Every day there are millions of people on the internet trying to get people to listen to what they have to say. When they are alone out there in the vastness of the interwebs or only only have a few followers (like this blog) they can say almost anything they want and they’ll get away with it. Maybe a troll will pop up now and then, but for the most part people follow them because of what they like to say. However, when more people get together to speak out against hot topics -such as rape, breastfeeding, or even the new sci-fi fantasy movie and how it deviates from the comic books – strong minded – strong willed people are brought out on both sides. This is where the bulk of trolls feed.
For the purpose of this blog article, “In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)))
But, sometimes people want to defend those being attacked by trolls. I call this decoying. Your job as the decoy is to remove the person being attacked from being the focus of the troll without losing your cool in the process.
There are a few rules to do this:
1) The goal of a troll is to illicit an emotional response. Don’t let them.
This is easier said than done. Trolls – especially ones that have been doing it for a long time – are (typically) not people who don’t know what they are doing. They know what they are doing. They want to hurt your feelings. They are cyber bullies. And many times they have the schoolyard mentality. That is to say, they feel more comfortable attacking you in a group – generally at least 3 bullies to every 1 victim. I’ll show you how to use this against them in a moment.
2) Remember: You don’t owe them anything.
Trolls – or cyber bullies – will often ask you questions in an accusatory tone. They will make fun of you for the most simple of information that they can find out about you. When they make fun of you for your picture, job, or writing – they are trying to get you to write more information about it. Don’t. You owe them nothing. No reasons. No explanations. And absolutely no personal information. You do not need to stick up for yourself when you’re decoying. Simply look at what they are saying in an impartial way and tease them for it. Much like school yard bullies, they do not know what to do when the tables are turned.
3) Be nice when you tease them.
Think about it this way, if you were brought into court and a judge was to read what you wrote, would you come across as another bully? If the answer is yes, then you’re doing it wrong. You are teasing the trolls to illicit an emotional response. But, perhaps you’ll tease them about their grammar. Or after they make fun of you for being a baker, you can ask what they’ve done that is so amazing. Most times they cannot compete with what they are teasing you for.
4) Get into their head
The ultimate goal is to decoy them away from the person that they are attacking. In order to do this, you have to figure out what bothers them the way they have figured out what bothers the person they are attacking. This does not take research into their feeds. Rather, just call them something nice. Call them adorable. Call them sweet. Call them compliments that you would call a five year old, and make certain they know you’re treating them like one. They deserve it. They’re acting like one.
5) Knowing when to step in
Sometimes people aren’t trolling. They are having actual debates and conversations. Even heated ones. You don’t want to decoy these, because then you seem like a jerk. There are some tell-tale cues to figure out if you’re dealing with a troll or a debate (short of reading the entire thread and guessing):
- Is the aggressor attacking the other person? If so, go to the next question.
- Is the person being attacked in distress? If so, you’re probably dealing with the aggressor being a troll.
- What is your intent? If you just want to prove that the person being attacked is correct, then you’re debated, not decoying. If you want to decoy, opening with questions like, ‘Why are you being so mean?’ can draw the troll’s attention to you.
6) When you start decoying remember the 10 Commandments of Logical Debate.
7) Remember why you are there.
You are there to decoy. To remove the person being attacked from the situation – safely, legally, and without making things worse. So after you have safely gotten the person to focus on you, remove the initial victim from the conversation. This works best on Twitter. This should be done within the first 2-4 replies that you give the attacker(s).
8) Protect yourself
Trolls use many tricks to try to get you to give an emotional response and/or make you look like the bad guy and them look like the victim.
- Sometimes they will change what you said – especially when there is a quoted statement area. They will drop or add words to change what you said to something you didn’t say. When this happens – screen shot what you originally said and screen shot the misrepresentation. This is libelous behavior on their behalf and should be brought to the moderators immediately.
- Other times they will respond to something that you never said in an effort to change the argument to one they feel they can win. Remember, keep cool and collected. Once you notice they are responding to things you didn’t say – call them on it. Make them keep on focus. This is how you will keep control of the situation.
- Mind tags. As stated earlier, bullies tend to work in groups. If you don’t watch them, they will wind up tagging their friends into the argument, quickly making the conversation a 3:1 or more scenario. When this happens – remove the people they add. This is easiest on Twitter. You didn’t start having a conversation with a group – you don’t need to continue to. Remember, you owe them nothing.
- There is an alternate way of handling tags. If you have a group of decoys – you can tag your own friends, one friend for each one that they tag. This way, you maintain an even playing field. But, follow their lead – otherwise, they can accuse you of bullying them.
- For the most part – you are not going to be protected by the moderator. You can complain and ask for the account to be removed, but many moderators will take a neutral stance on trolling. If you feel threatened, call the police. You can also report any threats to the FBI at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/hate_crimes. You can do so via phone or their electronic tip line: https://tips.fbi.gov/. They take internet threats very seriously. But, be forewarned, they will persecute if you file false reports.
9) Interesting tricks
There are many interesting tricks to through trolls off their game. I like throwing quotes from literature at them. Just remember to look out for double entendres. Even though you may think the quote is awesome, a troll could easily turn something into a dirty statement, twisting your words to use against you.
10) Know when to walk away.
After a while, trolls don’t even make sense to themselves. Or they will have conversations with their own kind and won’t notice you’re not there anymore. Or, the conversation drops. Remember what your goal was. If you have decoyed the troll, you succeeded. That doesn’t mean you have to have the last word. And, if you feel you need to have the last word, get over it. If you feel like giving a knee jerk reaction or they have gotten into your head, it’s time to walk away.