they may lead to an aphorism war or for "correcting" the aphorism or discussing its larger context and origins.

    All of these can sometimes spice up a friendly conversation and add humour to it, though, but your kilomterage may vary.

  12. Don't make fun of the troll. Respect him and try to avoid unnecessary humour. Be pleasant - not funny.

  13. Don't be rude; use soft words such as "I think", "I believe", "In my opinion", "I find that", etc.

  14. Don't label: "open-source and Creative Commons are Socialism" (So what if they are? They are still beneficial.)

  15. Always start the conversation with a "Hi [name-or-nick]," and possibly thank him for what he says or otherwise start with a compliment. This will better allow disarming him.

Further Reading

  1. "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated" by David D. Burns.
  2. "How to Protect Your Open Source Project From Poisonous People" - by Ben Collins-Sussman and Brian Fitzpatrick of Subversion fame. A Google Tech Talk - not sure if there are subtitles or a transcript.
  3. The Book "Producing Open Source Software" - by Karl Fogel (of CVS/Subversion fame).


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (Unported) (CC-by) or at your option any later version. Copyright © 2011, Shlomi Fish. CC-by is a common, permissive, free/libre/open licence for cultural works, which allows for almost unlimited use. See my interpretation and expectations from people who wish to build upon it (which I believe are pretty fair).

About the Author

Shlomi Fish is an Israeli software developer, essayist and humorist, who is passionate about open source, open content, and freedom and openness in general. He's been either trolling various online forums, or alternatively dealing with people who troll them, since he's been seriously involved in the Israeli and international open-source world.

Among his many sins, he can list writing many "farfetched" and avantgarde stories and screenplays, releasing a lot of open-source programs that he's not sure anyone besides him uses, adopting some programs and CPAN modules by other people that seem to be more popular, contributing to projects with many contributors (often not regularly), being called "passive-aggressive" and understanding that he is often over-domineering, regularly getting into undesirable psychomedical periods of being "hyper", (while lately deciding to openly admit it.), and writing many opinionated articles, essays and blog posts about various topics. He prides himself in being a geek, who is a person who is inclined in one or more creative or research endeavour, but does not have prejudice for or against either geek culture, popular culture or popular geek pseudo-culture. He chooses what he finds good and happens to like, not what other people consider as hip or trendy or passé. As such, he belongs to the empty set of people who like both Pink Floyd, as well as Shania Twain and Atomic Kitten (meow!).

Shlomi is interested in any contracts or commissions involving writing essays, blog posts or articles, or in publishing polished versions of his fictional stories or essays, or collections thereof, in print or E-book form. He can be contacted by various means, but please don't ask him to fix your computer or other personal help where an online forum will better do.


Update 1

I may have misunderstood the word "troll" to be anyone who is provocative, including by intending well (see the comments), although saying that a person is "trolling" or even "spamming" in this case may be commonplace now. I still think that even if it's a consciously malevolent troll, he can eventually lose steam and lose all the fun they wanted to have by using the techniques above. But this is just a hypothesis. See an insightful comment about that.

Update 2

A few people said that I shouldn't have given this advice because I too have made provocative statements (what was nicknamed "trolled") in several online forums in the past (while usually having good intentions). I admit this is the case, because I'm an opinionated man, who tends to want to fix "inefficiencies", and expresses his opinion a lot. However, that does not invalidate the fact that my advice may still be sound, and that you can also safely apply it to disarm me, when I'm being provocative. Or to sum up, often the "Pot calling the kettle black" accusation is a variation of the "Ad hominem to quoque" fallacy.

Update 3

IDEA.org has written a great follow-up post to this post and other posts by other people about how to deal with malevolent comments of various types, and also attempting to fully classify them.


