Troll Tales

These women engaged with their nastiest bullies, and they ended up receiving sincere apologies!

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About a year ago, I wrote about how to deal with trolls. My chief recommendation echoed the conventional wisdom on this subject: don’t feed the trolls. In other words, ignore them. Don’t engage.

I still think that’s the optimal way to deal with trolls; however, I’ve come across a couple of interesting stories lately from people who did the opposite — they engaged with their nastiest bullies, and they ended up receiving sincere apologies!

Cambridge University professor Mary Beard shamed one of her trolls by name to her extensive online network. But then, she did something surprising:

Beard . . . said she had now taken to writing job recommendations for Rawlings so he didn’t suffer in the long term for “one moment of idiocy.”

“He is going to find it hard to get a job, because as soon as you Google his name that is what comes up,” she said. “And although he was a very silly, injudicious, and at that moment not very pleasant young guy, I don’t actually think one tweet should ruin your job prospects.”

She added: “In general, I am more concerned to be sure that people don’t use the internet in this way (or don’t do so again) than to seek ‘punishment’.”

Properly chastened, her troll publicly apologized for his nasty comments.

More recently, the popular radio show This American Life aired a segment in which writer Lindy West described how her most hateful troll reached out to her after she wrote a long, heartfelt essay about his hurtful online behavior and how it affected her. They even spoke by phone:

“How’d that make you feel?” she asked.

“Not good,” the troll answered. “I felt horrible almost immediately afterwards. You tweeted something along the lines of, ‘Good job, humanity.’ For the first time [in a trolling], it wouldn’t leave my mind. I’d put out this Internet hate and forget about it. This one would not leave me. It would not leave me. I thought about you, I knew you read it. I thought, ‘how would she feel?’ I truly am sorry about that.”

Obviously, these two stories are unicorns when it comes to anonymous online haters. I’m not advising that everyone reach out to their trolls and attempt to befriend them. I personally have no interest at all in getting to know mine.

Still, they are interesting food for thought, and they demonstrate that there truly is an exception to every rule.

For more traditional advice on handling online bullies, check out this video from The Nerdist’s Malik Forté:

While the video is specific to online gaming, the five strategies Forté outlines work for blogging as well. We could rephrase them as:

  1. Control your community. Set your blog to private or make all comments go to moderation, so that you control who gets to engage.
  2. Kill them with kindness. Forté suggests just replying to trolling as if the troll had actually said something nice. I never thought of this, but it sounds like it would be fun to try!
  3. Ignore them. Delete their comments, don’t respond.
  4. Troll them back. He admits this isn’t great advice for everyone, but can be satisfying if you’re at your wit’s end.
  5. Go offline. While I would never suggest you should let a troll drive you away from blogging, sometimes we do forget that we can take a break from the online world! Go outside for a run in the sunshine, get a night’s sleep. That troll will seem much less important in the morning. 🙂

Have you had any surprising or unusual interactions with commenters? Any tips I missed?

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  1. Enjoyed your post and it gave me more confidence to know it happens to other people too.
    I had my first experience on twitter. I responded nicely trying to explain my point. The hook was “where is the proof?” Not knowing better I responded again. When I said I was done with the conversation I was told I “lost.” I didn’t realize it was a contest, so now, if it happens again I will just not respond. I can see sometimes where I might change my mind from reading your post, but for now, no thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post! It’s so sad that some people seem to make a habit of spewing their hate online. I must say I’m extremely impressed by the WordPress community – everyone I’ve run into has been unbelievably supportive and kind. If only the rest of the Internet were like this safe space..

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Too funny. I always make fun of trolls and follow most of this pointers except for turning off the computer. Most of all, I don’t waste my energy on this game. Enjoyed this vid.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. KIll them with Kindness is fun to try. That’s what i do, the only time i let them get to me i snapped and felt bad afterwards.


  5. I took the troll’s comment and made a post of it. I elaborately praised it…as if it were a deep poem. brought out points in which the “poet” was feeling its masculinity threatened, another line where it was screaming out in agony, another line that gave an excellent example of it’s statement on the lack of humanity in our society, and then thanked the troll for its submission to my blog and I was opening up a competition for entries in the style of the troll and how I had so much hope for humanity that such creativity existed. Never heard another word….

    Liked by 11 people

      1. It’s like the elaborately kind ploy. I participate in several poetry groups where we comment on each other’s work. I just did that. It was rather unexpected as I expected another onslaught but no, just faded into the sunset. I did do away with that blog though and started a different one on WP and so far, so good, knocking on wood.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I read an article about a lady who writes about gaming and she had a few boys write some nasty stuff to her via facebook. She looked up the boys and contacted their mothers. Fortunately, she got a very posditive response from them.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I like number 2 a lot. I suppose it works online just how it would in reality. I received a smart comment on a post once, it wasn’t the worst but what was funny was that although the person commented anonymously, they either commented through Facebook or went to Facebook and wrote the same comment so of course I knew who anonymous was lol

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Glad I’m not the only one who has had to deal with trolls. I don’t get too many, but they find my blog sometimes. I had one recently who completely insulted me, and another blogger friend stop up for me, which was awesome. 🙂

