Should you feed the trolls?

Continuing the discussion from GOP staffer who said Obama girls lacked class was arrested as a teen:

The linked video is interesting (and everyone should watch it) because I see it as broadly calling two things “trolling” that are not necessarily related:

  1. Patterns of Persistent Harassment
  2. Drive by Trolling

I can support what the video outlines – Patterns of Persistent Harassment, yes – you should not ignore harassment, but report it. No question. But is that trolling?

In the particular case cited, I had a hard time taking that guy’s wacky opinion seriously, particularly when he ended it with

I’m 58 and can’t wait for the end so as to escape to this messed up planet.

So to me that read as trolling – not a statement that can be taken seriously. It’s more like “now I’m gonna type some stuff that might be a little crazytown, and oh by the way, I’m looking forward to the sweet, sweet release of my own death.”

So in conclusion, no you should not feed the trolls. But you may need to deal with persistent harassment. I don’t think there’s any way to look at this particular case as an example of persistent harassment though.

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“Trolling” has long since lost its original meaning, too often its used in the sense of “I disagree but can’t express why” or as a kind of ad hominem.

The better question in my mind is “should one lay out bait for those who will post nonsense comments” but thats my subjective opinion in play.

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A troll is someone commenting online hoping to feed off the pain and emotional distress of others by provoking them. It is their sole purpose for engaging in the topic. Should they be fed? - of course not. But establishing a troll’s intent takes time, attention and patience. If I want to determine if a commenter on BB is a troll, I’ll go to their profile page and look at what kinds of topics they’re responding to, and the attitude in their language toward others. Just because they disagree with the party line, or they’re commenting on a cranky day (on one or both ends of the comments) does not make them trolls. Insensitive, obtuse, undiplomatic maybe, but not necessarily trolls.

Commenting communities need to accept that newbies looking to find their footing in the language, may step on a few toes. They need the grace (sorry) of a little time to establish their intent. If your feet are sensitive and your bunions have been acting up, decline to dance with them.


Yes, we should feed them. To @falcor.


Feed me.


I think the problem is that accusations of trolling are the “totally photoshopped” of online debate.

Some people are sincere morons. Some are sincere assholes. Others are intentionally provocative but ultimately still mean it. There is always someone eager to throw around the platitude “Don’t feed the troll!”. Often that makes sense, but it is so overused that it has lost most of its meaning.


I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as you make it. I personally think the label troll is bandied about far too easily and used by commenters as a ploy to shut others down. In fact, Marilove threw it at me in another thread because she didn’t like what I was writing. And I know for a fact that just as many people feel SHE’S a huge troll as those who think I’M a troll.

Well, one of us is a chronic harasser and the other is a chronic provocateur. Where’s the line? Where’s the line between someone being sardonic, ironic, provocative or just plain being an asshole? There isn’t one. That’s the point.

The solution is to not use the word troll to bin people. Instead, promote lively debate and step on people who go ape and start hurling insults as their mode of currying favor. Step on people who use shaded terms like “little doggie” to mean “bitch” and other passive-aggressive forms of harassment. Recognize when someone has their back against the wall from a prior attack, scroll up and find the original transgression and poke THAT person in the eye. Etc. A mod’s job isn’t easy. People are sneaky and vicious.

My own personal solution to the asshattery that I so often find on BoingBoing is to 1. only occasionally chime in 2. not let people walk all over me because they feel that is the proper modus operandi 3. insist on polite debate, but if they’re not going to be polite, I’ll launch my nukes. I have no problem with being banned. Some assface isn’t going to just bin me and get away with it. I’m going to stand my ground. If that means the mods don’t like me, fine.

Last note: I know it’s a major feature of the software you have written, @codinghorror, and I truly admire what you have built. It’s AWESOME. But I think the like button is, overall, a liability. It would bear a full, separate discussion, though to really flesh out these ideas for and against. Anyways, just registering my opinion. Otherwise, your software is probably the best I’ve ever seen for this and I’m personally jealous of your coding skill.

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I think you’ll find it’s “Drive-By Trolling”. Just sayin’.


