Trolling Around

Mar 25 / EMILY VAJJALA, PH.D.
Trolls. In the 90’s, they were the cute little toys with the jeweled belly buttons and the colorful, spiked up hair. Unfortunately, in 2021, trolls look a little different. I think Urban Dictionary says it best when they define a troll as:  

A person who posts remarks or comments onto internet forums or message boards in an attempt to get someone to comment negatively to it and to redirect attention onto [them]self. Usually, these remarks are controversial, stupid, off-topic, inflaming, illogical, or childish. 

Trolls are malicious for the sport of it, frequently spewing hateful comments that are blatantly racist or sexist. They’re vicious online pranksters, at best, or, more accurately, I think, abusers and harassers.
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So, what should we do about trolls?

That’s the question I ask myself all the time, and I must say, I’m happiest when I take my own advice, which is why I’ve chosen to share it with you.

The hard truth is, there is no singular, easy answer. Ultimately, like with any communication choice, it’s best to consider the context. Ask yourself the following:  

  • Do you know this “troll” personally?
  • What is the location of the trolling?
  • What value could your response contribute to the situation? 


Let’s consider each of the above questions more closely

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Do you know this “troll” personally?

If the answer is yes, you might want to respond. Part of why we see trolling behavior frequently online, but rarely in face-to-face communication, is because when our name and face is associated with our words, we are more likely to self-moderate. Trolls take advantage of their ability to be semi-anonymous on the internet. They may make fake profiles or post solely in groups where their friends may never see their misbehavior. However, if you do personally know a troll, calling them out on their behavior may be an important wake up call.

With that being said, be mindful of how much time you sink into talking to a troll… any troll. Even if you know them well. Protect your own time and pick your battles. Saying something once is doing a civic duty. Make this troll’s behavior the hill you’re willing to die on is giving them exactly what they want: Your time and attention.

Where is the trolling?

If you notice someone trolling on a random internet forum, the stakes are relatively low for you. You probably don’t know the troll, and it’s not your website. My advice here is to move along. You’ve got better things to do than to “feed the trolls.”  

However, someone trolling on your personal page or on a page you manage becomes partially your responsibility. On any page you manage, remember that your friends, family, and business connections… everyone who follows you on social media or can see what you post may also potentially see the troll’s comments. And they will see how you respond to it. You have a few options.

  • Delete the post. Some things shouldn’t be said and shouldn’t be given a platform. If someone posts something on a page you manage, you have the choice to delete it. You may also choose to block the troll from your page.
  • Engage. Be careful with this one. Remember what the definition above has taught us: Trolls want attention. At a certain point, engagement just gives them what they want.
  • Ignore it. Depending on the trolling comment, sometimes just ignoring it is the best way to go. The troll won’t get the satisfaction of any type of response. However, consider the potential harm of anything you leave on your page. In 2011, Hlavach and Freivogel argued that failing to moderate trolling behaviors in comments can drive away sincere participants and reflect poorly on the person or organization associated with the website.

Particularly hateful comments should be taken down immediately for the public good.

What value could your response contribute to the situation?

Ultimately, your decision should come down to how you answer this question. Do you sincerely believe that you can reach the troll (or the general audience) through your response? Do you have something new and important that could add value to the conversation? Do you think responding will be productive? If you sincerely answered yes to those questions, you might respond. Otherwise, my general advice is ignore or delete the trolls.

With that being said, sometimes I don’t follow my own advice. And usually, I regret it.

If you want more great advice that will make you a happier person, and a more competent communication leader, check us out at the Communication Leader Academy.

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