( 70 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 6th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
While this may be sound advice for potentially amicable people with a disagreement... I can't see some scientist going onto Fox News armed with these tools coming out the victor. Some people only respect power.
Mar. 7th, 2011 05:34 am (UTC)
Actually while the newsmedia may try and edit/format you, My research on arguing indicates otherwise. The moral high ground you get out of trying to agree with someone and reach common ground can take the wind out of an opponent like Bill O'Reilly.
Speaking of fallacies - Nunio Bydnis - Mar. 7th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Speaking of fallacies - shlomif - Mar. 7th, 2011 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - r3ow - Mar. 8th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:04 am (UTC)
I think you might have mixed troll with an otherwise angry/disagreeing person.
All this is certainly good advice, when you figure the person isn't really a troll at all, but a person that just disagrees loudly. A person really trolling does not necessarily even believe the way he writes, he just writes it to provoke negative response. That's trolling. Just disagreeing (however loudly and/or "wrongly") isn't trolling at all.

Trolling is if somebody disagrees with something that's a known fact or otherwise claims to own/have done/seen something that is either clearly impossible or intentionally formatted so that it get's on the other person's nerves. ie. "PNGs don't support transparency at all you dumbf*ck!! lol!" When, clearly, they do.

Or, for example, if the "speaker" is a known vegetarian, comment something like "you wouldn't know that grasseater, rofl" or along those lines.

If, however, this entire article was a troll, you had me, my bad :)
Mar. 7th, 2011 03:12 am (UTC)
Re: I think you might have mixed troll with an otherwise angry/disagreeing person.
^ this
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:46 am (UTC)
Won't Handle All of Them
A soft approach, might work with reasonable people. But how many trolls, or even abrasive commenters, are reasonable?

Case 1: Exceedingly verbose, off-topic poster. Needs a blog of his own, but knows nobody would read it. Dumps in your space instead.

Case 2: Some form of faith-based personality. Not amenable to reason. Just keeps pounding the same POV and isn't influenced.

Case 3: Must win at all costs. google Erik Naggum.
Mar. 7th, 2011 04:06 am (UTC)
Re: Won't Handle All of Them
All people are reasonable at some level. They just may not follow the same "reasonable" that you do, or they may be deliberately appearing unreasonable. That's the same for trolls "doing it for the lulz", as another commenter mentioned.

I have found even the most irritating people to be interesting when in private conversation. They all have their motives, and their particular way of viewing the world that has them act in a way that annoys the s--t out of me and others. And sometimes banning them is the best course of action, and they fully understand why they have been banned, and they are fine with that.
Jonathan Garrod
Mar. 7th, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)
Doesn't apply to trolls who are "Doing it for the lulz"
Anyone who is trolling to gain amusement for themselves and their friends by creating "Internet drama" is not going to be stopped by these methods. The best course of action in this case is just to ignore them and hope they get bored enough to go back to refreshing 4chan.
Mar. 7th, 2011 02:59 am (UTC)
Re: Doesn't apply to trolls who are "Doing it for the lulz"
The trouble is telling the difference between mere hecklers and lifestyle trolls quickly and effectively. Sometimes you can; sometimes you really can't.

The most effective dealing with a lifestyle troll I ever saw was a project leader of mine when someone came into channel with a bunch of really obnoxious questions of the "have you stopped beating your wife yet" sort, in the middle of an attack on the server. She calmly told the person that unfortunately they'd joined during a massive attack on the server, and that their questions were near-identical to the content of the attack, and if they were a real person interested in the project, she apologized deeply, and if they were, they would be welcome to come back at a better time, but since it was impossible to distinguish them from the trolls at this time, they were being booted from the channel. She was amazingly patient and classy, and I would really like to grow up to be her.
Mar. 7th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC)
Fixing internet comments
This is a really good post. Dr. David Burns originally developed the verbal judo techniques to deal with hecklers. Most internet commenters are probably mentally ill, so learning from a psychiatrist about how to respond to them is an effective approach. I wrote a related post about some similar ways to fix comments on the web:
Mar. 7th, 2011 09:26 am (UTC)
Re: Fixing internet comments


Thanks for your comment. Here's a hyperlink to the article, which I'll read soon.

Re: Fixing internet comments - Nunio Bydnis - Mar. 7th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fixing internet comments - dyonas - Mar. 7th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fixing internet comments - snydr - Mar. 7th, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fixing internet comments - kairi_kiss - Mar. 7th, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fixing internet comments - snydr - Mar. 7th, 2011 10:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fixing internet comments - shlomif - Mar. 8th, 2011 07:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fixing internet comments - snydr - Mar. 8th, 2011 05:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2011 03:33 am (UTC)
I wish this were at all practical, but you're confusing trolls with rational people.
Mar. 7th, 2011 04:02 am (UTC)
It only takes one
I have often had attempts to defuse a troll fail because someone else takes the bait. Then I am ignored, because the troll is getting what he was looking for, and doesn't need to reply to me.

