Menu

How to Starve a Troll

For as long as there have been blogs, there have been trolls. A troll is a commenter who hangs around…

troll

Image via Flickr user christoph.grothaus

For as long as there have been blogs, there have been trolls. A troll is a commenter who hangs around your blog for the sheer purpose of annoying and goading you and your other readers.

Trolling is quite different from merely being critical. Obviously, not all of your readers are going to agree with you about everything, but a troll’s comments will rarely have anything to do with the topic at hand. For example, say you review a certain book you like. Someone might comment that she thinks it is an overrated work and doesn’t understand why anyone likes it. That’s not trolling. Even a comment as abrupt as “I’ve always hated that book” isn’t trolling, because, while it’s not particularly interesting, it’s at least a response to what you’ve written.

A troll, on other hand, is not actually trying to express anything. Rather, a troll is seeking to provoke a reaction from you or your other readers.

A troll might comment that she thinks books are stupid altogether and anyone who reads probably hates babies and puppies. She might comment that you yourself are a moron and it’s amazing anyone reads your blog at all. She might even comment in this way on all of your posts, day after day. Whether a troll’s comments are abusive or whether they are just irrelevant and annoying, they derail the conversation that you are trying to start. They can even intimidate other readers from participating in your comment thread.

For these reasons, it’s best to simply delete comments by trolls. Sometimes it might be tempting to get into an argument with one, but you will find that any response, no matter how shaming, will merely encourage the troll. Hence the expression “don’t feed the troll.”

Sometimes disagreements between regular readers can turn into trolling. For example, say that Susan is a vegetarian who often comments on your recipe site. Say that Bob is another commenter, and in one comment thread, he and Susan get into an argument about the morality of eating meat. While this is not trolling, if Bob continues to pop up in the comments of every post after that to try to pick a fight with Susan about vegetarianism, then he’s trolling. Ultimately, it’s your blog, so it’s up to you to decide when a particular commenter has become a bully.

You have complete control over your comments here at WordPress.com. You can set your Discussion Settings so that every comment users submit must be emailed to you for moderation before appearing on your blog. If you’d like to be more lenient than that, while still exerting some control, you can choose that a comment author must have a previously approved comment; otherwise, the comment will be sent to you for moderation.

What if you do not want to have to moderate all of your comments yourself, but you’ve noticed that your commenters seem to get into a heated argument every time someone brings up football? You can add the term “football” to your comment moderation queue. Then, every time a comment is submitted with “football” anywhere in it, you’ll have to approve it before it appears on your site.

If you then decide that you’re so sick of the football arguments, you don’t even want to see them at all anymore, you can add “football” to your comment blacklist. Then, any comment with that term in it will be marked as spam. Be careful with the blacklist, though–it matches inside words, so any comment with “foot” or “ball” in it will likewise be spammed.

You can even edit your readers’ comments themselves, for grammar and punctuation, or to remove profanity if you have a G-rated blog. Be careful not to misrepresent your readers, though. If you get creative with editing their comments, you will lose their trust and probably their readership.

While you shouldn’t put up with abusive behavior from your commenters, be careful not to go too far in the other direction, either. If your commenters suspect that you never allow comments that disagree with your point of view or criticize your posts in any way, they might become less interested in engaging on your blog. Remember, the goal is always to keep the discussion going!

Have you ever had a problem with a troll? How did you handle it?

Show Comments

157 Comments

Comments are closed.

Close Comments

Comments

      1. Same here. Anytime journalists bring up politics or religion, people get into pages & pages of heated debate that quickly turns vicious. Lately, it’s been gun control. Whenever someone mentions it, you get 10,000 people arguing.

  1. Trolls seem to exist in all realms of the internet where there is user-generated content. I have my comments set to always wait for approval. I like to make sure that the comments I approve for my blog will be professionally written and respectful to all. Thanks for the post, Elizabeth!

  2. I received a couple of posts from trolls on my Sandy Hook article. I deleted them and moved on. Haven’t heard from them since.