    Usually I respond nicely at first. But their comments always go to moderation before I approve them. If the comment is just too nasty, I put the comment in my spam box and delete it. I’m also not afraid to block trolls who won’t stop commenting. That seems to help.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You’re right that these two trolls are (for now at least!) the minority, but I’m glad that you took the time to share their stories. Things always start small, and hopefully this is the start of a decrease in trolling. I personally only delete comments that are extremely vulgar or extremely offensive, or clearly from a well-known community of trolls; I also edit swear words (none of that please in my corner of the internet!) And I always thank them for commenting, it’s better than nothing 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  10. These stores are fascinating; I’ve never heard of trolls and people who were trolled (troll-ees?) reconciling! Not so sure about Forte’s “troll them back” advice though. Seems like that could escalate quickly…

    My blog audience has always been small, so I only recently had to deal with my first true troll (that should be like a rite of passage in the blogging world!). I blogged about that experience here:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just read your post on your line crossing troll. The four hour commitment he/she made to the task was indeed creepy obsessive. You certainly handled it well. Did the individual respond again or had they moved on?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He moved on, apparently! Never heard from him again. It made me kind of wonder if he just spends his time going around to various blogs making creepily obsessive comments.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I did once have a troll apologize, saying that they’d been drunk at the time they made the comment and in retrospect it was inappropriate and rude. But that was a one time thing. It certainly isn’t what I’d generally expect from bullies, either online or otherwise.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I don’t even have a large enough following to be trolled by anyone, but I am not sure how I would react. I’m glad that some people were able to be reached through another person’s writing. It’s sad that people enjoy trolling so much, but this proves that some still have feelings left in them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have had my fair share of trolls too and its really disrespectful. I really appreciate this post because it gives great insight and that I am not the only one who has to deal with this. I have just recently put my WordPress profiles to private because of this. What was the worst “troll” comment you have received?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I do this regular feature where I visit other peoples blogs and then write about interesting people and blog content I find. Last Sunday I came a tribute to an individual who recently passed that a newspaper did and the trolls viciously attacking the person and the tribute.
    You can locate it here in Irish Investigations. Many good points were raised:

    I am only two months into blogging and have received so much support and kindness from the WordPress community. If or when I ever did have a troll show up, I would not publish their comments, and would not respond publicly. But I know that personally it would stick in my brain and cause me to pause. It might well take several runs in the sunshine and nights of sound sleep to come back to my fledgling blog and go forward. Cautiously.

    Obviously a thickening of the skin is necessary to engage in this form of media.


  15. John Scalzi at Whatever had someone (you can decide for yourself if it was a troll or just a jerk) tweet, “Remind me never to buy your books.” So Scalzi did, over and over again, for several days: “It’s Monday. Remember not to buy my books.” Etc. And then reproduced the whole exchange on his blog.

    If it was a contest (and it’s hard to see it any other way), I’d say Scalzi won.


  16. A lot of trolls, are just that –trolls and it’s not worth energy and time dragging them into the mud puddle.

    Blogosphere is a tiny part of my communication world.
    Life is very short….time needs to be spent more with face-to-face loved ones.

    I did write a blog post actually requesting followers who have non-positive intentions or just don’t care to unsubscribe from my blog:

    I got a lot more feedback from my regular readers on their opinions and few who sheepishly told me they just follow and read. But not comment.


  17. Interesting read! I read a lot of online news stories, and I like to read what people think and their differing opinions, but I always get upset at the large amount of trolls and they actually can ruin my experience for me. If there are a lot of trolls or one idiot who goes on and on, I stop reading and move on to something else. It’s like hecklers in an audience. They ruin the experience, whether its good or not, with their inane commentary. I mean a funny blurb or retort is one thing, but really I wish they would just shut up, more than them realizing that they sound like obnoxious idiots…Such an annoyance to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Great post! I’m new to blogging and wrote a blog post that wasn’t very flattering to my daughter. Boy did I get my A*S chewed out! By her, by an unknown blogger and by my family. But because I was so insensitive, my daughter refuses to talk to me. It’s my own fault. But because of that, it did stop me from blogging for a bit. Lesson learned, time to move on. Never gonna do that again. My motto… kill em with kindness. (it’s just easier)


  19. Trolls are definitely all over the internet. I’m the manager of the this publishing house blog, and we’ve gotten nasty comments about our content, but we keep our comments on approvement basis so that we can block out all the garbage.


  20. I had comments set to “moderation” for two years, until recently when I decided to be brave and let commenters post at will. I did this with the hope that the trolls would stay away and the regular readers, who are always respectful, would fill the majority of the comment section. So far, so good. If that changes, if the trolls try to take over, I may revert back to moderation. It’s always an option.


  21. I have been commenting in you tube and only once had I let a comment get to me. Then a few days later, I tried to get into my face book account but couldn’t. Somebody hacked it. No big deal, I just reset my password. I knew of course who it was because we just butted heads a few nights before. See I wasn’t using a user name but my real name. So just out of curiosity I dared him to do it again and typed out a few colorful metaphors to give insult to injury, sure enough he hacked it again. This told me a lot. Anyone can hack into face book popups were telling me how. I could care less. I put the strongest p.w. ever. He could not get into my google account it is encrypted. That made me feel safe. So, now just block those pests, out of sight out of mind.