When a Troll Crosses the Invisible Line

downloadFor the most part, my voice on my blog posts is earnest and upbeat, with an occasional dash of sarcasm.  In my replies to people’s comments, however, I am 100% Ms. Positivity.  I’m friendly, chipper, and grateful (because seriously, if you’re not grateful that people took time to read what you wrote and leave a comment, you probably shouldn’t be blogging).  I’m very careful to stay away from outright controversy, and if I disagree with my commenters, it’s in the most diplomatic way possible, and I always try to find SOMETHING with which I agree.

However.  About a week ago, I got my first true troll.  If the term is new to you, a troll is Internet slang for “a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people,” according to good old Wikipedia.  My site’s obscurity has prevented me from attention seekers for five years, but a lovely boost I got a few weeks ago from being posted on a popular Facebook page has also brought the unpleasant task of dealing with people who are interested in fights, not conversation.

It was a very old post that this particular troll commented on.  In a span of four hours, he attempted to leave a string of five long, bitterly caustic, self-contradictory, grammatically hideous comments.  He wrote with spectacular pomposity and condescension, which was a little amusing until I got to the insults.  He attacked the intelligence and discernment of both me and some of the people who had commented on my post, backing up his thin arguments with a whole lot of emotional intensity and King James Bible thumping.  In addition to being offensive, it was creepily obsessive–who has four hours in the middle of a weekday to spend picking apart ideas that were written years ago on an obscure high school teacher’s blog?

So I was in a conundrum, not just about this troll, but about future trolls as well.  What would be my philosophy and practice for dealing with people like this?

On the one hand, I welcome all ideas, especially those with which I disagree.  Blogs are a place for a Grand Conversation to develop in wonderfully discursive fashion.  Shouldn’t I allow everyone’s comments?  Shouldn’t even Mr. Troll be permitted to have his say?  I’ll admit, however, that my primary motivation in considering whether or not to allow these comments was that I didn’t want him to think I was threatened by his ideas or had no answer for them.  For every bad argument he made, I had six devastating counter-arguments.

On the other hand, I think we all have an invisible line when it comes to what we’ll allow on our blogs, and I discovered where my invisible line was when Mr. Troll crossed it.

First, this is MY blog.  It’s not a private space, but it is a personal space.  I won’t allow it to be dominated and overrun by people who are only interested in listening to their own voices. Blogs are free; if anyone out there wants a venue for spewing complete nonsense, that person can register for his/her own WordPress account.  I’m pretty sure the URL http://www.spewingcompletenonsense.wordpress.com is free for the taking.

For another thing, while I welcome differing opinions and debate, I’m not okay with personal attacks or arguments made using intense negative emotion.  Those are just part of the rules of fair fighting that we should all have learned as kids.

And finally, while it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent, there are certain motivational markers that are red flags.  When it looks like a person is completely closed off to discussion and is not making a comment to continue a conversation but to get attention, stir up strife, or trample other people underfoot, it’s time to close the door.

So, how did I shut down this particular troll?  Well, I allowed the one comment that was the least offensive and was directed toward me rather than toward one of my commenters. And I deviated significantly from my voice: no more Ms. Positivity.  I let him know three things straight up: 1) his comments had not changed my mind about anything, 2) attempting to leave 5 long comments over 4 hours is weirdly obsessive, and 3) he should get his own blog.   For good measure, I told him to switch to the ESV (which may have been just a tiny bit spiteful).

It also made me realize that it was long past time to close comments on that particular post.

So these are my new parameters for identifying trolls.

1. Multiple long-winded comments

2. Personal attacks

3. Apparent motivation of attention-getting or strife-seeking

What are your parameters for trolls, fellow bloggers?  Have you discovered your invisible line yet?


7 thoughts on “When a Troll Crosses the Invisible Line

  1. “It’s not a private space, but it is a personal space.” I love the way you put that.
    I agree with how you handled the troll and I think it’s a good definition/example for those of us who haven’t experienced it.

  2. Emily, I know this post is old by now, but I came across it reading your comment and following your link at The Daily Post. I’ve only had one troll at my blog. No profanity, just an insane need to argue my point without logic, references, or examples.

    I tried reasoning with him twice, then told him I wouldn’t respond further unless he produced something concrete for me to address. He still kept posting with the same. I finally deleted his posts and blocked him from my blog, to my regret. In retrospect, I think I should have left his posts up so they would be visible to all. You live and learn, I suppose.

    Anyway, thanks for an excellent article and helpful advice!

    • Thanks, TC! What an interesting troll experience you had! It sounds like your troll had that same weirdly obsessive tone; that seems to be a common theme. In the past, I have tried to sincerely engage with everyone who comments on my blog, but it’s taken me a while to realize that not everyone is posting/commenting with that same level of sincerity. There are a few people who aren’t interested in a respectful conversation that (as you said) relies on logic, references, and examples–they seem to just want reactions.

      Glad you enjoyed the article; thanks for stopping by! I look forward to checking out your blog as well.

  3. Thank you so much for your well-written exploration. I came across this post in the comments section of an ethics discussion. I’m a new blogger, and haven’t had any trolls yet. Nevertheless, I find this exploration of the issues really helpful. I’m going to bookmark it, in case I need to refer to it someday! (ie, get noticed by the trolls.)

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting; so glad that you found my post helpful! (Incidentally, it normally doesn’t take me so long to reply, but I have been out of town.) Congrats on your new blog! Hope you’re enjoying that experience and the (mostly) wonderful community that comes with it! Yeah, I was slightly amazed that it took me five years of blogging before I got my first true troll. I look forward to checking out your blog! Happy posting!

      • Hey there! Thanks for following my blog! (A new follower is always such a rush.) And no worries, I had no time expectations about a reply… we’re all busy people and can’t be everywhere, right? And yes, I am LOVING my blog. It is so much fun, and way too addicting. I had no idea about the blogging community before I started it, either. I’m really enjoying the interactions with folks. There are so many freaking great blogs out there. Take care!

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