      1. @vlad
        Don’t get hooked on IP addresses. They haven’t been unique for over a decade. 127.0.0.1 is a special purpose address conventionally used as a computer’s loopback address. Using it is troll-like for sure.

  3. Interesting – I didn’t know you could tag words to the comments moderation queue. Last month I wrote a piece about bucket list activities to do in Montreal. I had idea that there were coalitions against the use of horse drawn carriages and in a short matter of time, I felt like I was getting hate mail! I was torn – do I permit these comments as they are people’s points of view, or do I trash them? In the end, I approved a few as I am trying to maintain and open blog and communication, and put together a reply. The responses became rather personal, attaching me and for the first time in over a year, I felt like I was being cyber abused. I approved one more comment and then sent the rest to trash! The carriage rides were not the main subject of the blog and I felt that the people were missing the point of the post and were running away with it for their own views and personal politics. I don’t know if I was wrong in my decision, but like you said, it is my blog, and if they are trying to provoke the wrong messages, I felt I had to nip it in the bud!
    Here’s the link to the post – tell me if I was wrong? But it had to stop at the personal attacks!

    http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com/2013/02/06/montreal-bucket-list-unique-winter-experience-you-have-to-try/

    1. That is weird. I mean, it was only a tiny part of your post (which was pretty cool and had some beautiful pictures btw) and these people were using it to further an agenda. And why were there the exact same comments listed under different names? People are strange.

      1. THanks for the compliments! I put a lot of work into my series from Montreal and was shocked at how nasty some of the responses were! I did delete the most personal of attacks but left a few for the sake of transparency! Glad to see you have the same opinion – I was rather upset by this comment hijacking at first!

    2. Anita,
      I LOVED this post! It was so beautiful and inviting. And you put so much work into it!
      Yes, you were being spammed, possibly by folks who believed they had a right, believed they must be proactive or something, but you handled it very well, left a few thoughts for me to investigate, myself, should I be so inclined, which is fair, really, and then you moved on.
      GREAT job! I mean that. I so want to visit after reading your site. :)

      1. Thanks Katharine. Glad you thought I handled it well too! I struggled with my response for a while. I asked at the hotel I was staying at and the tourism bureau for their take on the situation and put my response together! That is about all I can do! perhaps I could have expected that level of negativity if the post was only about the carriage rides….but seriously! They missed the point! Guess they wanted to be certain their message got across!
        Glad you liked what you read! Montreal is a super cool city. Looking forward to going back this summer and putting together a summer bucket list!

      2. Yes, they missed the point, but you did not miss theirs. You allowed their argument, even if some were rude, you investigated further, you explained as best you could, and then you moved on. Perfect.
        As a reader, I would want exactly that. I now can inspect the horses, their stalls, or anything I want, and still have a lovely time in Montreal, which WAS the point.
        And since horses generally do not like me, I’d still go with the ice! ;-)

    3. I agree – I think you struck the perfect balance between allowing an alternate point of view and not letting repetitive comments completely overwhelm your thread. Nice work! :)

      1. Thanks for the support! I hoped my response was fair and balanced…everyone is entitled to their opinion. All I can ask is that it is given respectably! I hated the fact that I had to shut down the diatribes but, as you guys have seen and commented, I did leave some up for a fair and balanced comment segment.

        Thanks to those of you who have added a couple positive comments after the diatribes – it brings the comments back in line as to what the blog post was about – the variety of winter activities available in Montreal. It was meant to showcase the city for people who have never been! After all, Montreal is a spectacular International destination! Happy travels to all!

    4. OMG, it’s the same comment from One TROLL and who knows, the first might be the same Troll. Your post has nothing to do about horse but what one can do in Montreal. I love Montreal, any time. I’ll go there for the best Montreal Beef Sandwich.

      1. They are so well known for their beef sandwiches! Every time I go, my dad asks if I had one! :)
        That is a good point – I wonder if the one person has multiple identities! I am guessing not. The FB sharing was higher than normal quite quickly. My guess is that someone saw it, shared it and encouraged others to scream out in the comments section! As upsetting as it was, I have to admit – my page views were higher than normal for a few days! While I like to think it was because it was a good post…I know some of it was the Trolls! Can you imagine what would have happened if I had actually taken a carriage ride???!!!!!