I'm thinking that a possible approach in those cases might be to ban the troll, but at the same time open up another avenue of direct conversation, like email or private message. And I would make it clear that I intend to unban him after the conversation, but I want to have the conversation first.
Mar. 7th, 2011 04:23 am (UTC)
conversations are ephemeral, internet is forever
you can do a lot to mollify unreasonable people in real life by even agreeing with them on things that you are absolutely opposed to, just to get out of a situation where you have to further your convo with them.

but on the internet, if you assuage someone by agreeing with them, your opinion is there forever and is as likely to make you look as bad or worse than the troll.

on the internet, there is no need to play nice with trolls. ban them. period. or if not ban worthy, ignore them. indeed, don't feed the trolls.

when the forum is reviewed in the future, it will be clearly apparent who the reasonable people are and who the trolls are.

muddying this distinction by playing nice makes ZERO sense.
Mar. 7th, 2011 04:53 am (UTC)

This is simply wrong. You don't stop a troll by saying ANYTHING to them. There is no way to 'calm them down' or draw them out. They are specifically there to elicit reactions, flamewars, and devastation, preferably the collapse of the forum on which they post. The majority of them don't even hang around to engage, or even read the responses other than to see that there ARE responses.

You stop a troll by having their accounts removed, or possibly by a high-powered rifle if you don't care about consequences. Anything else, you're simply playing their game. And as in "War Games", "The only way to win... is not to play."
Mar. 7th, 2011 06:05 am (UTC)
Author is confused
the author has incorrectly latched onto the wrong meaning of troll. A troll is not someone you can "negotiate" with, A troll doesn't even need to believe what they write, a troll is a person posting purely to elicit responses from others and simply by responding the troll has already won, hence the term "don't feed the troll" as no matter what you say he has won by eliciting a response from you.

The best trolls are not even abusive or inflammatory in nature they design their posts to pit 2 groups of people against each other.
for example if I wanted to troll a games console forum I could post something like

"hey guys, I am new to consoles and am trying to decide between buying a PS3 and an Xbox, I know the PS3 has a better CPU but the Xbox has better Graphics capabilities and wanted to know which you recommend and why". The entire intention is to get responses be they calm and collected or abusive and irrational, The only way for a troll to lose is to not receive a response.
Mar. 7th, 2011 10:00 am (UTC)
Re: Author is confused
Hi gromit73,

maybe I misunderstood the original meaning of Internet troll, but lately, it came to also mean someone who has good intentions, but can still provoke strong responses. For example, what I've written to the Linux kernel mailing list (LKML) where I asked them to consider implementing two software management-related changes (although I admit in a provocative tone). In a typical way that many Internet people handle criticism, the thread was killed for being "flame fodder", and I was repetitively banned from the kernel.org domains, which prevented me from doing more technical tasks, such as getting a patch I've written to the kernel incorporated, overcome a certain strange networking bug, and find a champion for the git version control system on the Better SCM site. See my yet unsent letter about several requests from the vger.kernel.org admins.

Where was I? I meant that many people appear to be provocative, while still having good intentions. Moreover, even the fully malevolent trolls, will not be able to play along for a long time, if you answer in an interrogative or defensive tone.

All that put aside, my post was not intended to be "The Absolute Truth", and the end-all-and-be-all of advice, but rather as a stepping stone in the never-ending path to the human race's enlightenment. Like any good philosopher-wannabe, I expect other people to build upon this, oppose this, and synthesise stuff based on it.
Re: Author is confused - gromit73 - Mar. 7th, 2011 10:19 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Author is confused - Dave Saunders - Mar. 7th, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Author is confused - seawasp - Mar. 7th, 2011 12:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Author is confused - nancylebov - Mar. 8th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Author is confused - seawasp - Mar. 8th, 2011 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2011 06:10 am (UTC)
Rudimentary advice and abuse
I really think your missed the point of trolling. Let me illustrate the differences here:

"Relax: don't worry if you don't get everything exactly right."

