How I respond to trolling behavior when I see it depends on where it’s happening. These are my rules of thumb. I make exceptions at times but for the most part, these are the best ways I have found of dealing with it.
On My Own Blog
The first thing I do, if I have any question about a comment at all, is put the commenter’s IP address, username, and email address on the moderation list. I do it before I approve the comment, and before I respond. That way, I control whether or not their subsequent comments come through, and I control when they come though.
I have a policy that establishes a clear baseline for what is acceptable on my threads at Sourcerer. If a first comment is so egregious that I don’t want it on my thread at all, I remove it and flag that commenter for permanent moderation until I see what they are up to. If it doesn’t rise to that level, I still flag that person for moderation to pre-empt the possibility of someone stumbling into it, responding, and things getting out of hand while I am not looking.
Do not engage — This is the first and best way to avoid drama on the Internet and the only real proof against intentional trolling. If I am absolutely sure I am dealing with trolling behavior, I send the commenter’s subsequent comments straight to the spam folder and pretend the first one is not there, even if I allow it through. I am not above unceremoniously dumping comments in the trash without a word, but I try to do that only when people don’t respect my policy.
Leave a single reply and see what kind of response I get – I do this if I am not sure, but I don’t spend a lot of time on the comment and don’t try and address everything. I just pick out one idea to question or criticize, and above all, include something conciliatory. Habitual trollers love, love, love to run into people who agree with some of what they say, but not all. That is an opening of sorts, and they exploit it. Sometimes I let them have the opening just so they’ll give me more information about what they’re up to. I only do this on my own blog, or one where I am sure the owner won’t mind. Diana and I have had more than one private conversation about things happening on threads, and one or the other of us has said “give them a little more rope and let’s just see if they hang themselves.”
On Someone Else’s Blog
Do not engage is my first rule. I let the owner of the blog handle it, and I try to stay away from questioning motivations or making assumptions about malice vs. ignorance. If it looks like trolling, I just assume it is until I have more information to go on.
When I stumble into it, the genie is already out of the bottle, and I want to support whomever is dealing with it, I don’t start a new thread of conversation with the person who is trolling. I leave whomever is responding, short, encouraging comments that give the trolling-person little or nothing to latch onto, and I like all the comments on the thread except the trollish ones. I don’t intervene in the conversation because that only fuels the flames and sucks me into it right along with the other person.
For All Cases
Never fight fire with fire. Flame wars got their name for a reason. Be calm, point out errors, ask for evidence, and register disagreement as snarkily as you like. But don’t attack the person, and whatever you do, do not allow yourself to be baited into an emotional exchange or into spending a bunch of time addressing comments point-by-point. Unless you have a reason to do so (as I did recently), it is never a good idea to get into a point-by-point criticism duel with a person who is tossing things onto a thread two and three hundred words at a time. I’ll talk a little tomorrow about why I spent so much time arguing on that thread.
Next: How vulnerable are you? And can you spot the trolling?
(Since I am hosting the linky for #1000Speak, I have been asked to post my compassion post tomorrow a.m. to make the linky available to bloggers who are in the much earlier time zones than me, so the final installment of this series will run this afternoon.)