Picture a google car powered by youtube comments… :smiley:



Steamboat Trolly!

Maybe, but I feel a true troll can’t justify their opinions in any rational way, and the fact that they don’t is a tell. Once a person is

  • citing other articles and links
  • providing some kind of evidence, even if anecdotal, to support their claims (beyond “I believe x”)
  • generally engaging in the discussion

I think it’s fair to say they are not trolls. They aren’t drive-by, they really believe this stuff and they’ll participate in the discussion to defend their beliefs.

Now, there is a point where too much defending your beliefs turns into something else, but dropping a single crazy opinion post in a topic with zero evidence other than “I believe (crazy thing)” is IMHO strong evidence of trolling.

Yes. Please. Continue to explain to a woman how she should react to sexism. And please, don’t actually watch or absorb or listen to what Jay Smooth has to say – someone who really understands what it’s like to live in a world that hates you for something he can’t change (his skin color).

Just explain to us how we should react to people on the internet. It’s very much appreciated. Obviously you know better than we do. Clearly.

I didn’t even bother reading this. Honestly. I don’t care about your opinion in this matter. At. All. And I don’t care to yet again have you lecture me, tone troll me (ironic, yeah?), and ‘splain’ to me how I should act.

In other words: Shhhhhhhhh, little tone troll. Shhhhh.

Leave me alone. This is the second time I’ve requested this. Thanks!

I’m muting this conversation. Others are welcome to have at it, if it’s a discussion they want to have. For me, however, however, I’m tired of having it, and I"m tired of the condescending finger-wagging by people who think they know better than I what a troll is, or whether a comment should be addressed because it “might” be a troll.

Have fun!

(BTW, it’s interesting to me that @codinghorror lectures me about “provoking” and yet, here he is, provoking me by continuing to lecture me rather than, oh, I don’t know, spending his time speaking out against sexism. I mean seriously, dude? Drop it, please! Thank you.)

This latest brouhaha started because a moderator told people to not feed the trolls. That’s a pretty traditional thing for moderators to say. It’s not worth the hostility.

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I think a troll is someone who’s frightened but whose defense mechanism is anger, sometimes to the point of rage. And I suppose raging on the internet at the commenters is safe, safer than ‘servicing’ your anger on a loved one, co-worker or neighbor. But we’re not here to be someone’s anger management group therapy or their whipping boys/girls. Tolerating being the butt of someone’s anger to the point where they’ve become incoherent and beyond reasoning does no individual commenter any good, and it doesn’t do much for the community as a whole either. We shouldn’t have to scroll through pages of rage to find something we can read that doesn’t sound like seething condescension.


Mod note: Personal attacks need to stop on all sides.


Strongly disagree. Your point earlier that a troll feeds off the pain and distress of others. For a troll, it’s just a game where you “win” if the other person loses their temper. You ignore their feelings and keep pushing, keep pushing, keep drawing the person into conversations they don’t want to, keep dodging their questions, keep patronising, prod at their weak spots until they explode.

There’s a huge gulf between that and someone passionate, someone genuinely emotional about the subject. Short-tempered people are the perfect target for a trolls cause you can always count on fireworks.

Should you feed trolls? Sometimes it’s instructive to calmly break down and address their comments, even knowing they’re a troll, before they get a rise out of people. It can defuse a flamewar before it even begins. The troll will likely move on and find somewhere else with easier pickings.


The subtext, and I agree with what you are saying, is that a troll doesn’t really care about the actual issue that is being discussed – a troll cares about winding people up and getting reactions from people.

There are a number of other dark community patterns like this, definitely a recurring theme. It should not be about the participants but the topic at hand (mostly).

Well to be honest, who the hell knows what trolls really want? They’re fucked in the head. Maybe they do care about the issue but they think they’re so much smarter than everyone else and get an ego-boost from winding people up who don’t share their opinion. Doesn’t matter. The point is, they’re just trying to wind people up.

There’s a pretty clear difference between that and someone who’s been wound up. Right? I mean, I don’t think it’s just me who can see the difference?