I'm not here to make you relax, in fact my main motivation is to cause you to not be relaxed, to induce hypertension, stress, elevated heart rates, emotional responsiveness, and that leaves me in control. Just like you and your emotional calming techniques, you want control, right?

"Communicate clearly: write in the best spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalisation, idiomatic speech, etc. that you can, no matter how bad the troll's messages were in this respect."

But I haven't even started to insult you with my messy languistics and buddy talk that is how I talk when I don't mean anything I say except for my distal requirement to piss you off.

"It may be a good idea to avoid too high or complicated words..."

But that assumes you know any complicated words, or more importantly, the meaning of 'em complex words you might be usin'.

"Don't criticise what he says directly or the way he says it (Style over substance etc.)"

Oh man, you got me here. I mean, there's not much more to communicate these days except for personal attacks and emotional moosiness that leaves me feeling like a wet c'unt. It's what everyone wants to feel like anyway, just admit it. Verbal Judo or hot sezi seks, you ask yourself that question, alright!

"Avoid logical fallacies: see the Nizkor project about them and the List of fallacies on the English wikipedia."

Wipe something off your nose, dude. Now, if we bring up fallacies, we might want to get into the right position. You know what I mean, don't you?

Okay, I am not going to even reply to the following implied indecent underage stuff:
Especially avoid ad hominem: "You're under age and much younger than me and not a lawyer, so you're not qualified to give your opinion about open-source licences."

"Be polite and friendly."
Sounds naughty...

"If using E-mail, always do bottom-inline post and never top-post (unless you know better than that, which you probably don't). When top-posting, the one who responds can often reply not to the point or miss many important posts:"

Bottom-inline, are you serious? I never take it up the you know what... top or bottom, oh you dirty man!

"Disarm the troll using the methods above.
You sound like my shampoo and even it is slipperier when wet then you are!

"Don't selectively trim the message without leaving enough context."
Yeah, I was wondering if you were circumcised or not. Apparently not, thanks for explaining that.

"Don't mis-interpret or jump to conclusions - ask the troll what he means if you don't know."
I am not your pet, you hear me!

"Try to avoid using aphorisms, proverbs, "famous" quotes, rhymes or verse etc. Instead use free-form, coherent speech and say what you want in your own words."
Coherent, can I quote your mom on that?

"The problem with aphorisms, and their ilk are that they tend to project authority, and usually backfire because a person intuitively knows that."
Like you know the difference between a troll and your average intellectual snob? You might just be a troll yourself and not even know it. Yeah?

"Don't be rude; use soft words such as "I think", "I believe", "In my opinion", "I find that", etc."
Let me get my rubber on, then I won't be so rude... Oh please, seriously, if it wasn't for "I think, therefore I am" do you think you would even be here? Some mental massage and a little lube, that's all it takes to have a babe and get some genetics going.

"Don't label: "open-source and Creative Commons are Socialism" (So what if they are? They are still beneficial.)"
Labels? I only deal with categories these days, you need to update your lingo, try on some new memes.

"Always start the conversation with a "Hi [name-or-nick]," and possibly thank him for what he says or otherwise start with a compliment. This will better allow disarming him."

Assuming you want to disarm the poor fellow or girl... I like arming them so they can be better off after they get through with me, apparently you want to disarm everyone and push their emotional buttons until their bottoms are up and you're on top.

Swanky bastard, you!
Mar. 7th, 2011 09:30 am (UTC)
Re: Rudimentary advice and abuse

Hi wankison,

I didn't fully read your message, but it seems to be very funny. Thanks for sharing this.

Re: Rudimentary advice and abuse - vue_eclat - Mar. 7th, 2011 03:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Rudimentary advice and abuse - laurena33 - Oct. 21st, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 7th, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)
I always wondered what would be the best way to troll trolls.
Gary Johnson
Mar. 7th, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
This approach has merit
On the other hand, after a decent interval, I would ban an abuser.
I wish the title of Feeling Good had been, "How to think objectively". Subtitled, You need this book. Its a great book!
Mar. 7th, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
CBT is for people, not pundits
Burns' "verbal judo" is effective for actual conversations with people you care about and for disarming troublemakers who just want some attention.