    5. Anita,
      As far as I’m concerned, you did the right thing. It’s your blog and you decide what stays and what goes. I delete all hateful troll comments. I have neither the time nor the patience to respond to them.
      Eliz

  4. I have a strict rule on my blog: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. If that makes me less popular or means the “discussions” are shorter, that’s fine with me. I blog to share my opinions with any like-minded people out there, not to get into a debate about it. My blog, my rules. Haven’t had any problems with trolls thus far.

    1. Good rules, and yep a definite Thumbs Up.. Trolls want a reaction.. I find it quite funny watching the lengths they will go to, to get that reaction. Smother trolls in kindness they can’t handle that. :D

  5. Have I EVER had such a problem!

    I’ll say!

    One dear commenter, with whom I had previously enjoyed great friendly dicussions, one day just decided to flip. I woke up to a heated attack on my site, with Ms Troll calling my COMMENTERS all SORTS of names not acceptable on my g-site.

    She was really angry with me, but directing her outlashings against my commenters. Basically, anyone who agreed with me was a target. I asked a few trusted sources, some of whom had addressed this very issue recently, and received firm but blessedly clear instructions.

    I was forced to put her under moderation, which I totally hated to do.

    Then I removed her attacks and one other reply from another commenter — one that made no sense without the other missing parts — and inserted a comment to that effect, plus an explanation that my commenters must be safe from attack at my sight and that I would protect them.

    I replied to Ms Troll privately that she might want to restate her ideas in a different way, since she’d had time to cool off.

    WELL. Umm — not.

    I mean, she exchanged the blatant foul language for euphemistic restatements of the same bile and posted again, discovering she was being moderated, and then REALLY hit the ceiling, switching to facebook to try and drum up some reinforcements.

    Two of her fb friends commented on my site, politely, that they thought I was totally wrong, but that they also thought I did not deserve being attacked as I was. They said nothing to any who agreed with me.

    I replied to these that anyone on earth is totally welcome to disagree with me or any of my commenters, in fact, that I welcome debate as a trained debater, but that the normal rules of civility would operate on my site and that no one will attack any other commenters on my site.

    My commenters are safe.

    My site, my rules.

    The next day I posted an entire post on the subject of all my commenters always being safe. Ms Troll posted one more diatribe, which I did NOT forward to the public, and then unsubscribed. She probably still does read, but does not comment any more. Also, she totally changed her gravatar image.

    I miss the old image, a reminder of a lady I enjoyed and welcomed — in another reality, it seems.

    1. I am so sorry to hear of your experiences some people think because the cannot see you then it doesn’t hurt. I no longer go on any kind of forum, I used to run a forum and been on mainly photography forums as a member and the utter nastiness that went on and the forum owners just laughed at the antics.
      The thing with the net and this isn’t me being snobby but when i first went online 15 years ago the people who were online were people who could afford £1500 for a basic computer. Now as the the price of computers have dropped almost free and now you get the scum of the earth online who have nothing better to do is ruin peoples life.
      There are a few ways to stop. Moderation, I do it you still see the posts, get an email showing the post and one click approved. The second way is to block ip addresses, you can download a plugin.
      Some oeople never get bothered, some way you should be glad as your blog is so good it gets recognised and the troll is very jealous and attacks but you have moderation in place ad your true friends and fans will never have to see them. I belong to no groups, no organisations or anything on or off which will lead to those of low intelligence and a forehead like Neanderthal man/woman failing to express themselves and then become jealous and like an ape throwing their s#$t about only to be laughed at. =)

      1. MYSORESOUL –

        I do not feel the way you have stated, about this situation, AT ALL.

        I mourn.

        I have lost someone I considered a friend.

        I also do not equate poverty in finances with poverty of character.

        I am extremely sorry if I have conveyed any other message.

