Trolls live on the Internet. The traditional stories of Europe may have them under bridges threatening and being threatened by goats, but with the creation and rise of the Internet, we have learned they live in the forums online.
In the stories they turn to stone in the sunlight and are generally giant oafs who will eat anything they can catch. Online, they post comments wherever they think they can get a rise. They are generally anonymous, and their posts are generally targeted to be the most offensive they can get past the moderators. The comments are generally easy to pick out, because they are designed to illicit the most vitriolic response from the other people in the forum. The rationale that has been gleaned over the years for this behavior is that the troll is looking for attention and enjoys the discomfort of the people who post responses. Years ago, I saw someone explain that they had created a game with a friend where they would go onto comment sections and post tolling comments in order to gain points for all the responses, and for the types of responses, they each received.
The long standing admonition has been, “Don’t Feed the Trolls“. This advice is to ignore the people posting the outrageous comments with the thought to starve the poster of the attention that they desire.
Recently, though, there is beginning to be some resistance to this ancient wisdom of the interwebz. Whitney Phillips reframes trolling as a form of bullying and creates space for nuance in the activities that have historically been grouped together under the term troll. Phillips then argues that the long-standing advice actually turns into a form of victim blaming if the target speaks out and receives more attention in response.
As the Internet continues to become a home for more people from diverse backgrounds, trolls and how people deal with them will continue to change.