Naturally it will never work in the spectacular environment that is Fox News (or any news program where pundits face off with each other). Those people aren't interested in dialog, they simply have to fill airtime with provocative blathering.
Mar. 7th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks for all the comments.

Hi all!

This is just a note to say thanks to all the people who have commented here. Lots of good stuff. You guys are great. It seems many people focus on the fact that by Internet trolls I mean people who say provocative things while still either being naïve or having good intentions, and not "professional" trolls who troll for the sake of trolling and to get attention. Though I believe that the technique I proposed will eventually detect such trolls more quickly. But I'm not sure about that. In any case, you can assume it's a known issue in the article (see the update at the end), and not to tread upon it to death.

Mar. 7th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
Speaking of trolls--
"Hi wankison,

"I didn't fully read your message, but it seems to be very funny. Thanks for sharing this."

If you haven't read it fully, yet felt the need to reply, then you've just admitted to trolling--

Further proven by the simple fact you do not allow comments upon your own disingenuous responses.
Mar. 7th, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Speaking of trolls--

Hi igabe! Thanks for your comment.

I admit that I may have admitted to trolling. I mentioned in the post that I've also been trolling some forums. Many people do at point. Just because I might troll sometimes, does not invalidate my advice regarding trolls (which may or may not be true).

I'm sorry I have not fully read your comment, as there many things I'd like to do other than read all past, present and future comments on my threads. (Hell, I kinda dread reading all the comments on the Slashdot page, despite the fact that I think I should eventually - guilt for the win).).

If you want me to admit that I will write provocative stuff in the future (not with malicious intentions, but still), fine - I'll admit it. "Pot calling the kettle black" and all. I suck, but at least I admit it. I'll try to improve next time.

Stay cool.

Re: Speaking of trolls-- - igabe - Mar. 7th, 2011 08:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Margie Octarin Lazou
Mar. 7th, 2011 11:52 pm (UTC)
Use the troll-spray. They usually go away once they get ridiculed and see they've lost the upper hand. Big, nice, clean troll-spray image mid-thread is a sure-fire deterrent.

Trolls aren't people inept at communication. They are people who actively seek to disrupt the flow of a thread, post negative and derogatory remarks just to witness the indignation, even without actually agreeing, but just for fun. If you deprive them from the reason they do it, they probably stop doing it. If you spray them, aka, turn their own ridiculing around and towards them, they leave. Some even actually say fair enough, cheers, cool thread. And leave.

Don't get so overwhelmed and obsessed by something so simple, trolls are simple. Try addressing internet stalking instead.
Mar. 8th, 2011 05:18 am (UTC)
'Malevolent trolls' vs 'information seekers' or 'honestly opinionated debaters'
So I'm a channel operator in a fairly large freenode channel, and I can totally see what you're saying here. In fact we consciously structured our channels to use this algorithm wherever possible.

A huge problem in my mind is that a lot of people get labelled as 'malevolent trolls' (that is, people who intentionally say wrong or controversial things just to stir up reactions). Not all of them are in fact malevolent trolls; a fair number really are something else.

It's the motivation that matters. A malevolent troll really does want to provoke vehement reactions and sow discord.

Information seekers are sometimes mistaken for malevolent trolls, primarily because they lack information that others in the channel either cannot imagine anyone not knowing, or because or language difficulties, or both. And sadly, pretended ignorance is a tactic used by a number of malevolent trolls.

And then we have the 'honestly opinionated debater,' (HOD) very common on IRC. Often this personality type is a bit evangelistic, wants to spread the word about something the HOD genuinely finds superior. Yet the HOD has a tendency to oversimplify opposing viewpoints, or not be aware of reasons others may prefer things the HOD considers suboptimal. It's important to understand that the HOD doesn't intend to sow misinformation and/or discord, though often succeeds at doing so anyway, no matter how well intentioned.

