Online trolls
A person wearing a mask sitting at the computer. etty Images

Very often these days, if you happen to have a strong social presence online or are pretty active in online communities, you may find yourself under attack from trolls that engage in online anti-social behavior, intending to cause harm for their gratification.

This form of cyber bullying, which involves deliberately inflammatory comments by anonymous users in an attempt to provoke others, do cause immense disruption and can be quite upsetting.

Very often, we are told not to “feed the trolls,” which means we are to refrain from replying to their comments, usually angrily, in order to keep them from getting more attention.

This strategy, although adopted by many, is also discouraged by some who suggest that responding to them and taking them head on is a better way of dealing with them.

Paul Jun, a former troll, supports the argument that we should not engage with trolls and instead leave the conversation.

“What makes this practice of not responding to trolls so difficult is that many of us are naturally inclined to react to our impulses. It’s so much easier to respond than it is to hold back,” Jun says.

Jun also states that although you might think you have defeated a troll with your reply, the assumption is usually wrong.

“After years of dealing with this kind of behavior, both in a virtual reality and in the comment sections of an article, the harsh reality is this: You will never beat a troll. You will never change a troll’s mind. You may delude yourself into thinking that you proved them wrong, however, never in my years of dealing with trolls have I seen a troll lay down his or her arms and say, 'You know what, you’re right. I was so wrong,'” Jun adds.

However, many web content experts endorse fighting trolls back by hardening your stance on your opinion or viewpoint and not giving in.

As Steven Streight, an SEO specialist and web content developer currently working for Chicago-based Streight SEO, puts it in an article for the Peorian, trolls are not educated in debate or rhetorical skills and only want to reframe the conversation into how bad or stupid you supposedly are.

If you happen to become the target of rumors and misinformation spread by trolls, fight them back with facts, says online marketing guru John Rampton.

He also suggests that businesses that are frequently attacked by trolls should listen to what is being said about their brand by actively monitoring social media.

Experts also recommend that if you have made a mistake and a troll points it out, then it is advisable to correct it and admit that you were wrong.

Author and TV host Jeffrey Hayzlett says on Entrepreneur: "Let the person who wrote the complaint know you have corrected an error and explain what you did. Most times you’ll never hear from the person again, but I can guarantee the individual will appreciate that he heard directly from a company representative and didn't have to navigate an endless phone tree.”

If your readership has supportive people, it may just happen that they will jump into a conversation involving a troll attack and fight your battles for you. However, there is also a fear of the debate getting out of hand if the supporters are not trained to fight the trolls.

Another approach, although not highly recommended, is to simply disable the comments on your posts in online communities to prevent trolling altogether. If a comment is particularly offensive, it can be deleted and even reported to the website.

There are also other online tools for fighting trolls on your website, one being using bots – software programs that can run automatically on its platform – to monitor discussions in its chats.

The effectiveness of the two approaches—not engaging with them and taking them head on—is obviously debatable. However, using them alternatively and seeing which works better can give you an idea of how to deal with a particular situation of trolling.