      2. Sorry your reply to me makes no sense to me whatsoever. The conversation is about trolls, you wrote about your problem with troll, I wrote about my experiences with trolls and how you may deal with your troll problemIf you do not wish to take the benefit of my advice then all you needed to do is “Thank you” or nothing all. I really don’t care. As a footnote there is evidence of a link beteeen poverty and low intelligence, including a paper written by myself in 2001 showing a link between children between 11 to 16 years old receiving free school meals and educational attainment.

      3. Wow! @Katherine! I am so sorry to hear that you had such a major troll issue!! That is just awful…what a bully for sure…

        Congrats though on your grandbaby in womb!! What exciting news!

    2. That’s really too bad. :( If a typically reasonable person completely loses it in your comment thread, I don’t think you need hesitate to remove the comments. Often, they’ll probably thank you later when they’ve cooled down, for saving them the embarrassment!

      1. Thank you, very much, for stepping in, here, Elizabeth.
        You are right, it really is too bad. I really miss her. She was of extremely high intelligence and great artistic skill, and also not poverty-stricken in any way. As were the wonderful ones she attacked. I did not really hesitate, after researching the proper response. I deleted and wept.
        I pray she will thank me some day.

      1. Terrible. Yes. I would call it that.
        What made it worse, for me, was that I was busily preparing for the rehearsal dinner of my son’s wedding. I had announced and planned that I would ignor my site for about 3 weeks, but felt forced to continue checking to be sure all was well.
        The happy ending is that I am expecting a grandbaby in November! :)

    3. Wow! I think that the lady troll needs to get a life! Wonder what set her off! Glad to hear that things have quieted down! glad that the wedding went well and congrats on the upcoming bundle of joy!

      1. Quieted down — yeah. I actually slept in today. Ha! Can’t shake the feeling I’m resting up for round two, though! :)
        I think the thing that set her off, really, was that she agrees with me (did agree with me in the past, anyway) but her life cicrcumstances do not allow her to live what she thinks.
        So she attacks those who are able.
        But I could be wrong about that .. .

  6. Reblogged this on IamOkema and commented:
    Dealing with Trolls on your Blog. Great post here from another blogger on lurking/trolling [reading your entire blog but saying nothing relevant to the topic...just harassing everyone because...well, they have no life.] – too bad most of mine are on ‘the other side’ of the family.

  7. I haven’t had trouble with trolls, which surprises me considering some of the content I’ve put out. I’ve encountered far more trolls on message boards and the comments sections of news articles than here. But I think it stings a lot more when harsh criticism comes from someone you know, than when it comes from some stranger on the internet.

  8. So what’s wrong with eating meat? Couldn’t you pick another example. Me and many other meat eaters are offended. Meet me out back we’ll settle this geek to geezer. (Could this considered trolling?)

  9. I was accused of trolling some time ago.

    I was somewhat surprised. Is trolling disagreeing with someone’s post? I could accuse a load of my readers of that, but I don’t and we continue to disagree.

    I don’t think any of my readers try to goad me, my readers, or annoy me. Some may annoy me, but they always get a reply without being accused of trolling.

    So to be told I was trolling on someone’s blog (I actually missed the point because it didn’t occur to me) and then to get a private email accusing me of that was pretty insulting.

    Criticism and trolling are not the same, and if bloggers can’t take criticism they shouldn’t blog. I’ve backed off one of my blogs at one point because of difference of opinion but I never considered they were trolls.

    One of my blogs has a lot of vegetarian posts. Most people argue with me, because for some reason my readers don’t have the same point of view as me. C’est la vie.

    I also write feminist posts. My readers aren’t feminist. Regular readers on both roughseas and Clouds – hopefully – know they can say what they want. I appreciate my readers being able to voice their different opinion. (Got to reply to one right now who totally disagreed with me!)

    I’ve had trolls in the past on Blogger. Not not on WP. A better community.

    There is a fine line however, in the judgement of the author about what is trolling and what is genuine discussion or, heaven forbid, criticism.

    Thought provoking and a good read. Wonder what other comments you will receive?

    1. It is a fine line, and every blogger has to decide for herself. Personally, if I’m in doubt about whether a comment is trolling or legitimate criticism, I tend to err on the side of allowing it. I think true trolls can most often be identified by their persistence.