Both of the above personalities are very amenable to the tactics you describe. They can be reasoned with; at heart they intend to be reasonable. But the malevolent troll has no such intention. He started out with the intention to sow discord, and this will conflict with (and usually overcome) any intentions of being reasonable. So attempts to be reasonable with such a troll tend to fail; they become nothing more than a contest to see who can outlast who in the 'dialog for supremacy'. Meanwhile, other discussions suffer while the contest grinds on, and on, and on.

Once having diagnosed a truly malevolent troll, I do believe in reverting to the common anti-troll wisdom: deny nutrition. With a ban or mute if you have privileges to do so, and with an ignore command if you don't. Sometimes the malevolent troll can be reasoned with privately and convinced to see the error of his ways (or at least to troll elsewhere), but to force all forum/channel denizens to sit through this remedial course in basic human decency is a waste of their time.

Thanks, Shlomi, for the interesting observations and discussion!
Mar. 8th, 2011 05:54 am (UTC)
Re: 'Malevolent trolls' vs 'information seekers' or 'honestly opinionated debaters'

Hi, quux!

Just to note that it's a great comment and I feel you are right and I couldn't have said it better myself. I'll probably link to it from the main post. Thanks!

Lennart Denninger
Mar. 8th, 2011 11:25 am (UTC)
Typical example of someing who thinks they're smart because they're a Dr.
Calling yourself Dr. doesn't make you smart, Slomifish.
You are not above God's law, and God's law says an eye for an eye. So iff trollers start trolling then you better not relax but troll them right back in Jesus name.
Mar. 8th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Typical example of someing who thinks they're smart because they're a Dr.

Hi Mr. Denninger, thanks for your comment.

First of all, I never called myself Dr. and am not a doctor (at least not yet). I only have a Bachelor of Sciences (and in Electrical Engineering, though I'm really more of a software developer by profession). I don't rule out that I'll work on getting a Ph.D one day, but until then I never claimed to be a doctor. What is true is that David Burns is a qualified Medical Doctor (M.D.) and also a well-known and experienced psychotherapist and psychiatrist, and the author of some best-selling books including the book "Feeling Good", which I mention there. I've read this book and found it highly enlightening and helpful, and decided to share some of the insights from the book here for enlightening the rest of the Internet, who may not had that knowledge due to ignorance. Like I said, I do not claim to be an expert in psychotherapy, I'm just giving free advice without any warranties or guarantees.

That put aside, as desirable as your faith in Christianity may be (and I'm talking as someone who used to be an Atheist and still am not very fond of most institutional or political religions), you should understand that in real-life, one should not take what the Bible says as hard-written laws, but rather as general guidelines for enlightenment. An "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" is a good guideline for punishing criminals based on their crime. I.e: a 10-year old who downloaded a single copyrighted song from YouTube, which can be bought for less than a dollar on online music shops (and which some may argue is not a crime in the first place), should not be punished as much as a gang of professional robbers who robbed a bank for a million dollar in real money.

However, if you apply this to a case when someone criticises you, you're likely to just escalate the criticism very quickly. And if I recall, Jesus said you should "turn the other cheek", which may be more the right way to do here (I'm not a Christian, of course, but I don't automatically reject everything in any Christian philosophy, just because it is Christian.). Anyway, from my experience it's hard to lead your life based on any single philosophy or law-book, because life brings complex and previously unencountered situations, where we must use our own reason, logic, and judgement.

Like I said at the beginning, "Don't be right - be smart." - it's more important to have a great atmosphere and have a lot of fun, than it is to "win" the debate. I hope you understand.

(All of this is assuming this was not some silly "trollbait", in which case I suggest everyone to not respond after Mr. Denninger's response to this comment.)

Mar. 8th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
Not Worth the Effort
Therapy and public forum discussions are two very different cups of tea. I doubt it's worth the effort to try to better the troll. Your approach gives him attention - which is exactly what keeps him going. Staying calm and not feeding is the most reasonable advice IMHO.
Mar. 8th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
Hi-- I agree about the distinction between malevolent trolls and people who are annoying but basically of good will.

Back on usenet, I turned a couple of the latter around by politely replying to content and ignoring the insults. Eventually, they figured out that they were getting attention for content, and dropped the insults.

