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Don't Feed the Trolls

Sannse September 11, 2012 User blog:Sannse Google
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Any time you have a community of diverse people, things are sometimes going to get difficult. There are lots of reasons for disputes and disruption on a wiki but today I'd like to talk about one specific type of problem: trolls and how to deal with them.

The first question is, what is a troll?

A troll is someone who is acting badly in order to get a reaction. Trolling is the Internet's equivalent of a practical joke. Trolls are the people gluing a virtual quarter to the virtual sidewalk. They're out for the the LOLs at your expense.

Most vandals are trolls. It's not just the vandalism itself that matters, it's knowing that the people on the wiki are getting annoyed. And if there is visible proof of that annoyance, then all the better! From a vandal's perspective, there's no point in messing up something if no one will see what they have done. They want to stir things up, get a reaction, and know that they are getting a reaction.

Knowing this gives you the best defense against trolling. If the troll is looking for a reaction, then not giving them what they are looking for might encourage them to move on. So my most important advice is "Don't feed the trolls". After all, there's no fun in a practical joke if you you don't see the results of it.

Imagine the scene: you balance a bucket of water on the top of a door, hide behind the couch and wait for your victim to come in, and then.... nothing. The next time you look, the bucket is neatly back in the closet, your victim has dried off and gone back to reading a book. Everything seems back to normal – and with no exciting rage and laughter.

That's the effect you get when you "revert, block, ignore". The idea is that you mend the damage and slow down future damage with a block, but otherwise don't give the troll any attention. The technique is all about returning to normal, getting back to creating your wiki and giving the troll as little enjoyment as possible from their prank.

But ignoring trolls can be hard. We often want to tell a person that they are in the wrong. We want to make sure they understand that they are doing bad things, and that they understand our anger at that. The problem is, the anger is part of the "troll food". It's one of the things the troll wants, so by reacting in that way you are encouraging him to come back for more.

So, not feeding the trolls means:

  • Not communicating with them about their vandalism
  • Not leaving your opinion about what they have done on their message wall or talk page
  • Not talking about the vandal to other people in places the vandal might see (and remember, they may be watching even if you think they have gone)
  • Not telling the vandal that you are ignoring them or that you won't talk to them – just go ahead and ignore

Sometimes wikis leave standard messages on someone's page to warn them or to explain their block, and that's OK. But if you do leave a message, it should be as factual and calm as possible: "You have been blocked for vandalizing the Breadcake page" is much better than "You turnip!!! You spoiled my page! I hate you and all your family and will get my revenge!!!!"

One last caution, not everyone behaving badly is a troll. They may be reacting genuinely, even if badly. They might be blanking a page because they are genuinely upset at the content, or because they have misunderstood how wikis work. That's not to say that what they did is OK, but someone doing this may need help rather than ignoring. The trick is to assume that someone is not malicious if you can, but also be aware that they might be. If you calmly offer help, and the bad behavior continues or escalates, then it's possible you have a troll on your hands. And you all know what to do then...

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