Trolls — Not Just for Fantasy Novels

October 14th, 2009 • Kate

dont_feed_the_trollsI was clicking through my Google Reader earlier today and came across this post from EW’s Shelf Life blog, on the subject of “the explicit books teens read.” I read it, thought it made some good points, disagreed with one statement, and reminisced about my own teenage reading, in which I skipped right from Judy Blume to Jackie Collins, and never looked back (until I became an adult, and decided to specialize in that genre of fiction that didn’t really exist when I was “YA”). As is my wont, I added a comment on the post, praising today’s YA novels for talking about the tough issues and showing teens there’s hope, even in the darkest of situations, through fiction.

And then a troll responded to my comment.

I won’t granted them the dignity of repeating their comment here — that’s what they want, you see. An internet troll doesn’t hide under a bridge trying to catch unsuspecting goats. According to Wikipedia, the term “troll” “is thought to be a truncation of the phrase trolling for suckers, itself derived from the fishing technique of slowly dragging bait through water, known as trolling.” Going on, “a troll is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with trolls, of course, but the last few weeks have reminded me of the best advice about them. That is, of course, “Don’t Feed the Trolls.”

Anyone who spends a fair amount of time on the internets ignores that advice at their own peril. Imagine, by way of example, you tweet about something political. Someone disagrees with you (someone ALWAYS disagrees with you), and responds with an inflammatory comment. You try to explain your point politely, maybe even taking your conversation to a private DM. They criticize you for not having the backbone to stand by your convictions in public. You go back to a public response, and they call you a bully. Or, someone writes a widely inaccurate article or blog post, and you attempt to counter it with your experiences. They write back, and try again to prove your point. You could go back and forth forever, and never change anyone’s mind.

You can’t win.

There’s an important lesson to be learned about trolls on the internet, and it comes from a movie made before the internet even existed: “The only winning move is not to play.” (From War Games.)

If you’re an author and you have a public presence on the internet, chances are someday someone is going to disagree with you, or say something that makes you feel the need to correct them. Don’t. That way madness lies.

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10 Responses to “Trolls — Not Just for Fantasy Novels”

  1. Lacey Says:

    Believe it or not, I've even run in to them on paid-for message board sites! Gah!

  2. gwen hayes Says:

    I wish you had posted this on Thursday.


  3. Brittany Landgrebe Says:

    I've dealt with that too, and I have to go away from the interwebz before I respond, which I normally try not to. As a writer hoping to get published someday, I don't want any potential agents googling me only to find a rash comment I posted in response to a troll, and decide I wasn't a good fit. Yeah, there's more to finding a good fit between an author and an agent, but I'd just rather make it easier on both of us, and be as polite and discerning as possible.

    Good point, and I'm glad for the reminder.


  4. filamena Says:

    That XKCD comic is pretty much my husband in a nut shell. It's like he goes troll hunting. I've actually seen him force a troll to back down on a political issue. That said, for us mere mortals who cannot hope to reach those levels of troll-hunting skill, don't feed them is exactly it.

    What's more fun is seeing a troll in the real world. I've seen them at a few conventions now, it's pretty staggering to think they are not actually an internet phenomenon.

  5. Kate Says:

    Sorry, Gwen!

  6. Jamie Says:

    Ahh,yes. My biggest internet mistake ever.

    Now I am screwed, because what do I do? Back down and pretend it never happened? Remove it from my blog entirely? Let them continue to ALL talk about me and just ignore it?

    And, can I even ignore it now that I've put it out there for all the world to see? Something I assumed was a joke at first turned into a big pile of drama that I never imagined. My mistake was writing it in the first place. I know this, but I never imagined it would turn into what it did.

    And so now… I should NOT play? Or I should continue? What does a girl do?

  7. Northwriter Says:

    Great advice. And, your analogy to War Games was spot on.

  8. Kate Says:

    Jamie –

    Can you close your blog to further comments? If the trolliness is just on one post, that is. That way, you're not deleting their comments (which might give them more cause to be annoying) but you can stop them from continuing to troll.

    I'm a big believer in letting things go — well, I can preach it, even if at times I've been bad about practicing it. Don't play their reindeer games.

  9. Jamie Harrington Says:

    They've actually been pretty good on the blog. (Truthfully, I've deleted some of the horrible things–that's the beauty of having your own site… you can do what you want there.) It's the twitter streams that are the problem. I can block them, but he's still having them retweet things about me.

    It's tough right now, because when I made the first initial joke, I didn't think it was going to have the impact it did. I have like nine readers… I didn't dream it would go big. But–I guess that's kind of what the internet is all about. If I delete it, then I've fueled the fire. I guess the best thing to do is to ignore the tweets and go about the normal twittering about my bacon sandwich lunch… maybe they'll get bored.

    It's HARD not to fuel the fire. The first thing you want to do is defend yourself. Maybe this is just my first lesson in how to deal with being a best selling author some day. 🙂

    As a side note-I am scared to write another blog post! I've been trying all morning to just write the norm, and I keep deleting them!

  10. Amy Says:

    Having perused the comments at Shelf Life, Kate, I admire your restraint!