This was pretty hard work, though-- I felt like I had to keep passing the Turing Test even when the other person was being robotic.

On the other hand, I did see a malevolent troll driven away for a while-- some of the posters came up with what I called a fluff barrage. They would pick up on one word from one of his posts, and use it as a springboard for several paragraphs of boring but pleasant material. Memories of childhood crayons and such. Or duller than that.

Since he was a drama junkie, he was eventually bored into leaving. Unfortunately, someone eventually mentioned his name and he came back-- the energy for the fluff barrage wasn't there and he wrecked the group.
Mar. 8th, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
They had that method fully automated ages ago :-)
On Emacs: M-x doctor

I am the psychotherapist. Please, describe your problems. Each time
you are finished talking, type RET twice.

Perl rocks my socks and Python sucks balls, LOL.
Python programmers are incompetent imbecile losers, ROTFL…

Why do you say python programmers are incompetent imbecile losers

Rain Wilber
Mar. 9th, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
join the game
First, the term "troll" is the stupidest thing I've heard. Why not just play along and finish em' off in the conversation, otherwise you are admitting that they "may have a point", "may be right about something". Calling someone a troll is equal to saying "I am an arrogant, and no one is as smart as me"... that is why "trolls" appear in the first place, because there is so much arrogance, and like attracts like.
Mar. 9th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
Re: join the game


Yes, you're right that the word "trolls" sounds arrogant and I should have used a more accurate word, even though I've heard people refer to what I wrote as "trolling" or even to me as "a troll", to say nothing of calling some on-topic messages I've written "spam" only because they were sent to a mailing list. Since the post is already published, I cannot change it after the fact, and we'll have to tolerate it as a known bug in the article. I'll try to be careful from labeling such people "trolls" in the future, because it is indeed quite arrogant.

Mar. 9th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
Mean trolls vs. True believers
Thanks for your interesting post, and the discussion of different types of trolling among the comments. It got me thinking. I wrote a blog post this morning which differentiates mean trolls from true believers: bit.ly/dLkjsg at www.idea.org - It seems that for the malevolent trolls, DO NOT FEED, is still the right course of action. It's for the more sincere people (who are not often called trolls) that your advice comes into play.
Mar. 9th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Mean trolls vs. True believers

Hi IDEA_org,

First of all here is a direct hyperlink to your post so people can follow without copy-and-pasting. Next time, please preview the comment, and you should use HTML.

In any case, what you've written is a really great and comprehensive post. It appears to be well-written and well-researched. I've ran into many of such types of "malevolent" comments in the my blogs and those of other people. I think I'll add a link to it in another update on the main post.

Thanks for writing it and letting me know.

Re: Mean trolls vs. True believers - IDEA_org - Mar. 10th, 2011 05:06 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2011 01:08 pm (UTC)
Nonviolent Communication
I thoroughly recommend 'Nonviolent Communication' for all situations like this. See http://www.cnvc.org. For testimonials, go to http://en.nvcwiki.com and click on the link for 'quotes'. (I have no official affiliation.)

It is great for conflict resolution. Behind an individual's anger, criticisms and moral judgements, is a scared person who has a cause to promote or protect (think The Wizard of Oz). Understanding this, we are less likely to react with our own counter-criticisms and moral judgements, saving ourselves and others' stress and blood pressure levels. And too the waste of (often) pointless effort?

If nothing else, it enables us to get quickly to a point of agreeing to disagree, with minimum of fuss and hassle.

It shares a lot with Client-centered therapy/counselling ideas of the psychologist Carl Rogers.

Do yourself a favour and check it out!

All my take. (Ie not necessarily officially endorsed.)

'I have laboured carefully, not to mock, lament, or execrate, but to understand human actions; and to this end I have looked upon passions, such as love, hatred, anger, envy, ambition, pity, and the other perturbations of the mind, not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties, just as pertinent to it, as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like to the nature of the atmosphere, which phenomena, though inconvenient, are yet necessary, and have fixed causes, by means of which we endeavour to understand their nature, and the mind has just as much pleasure in viewing them aright, as in knowing such things as flatter the senses' - Baruch Spinoza
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