      1. Thank you for your reply. I would agree with you.

        I think the other considerations to take into account are whether or not someone has commented on your blog before, the type of comments they have made, or whether it is a one-off criticism, or a series of criticisms on the same theme – and nothing else.

        And because I have a number of blogs, and some of my readers follow at least two of them, they comment differently on each blog.

        Dissension is not trolling, to me. Whether it is persistent or not. I can think of at least half a dozen of commenters who regularly disagree, or don’t agree with my posts/point of view – but are they trolls? No.

        My best example was from Blogger, where I had someone being abusive and rude over a number of posts. I wrote a critical post about a telephone company and he said it was my problem because I was feminist. There was no mention of feminism in my telephone company post. That to me, was trolling.

        The obvious follow-up to this post is (qv timethiefs comment below) is something about house rules. Whether people read them is another matter, but there are blogs that accept discussion/argument and ones that don’t. If you don’t want criticism, don’t weigh into controversial areas.

  10. Ignoring the troll seems to be the best advise, but even there I made a lot of mistakes in my previous blog- raising to the bait and making them happy… I think I have learnt the lesson now…

  11. I never had to deal with a troll on my blog. I did however receive some comments on an article I wrote for a news site. The comments were completely irrelevant to my content.

    As for my blog, so far, so good. :) I’m actually surprised. When I first started out I made a lot of mistakes.

  12. Yup…best to ignore the blighters if you can. But it can be difficult when they get personal. We’ve had a few on the WP forums in the past and they can be evil. I’ve had plenty of run-ins with them bit now I know how to handle them. DON’T FEED ”EM.

  13. Best response is no response… darn that’s so hard to do when someone misrepresents you to the world. I agree with having the first comment filtered too. I use that feature and it has allowed me to keep the trolls at bay; not that there have been many.

    I have experienced more troll issues on LinkedIn and Facebook by far. If it is something that is easily refuted I’ll give my side once; after that I simply ignore them or wait for someone else to call the troll out.

  14. Fortunately I’ve yet to deal with a troll. I do plan to deal with them as you suggest should one ever rear it’s ugly head.

    In not expecting everyone to agree with everything I write or even like every photo I share. Where would the fun be in that? Trolls on the other hand will be shown the door.

  15. My blog, LifeInLorain is only 1 year old, so I haven’t yet run into any trolls. Thanks for the advice though, and I will keep it in mind.

  16. I recommend adding a regular troll to your spam list so that you don’t even need to bother with reading the inflammatory comment. It makes the process that much smoother.

  17. Excellent tips. In the early stages of my blog, I had some troll comments. But I believe they were from someone trying to get me to respond to spam. I decided to filter all comments to prevent spam. My commenters are very civilized – thank heavens. I’ve seen more trolling on FB and don’t join in on that.

  18. If members of any online community condone the trollish behavior of individual bad actors it will slowly become more acceptable and commonplace, simply because it’s being tolerated. And if bloggers are not willing to act to prevent troll postings on their blogs, then a single negatively focused and manipulative member can create bad will that will have a lasting effect in any online community. More to the p[point is that one factor in page ranking of any blog is the amount of spam and troll comments that are approved and posted on it.

    I consider my blogs to be like my home and my role to be one as a hostess. Consequently, I do not approve any comments that are in conflict with what I would allow to take place in my own home. I do post differeing points of view but I don’t post any personal attacks and/or comments full of obscenity. If anyone were to cross those lines in my home they would be shown the door and the same goes for trolls and my blogs.

    Some bloggers fear that if they restrict commenters, they’ll lose readership. Well, I blog for pleasure and I enjoy constructive dialog. My blog is not a stage for bad actors. I prefer to take the risk of losing traffic flow by starving trolls to preserve as safe and comfortable environment on my blogs for those who can and will participate in intelligent conversation.

    My advice is that once you have set up your blog and published a couple of dozen posts it’s time to develop your own comment policy and publish it. Sooner or later you will get a troll comment and it’s best to have a comment policy in place to deal with it..

