What is a troll? As Matt Ryan wrote right here at LockerGnome just this past summer:

“…Someone who spends a majority of their time online moving from space to space making negative comments about everything they find. Typically, these individuals tend to be younger and without any real responsibilities in their day-to-day lives. Essentially, these are individuals who get their kicks from pushing your buttons because they don’t have enough going for them on their own.”

Wherever you may roam on the Internet, you’ll find trolls. Back in olden times, they usually stayed under bridges where they belonged. And then influential alternative musicians started moving in and gentrifying these moist, shabby bastions of troll culture and the trolls had to find another place to inhabit. This coincided nicely with the proliferation of Internet use in the early ’90s by way of the World Wide Web, and a troll-free Internet suddenly became a distant dream of yester-week.

Five Ways to Deal with Internet TrollsOne thing that you should know about trolls: they’re incredibly resilient. As the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual tells us, you can’t just lop off their heads and be done with the deal. They will regenerate hit points — and even entire limbs (including heads!) — if you don’t burn them immediately. Unfortunately, Internet trolls have overcome this weakness and fire is no longer their Achilles’ heel; they actually thrive on it, and this is why engaging in a flame war will only help them regenerate faster.

“What’s so bad about a troll?” you may ask. The truth of the matter is that they’re really quite harmless if you know how to properly deal with their incessant bellowing and chest-thumping. The experienced troll handler knows that these are just ploys for attention; falling prey to such ploys just reinforces this negative behavior, so it’s important to stand your ground if a troll crosses your path. Remember: A troll is more scared of not getting attention than you should be of the troll itself. As the British government advised its populace that was under fire from hostile forces at the onset of World War II: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

What are the best ways of dealing with an Internet troll? Here are five ways we can think of; you may have more! If so, please leave a comment below. (Be aware that you may have to step over a few trolls in the process, as even talking about trolls draws them in like moths to a flame. Alas, they are resistant to fire, as you’ll remember.)

Ignore Them

Just as dear old Mom would say to you when you complained about bullies in school, “Just ignore them and they’ll go away.” Honestly, this is the most effective policy for dealing with pretty much any instance of trolling that goes on over the Internet, whether it’s through forums, blog comments, YouTube comments, IRC, Barrens chat… anywhere. But is it the most fun? After all, if the poor troll has gone through the trouble of setting the bait, isn’t it kind of a waste if you don’t at least bat the bait around a little? If you just don’t have time to play with the troll, though, you can just click the big “x” in the upper-right hand corner of your screen to leave the page or application that makes the bait visible at all. Then go do something more constructive. Simple!

Kill Them with Kindness

Rather than displaying anger, feigning agreement (while not inadvertently trolling others who have been unwittingly suckered into taking the troll’s bait) can be disarming to the troll. You’re giving them a response they’re not expecting. You’re taking control of the situation. Most important: You’re amusing yourself and possibly others in the process.

Here’s an example.

You: LOL, indeed! But dude, “hobo” is not the preferred nomenclature. Boxcar-American, please.

Present Non Sequiturs into the Discussion

This is almost like ignoring the troll’s bait, because you’re not directly responding to it or fueling any resulting comments that are kindling a flame war in the making. “Non sequitur” comes from the Latin phrase for “does not follow.”

Here’s an example.

You: I like butterscotch pudding.

See? It takes almost no effort and doesn’t require your brain to redirect too much power from doing more important things (a lot like the troll’s bait, when you look at it that way).

Comfort Them

Trolls often lash out because they, themselves, are insecure or easily provoked, and they’re just trying to demonstrate that they can exert a semblance of control over a situation — even one as relatively minor as a forum thread. Giving them exactly what they want — an upset community — just proves to them that their methods are sound. But sometimes you’ll find something in a troll’s bait that has a kernel of real conversation all bundled up inside of it. If you can find such a kernel and nurture it, sometimes it’s possible to turn the troll’s initially poor attitude into a genuine discussion. Note: It’s not something to count on. But you never know…

Here’s an example.

You: Actually, my mother traveled the rails with Woody Guthrie back in the ’30s. Did you know that he wrote a song about her?

Report Them.

Yeah, I know, I know. This is probably the weakest and least respected way of dealing with an Internet troll. But sometimes things have gone too far and a troll-instigated flame war has gotten out of hand in such a way that it’s harming a whole community. Reporting them is a last-ditch effort to preserve (or regain) the peace. It’s the nuclear solution. If it’s gotten this far, you might want to refresh the overall community’s memory that the first bit of advice from above (ignore them) is almost always the best, pre-emptive way of snuffing out a troll’s negative influence over that community.