We've all seen their handy work. Some of us have even had nasty personal encounters with them. And a handful of us have turned into one at one time or another. This not-so-mythical creature to which I refer is the dreaded Web troll.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a troll, in Internet speak, is a person who posts "inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community." Such individuals are generally rude, unpleasant, and highly irrational. What follows are some guidelines that will help you avoid troll-like behavior, as well as some pointers on what to do if you find yourself drawn into a skirmish with one of these hideous beasts, though the short answer is DON'T bother.
As always, I like to start with the obvious: when you're commenting on an online article or participating in a Web forum, DO remember to stick to the topic at hand. Readers of a blog dedicated to cute puppies probably have no interest in a rodomontade about your Norwegian Forest Cat, and commenting on a writer's physical appearance on a blog about tech/food/news/cars is probably not the most appropriate course of action either (not that we don't appreciate the compliments). Also, DO be sure to read the entire article (or all of the available information) before offering an opinion or critique. If not, you risk coming across as confused, ignorant, and possibly slightly illiterate.
Once you're properly informed, it's time to start
pontificating commenting...after you ask yourself one question: what would Grandma Norma think? Allow me to elaborate: Norma is my paternal grandmother, and she taught me manners like no one else possibly could. You may not know my Grandma, but we all have at least one person in our lives who we respect to the nth degree, and who we never want to disappoint. Always consider that person, and DON'T be rude! It's unbecoming. More than that, Grandma Norma would so totally not approve.
More to the point, DON'T forget that there are actual, real-life, flesh-and-blood people on the other end of that Internet connection. I've been working at CNET since I was a, and have had myself and my work thrust into the public eye for almost seven years now. I've had plenty of experience fielding inappropriate, insulting, and downright mean commentary, so I can tell you: unless you have the skin of an ogre, it stings to have faceless individual attack you.
Finally, if you do find yourself (by no fault of your own, I'm sure) sucked into a comment battle, DO stick to a rational, composed argument with links to sources to back up your opinion, not that this will matter much to a true troll. DON'T sink to their level, DON'T start a flame war, and DON'T get emotional. This last one is easier said than done, I know, but if you find yourself getting overly heated, do what I do: kill them with kindness. It may sound crazy, but something about inserting a final, exceedingly saccharine note and then closing the window is surprisingly liberating.
Need practice? I invite you to give examples of trolling below and exercise the habits outlined above. Or, you know, just tell me how ugly my haircut is.