    It’s my opinion that comment blacklisting ought to be avoided. ISPs have been placing hundreds of us in the same IP block to save money for over a decade now. That means the result of blacklisting to send the stream of comments submitted by a single troll to the spam filter can be blocking many legitimate people who are submitting meaningful comments.

    Though your have emphasized “it’s best to simply delete comments by trolls” it’s my experience that many new bloggers are not marking troll comments as Trash. They are marking both troll comments and even comments that simply express a different point of view as spam. That corrupts the learning process of the Akismet spam filter and that’s why when answering support forums questions I emphasize marking only spam as spam. And, it’s precisely why I like your concluding paragraph.

    It’s important for every blogger to recognize that your blog is not YOU. No commenter can connect with your inner self and trigger you emotionally, unless you give them permission to so. Don’t open that inner door and give your power away. Take responsibility, develop a comment policy and either post the comment and refute the contents, or better still, mark it as Trash and blog on.

  19. I used to get a LOT of trolls here in Oman as I was one of the first openly Christian bloggers in the blogosphere here…nice to see the hate mail has gone down over the years! :-) Great advice on not feeding the trolls. I just delete comments when I sense “they’re off” or when they’re obviously trying to get me involved in some ridiculous exchange.

  20. The problem with identifying trolls is that non-trolls are sometimes perceived as trolls – usually when the commenter disagrees with blogger. In reverse, some trolls are sneaky and suck you into their world before you realize that you have been had.

  21. Trolls are just a part of any internet site that has a comment section. They’re an annoyance, sure, but, can also be amusing in that “I can’t believe anyone is really that dumb” sort of way.

    Mostly, I’m annoyed by all these new Troll Blogs that have started appearing all over WiordPress. They don’t leave mean comments, but they like and follow you, in an attempt to get you to visit their blog, where you’re supposed to click on ads and learn how to make money blogging.

    Comment trolls I can deal with. All these stupid new SLOGS (spam that looks like blogs) is what’s truly the annoyance — especially since you can’t remove them from your list of followers.

      1. Well, the problem is that you can only report certain blogs, some, when you try to report them as Spam say they are hosted as outside of the free blogs, and cannot be reported justlats.com for example, is a get rich blogging spam, but, your process doesn’t allow for it to be reported. I’ve gotten about 10 or 12 follows from these types of blogs in the past month, and there seems to be nothing that can be done about them

      2. Are you saying when someone ‘follows’ you or ‘likes’ a blog and you find out they are promoting their business….that it should be reported? I have had quite a few of those….Diane

      3. Hi Diane – if their blog is a WordPress.com blog that appears to be against our terms of service, such as a spam blog, then you can report that blog.

        On the other hand, if it’s a legitimate blogger who is just being annoyingly self-promotional, you should just delete their comment. :)

  22. I had an issue with this recently and put the commenter’s name and IP address in my moderation queue. They changed their name and IP address, but as this made them a ‘first time’ commenter they were automatically moderated next time they commented (excellent job WP!). Then somehow they went through all my posts for the past 6 months and gave me a one star rating (about 20 times for each post) – so I removed the star rating. I won’t post their comments because I don’t want to ‘feed’ them. I’m hoping they’ve gone now, but who knows (they’re pretty persistent) …

  23. I had what I would consider one troll and when she made a decision to question an aspect of my faith and then one of my commenters’ also… I did engage a couple of times to try to counteract her words but after her going on and on and even confusing some of my other followers I told her that I would not speak any further and deleted all comments. Fortunately she did not make any further comments on my blog but did on my one other commenters’..Felt like it was stalking…actually. But since she eventually left the other blogger’s site …all seemed to quiet down …I never know of course if she still reads but as long as she doesn’t comment there is no issue….Diane

  24. I think it helps not to have a twitter account while connected to your site. Also, I have had other bloggers bad mouth me and be critical to get me not to post on a site called Yeah Write. I found it very petty and soon left the site due to its bulling and favoritism… then the trolling ended. Good article. Thank You !!