What is It?
If you've used pretty much any social tools on the internet, then you've encountered trolls. If you use SecondLife, you probably encounter them daily.
Evolution gives the human brain any number of nearly automated responses to certain stimuli and situations. These responses often serve us pretty well in the physical world. In the ethereal world of the internet though, it's very easy for people to manipulate those nearly automated responses for their own amusement. That is called trolling. The more you respond, the more you feed the trolls.
Any number of professional psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists have tried to discover why anyone would spend their time this way, without any consensus at all, so it's probably pointless for amateurs to even try. They will though and it's usually simply repeating the stereotypes about typical internet users. They're wrong.
Who's Really In Charge?
It's ironic that the people being trolled always control the situation, but rarely use their control. All they have to do is recognize that someone is pressing their primitive emotional buttons and simply not respond in the expected manner. The troll only wants a response to their button-pushing. Without one, they will simply move on.
Most people aren't willing to do this though. They either feel they have to protect their imaginary internet turf, or they figure "Hey! I'm pretty good at arguing, I can take this person on and win!" That kind of thinking will only attract more trolls. Most of these people have no interest in winning. They only want you to make you respond to stupid things.
There's a secret among most trolls. The people with the biggest egos make the best targets. The more you think you can beat them, the more of them you will attract.
How To Respond:
My very best advice is: you choose who to argue with over the internet. Don't let anyone trick you into making the choice for you. Trolls want you to argue on their terms and their turf.
The best response when somebody comes into an area talking shit about you or your friends is no response at all. That's really, really hard for some people to do. They like to fight and they believe they can win. They're wrong. Fighting will only attract more trolls. Even if you're fighting someone the other trolls hate, they'll still show up, just for the entertainment.
Let's say a woman comes into an info hub. She's tall and asian and she wears braces and she's a low-level troll. She hears another woman she doesn't know talking on microphone and she says "Wow! That lady sounds fat!"
Now, whatever you've heard, people cannot "sound fat". She's just saying this to get a response, which she does, almost immediately--not from the woman with the fat voice, but the people around her. A much better response would be to just laugh at her half-hearted attempt at trolling, but, for whatever reason, people almost never do.
Making it Stop:
There is really nothing that will make it stop. People still try to troll me every day. They usually give up pretty soon though because I don't give them back what they're hoping for. The best response to a troll is simple honesty and logic in a calm, controlled manner. That's not very entertaining so they'll move on pretty quickly. If you can't do that, just mute them and you won't even know it's happening.
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