I know, I know. Some of you warned me. And a lot of you were silently shaking your heads in disgust.
When you engage with a troll, the troll always wins.
I’ve encountered a lot of trolls since I started blogging, usually in the comments, but sometimes they have their own blogs. You can identify them as the people who want to debate, rather than discuss. Ultimately, they don’t want to understand (or even be understood); they want to humiliate. They may compare themselves to Socrates or Martin Luther, but there is nothing sacred about trolling.
How to Spot a Troll
The difference between the troll and the non-troll is that the troll trying to “win.” The non-troll, in contrast, is trying to be understood and (ideally) to understand. That’s the difference between a debate and discussion. In fact, amateurish trolls will often use the words “debate” or “argument.” (The really skilled ones won’t tip their hand like that though.) Trolls often talk a lot about logical fallacies and rules of debate. And they will often try to take the discussion off on multiple tangents, so you feel like the ground is always slipping out from under your feet. Those are some of the warning signs that you might be dealing with a troll.
Trolls do not seek to further the discussion; they seek to end it — by “winning.” Of course, nobody really “wins” when a discussion is ended in this way. It just furthers the deterioration of civil society. But that’s the troll’s goal. It’s a game to them. You see, there’s a whole culture to trolling. Trolls believe they have “won” when they get someone to lose their temper. When they get a sign that the other person has lost their temper, like an ad hominem attack or use of a pejorative, then they can go off and brag about their victory to their troll colleagues. Yes, there are actually online forums where trolls congregate to do this!
Damn, it hurts to admit this, but this one troll got the better of me. It took a dozen posts, a lot of mockery, sarcastic memes, and outright insults from him, and finally his calling my children “trolls.” But he got me to break. And I lost my cool. I resorted to ad hominem attacks. I attacked him … and I attacked his gods (which from my perspective are an extension of him). And then he had what he wanted. He believed he had “won.”
How to Deal With a Troll
Here’s why a non-troll can never “win” a debate with a troll: According to their rules, they can mock and insult you all they want, but as soon you do you the same thing, then you have fallen into the trap, and they have “won.” Because their goal was to bring you down to their level. Even calling them “trolls” can be interpreted as an ad hominem attack, so you can’t even call them out on what they are doing.
When you engage with a troll, the troll always wins. As soon as you realize you are dealing with a troll, end the discussion. It may smart to let them have the last word, but know this: The worst thing you can do to a troll is ignore them. (Even this blog post is probably feeding my troll’s ego.)
So to all my fellow (non-trollish) Pagan bloggers, I hope I can serve as a cautionary tale. Remember: Do Not Feed the Trolls!