One piece of advice frequently given to bloggers and their commenters is “Don’t feed the troll.” This maxim is even more frequently disregarded. Often this is because it isn’t always immediately apparent who is a troll and who isn’t. Also, because human beings love to argue, it is very easy to get sucked into an ongoing battle with the more quarrelsome commenters.
I don’t have to worry about trolls here yet. I wish I did, because it would mean that I had, once again, a real readership. Since I moved to WordPress, I seem to be talking to myself — and I’m not sure anybody even knows where I have gone, as people still inquire about the old site. My readership had already sadly dwindled, as for some time I had not been keeping the blog up.
Now I hope to change all that. And because one of the more-established blogs upon which I regularly comment is being hijacked by a troll, I think I might as well make clear my thoughts on the subject of trolling.
I will not, here, mention the name of the blog or the handle of the troll. I respect the blog and hope to go on commenting there, and I don’t want to impact negatively upon it. The troll is an attention-whore to begin with, and I have no desire to give her free publicity.
The main thing that separates a troll from a legitimate commenter is that the latter has a defensible reason for commenting, while a troll does not. The best way to deal with a troll, early on, is to simply ask him or her this very direct question: “Why are you here?”
A legitimate commenter has nothing to hide, having no ulterior motives, and will readily answer that question. Even if he or she is hostile to the blog, such a person is not afraid of critical scrutiny. A troll, on the other hand, is insulted and threatened by the very question. Trolls will stall having to answer at all, protesting that even a reasonable question is somehow offensive, and when they finally do answer — if they ever do — their reply will be a lame one.
I comment on some other blogs to help get my name and my ideas out there, and to (hopefully) bring traffic to my own blog. I usually waste no time commenting on blogs with which I disagree, because their readers would never be my readers. I am never confused for a troll by anybody who makes sense, because even though some commenters dislike my ideas, the mere fact that I’m expressing them is only offensive to people who can’t stand the very existence of opinions other than their own.
Trolls are often people who have personal issues that torment them to the point they have become intolerable to the other people in their real lives. They seldom use their own names, because their trolling has become — as it usually does — something so dark and shameful they must keep it apart from the rest of their existence. They are usually very unhappy, and misery loves company.
Trolls must be dealt with; they cannot be ignored. They aren’t there in the interest of free speech to begin with, so once it is ascertained that they are indeed trolls, they should be banned. If left to their own devices, they will poison and destroy the blog. To the degree that they have any rational reason to be there in the first place, that is what their purpose is.
Trolling is, in effect, “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” It is, as such, something that should never be considered legitimate free speech. Its purpose is to keep other people from speaking by driving them away from the blog and eventually shutting the blog down. Free speech cannot be protected by allowing trolls to remain, and bloggers persist in confusion about that at their own peril.
I will certainly allow dissent here. I want to get as many readers as possible, particularly regular ones. They don’t all have to agree with me, because if they did, this blog would be pretty boring. But persistent trolls can destroy a good blog faster than anything else, because they drive other regular readers and commenters away. For the health of the blog, they must be quickly and decisively dealt with.
Now my policy on trolls is in writing. I certainly don’t need to worry about them yet. But when I do, I will be able to refer them back to this post for a clear understanding of what will be — on my blog, at least — the law of the land.