Spamming 101: How to deal with trolls

How to spot a troll – Trolls are among the most common instigators of online conflict. But it’s not always easy for community managers to differentiate between a troll and a valued participant. Fortunately, Andrea Weckerle offers some helpful advice on how to recognize and deal with trolls in her book, Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph Over Haters, Trolls, Bullies, and Other Jerks.

Spamming Troll

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

“Internet trolls are attention seekers whose sole goal is to wreak havoc online for the purpose of fun and pleasure,” says Weckerle in Civility in the Digital Age. She also notes that they “delight in insulting, shocking, upsetting, and provoking others.”

The key here is ‘provoking’ – trolls are primarily interested in the responses they can successfully elicit. They come in all shapes and sizes, but most trolls are attracted to public message boards, community forums and the comment sections of online articles. But there is no single characteristic that differentiates a troll from someone who wants to engage in productive dialogue.

“Some are better writers, others less so,” said Weckerle in a recent conversation. “Some have stylistic markers that make them stand out from others, but it’s their common motivator and goal – to wreak havoc on others – that’s the unifier.”

In her book, Weckerle draws upon the research of Derek Wood, a board-certified Psychiatric Nurse with a master’s degree in psychology. According to Wood, there are several different kinds of trolls: ‘Spamming trolls’ share the same useless comments on a handful of sites. ‘Kooks’ are habitual commenters who add content with no basis in reality, whereas ‘Flamers’ leave inflammatory comments that are likely to rouse dissent. ‘Hit-and-runners’ leave one or two comments, then disappear altogether. But it’s the ‘Psycho Trolls’ who are perhaps the most interesting – they have a psychological need to feel good while making others feel bad.

So how can you interact with these online bullies while protecting your reputation – and maintaining your company’s standards?

How to deal with trolls

Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the damage trolls inflict. In Civility in the Digital Age, Weckerle recommends a ‘Do Not Feed the Trolls’ approach.

“Do not engage them in any way!” is her emphatic suggestion. Rather than attempting to interact, community managers should both ignore and disempower trolls. It sounds simple – much like the advice you might give to a child grappling with playground bullies. Nevertheless, managing trolls requires patience.

“Ignoring trolls is easier said than done,” says Weckerle in her book. “After all, when someone says something that’s ludicrous and not based in reality, or when they come after you, your natural inclination is to want to set them straight and defend yourself or your company. But this counterintuitive step is what you need to take if you want to get rid of a troll.”

More often than not, ignoring the situation won’t completely solve the problem. It’s at this point that community managers must step in and remove comments or, in severe cases, ban certain users from engaging in discussion altogether. Weckerle offers the following advice for disempowering trolls:

“If a discussion forum has a moderator, you can report the troll’s actions to him. Make sure to do so in a fair and constructive way, detailing the examples of what’s occurred, preferably pointing out that the troll isn’t adding any value to the conversation and is undermining the discussion’s continuation or group’s cohesiveness.”

But, she says, beware – trolls may disappear for a time, then return with a vengeance. The best way to protect yourself, your business or your website from trolls is to stay vigilant and be aware of your organization’s engagement policies. With a clear plan of action, you can react quickly and keep the troublemakers at bay.

To purchase your own copy of Civility in the Digital Age, visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Madison Andrews
Madison Andrews is a writer, editor, and designer living in Austin, Texas. She is founder and editor of
Madison Andrews
Madison Andrews
Tags: Tech Culture,Technology
  • vicki

    You forgot the paid trolls. Its been documented that some conservative organizations pay people to go on liberal websites and spend a lot of time throwing down talking points, being insulting, not responding to questions and comments. etc. Its possible the other side does this, also, but I have not seen any proof of that.