When I read an article online, it's hard for me not to skim the comments and try to get a sense of what other readers think. It's equally hard for me not to respond to a commenter whose opinion greatly differs from my own, thinking if I leave my opinion I may get to the bottom of why they think the way they do.
More often than not, leaving a comment backfires. Rather than a calm discussion or debate, the responses are flagrant insults or trolls. As I had to explain to someone a few weeks ago, a troll is someone that purposely writes a mean, racist, off-topic, or lie-filled comment in order to elicit an angry response. Once they get your hate, they've won and proceed to ask, "Angry bro?" until you're punching your keyboard and swearing, dwelling on what they said for hours. All the time I've spent on World of Warcraft (WoW), I've become practiced in the art of sniffing trolls out from under their bridge.
Yesterday, after reading an article on secession, I noticed the trolls were out in force. One man in North Dakota was gloating over his state's possible independence and calling for a nuclear strike on California. He had dozens of people react with threats and taunts, including a man from Texas that said, "BYOBB: Bring Your Own Body Bag." Death threats, childish remarks, and a call for the apocalypse against nonbelievers and sinners are the type of thing a troll feeds on. They tell a person, "Go worship your man in the sky," because they know the reaction they'll get.
As well as on news articles, the forum trolls at WoW don't just want one response. They set out to derail threads, instigate fights between other people, and will continue to taunt a person until they leave a thread entirely. Early last week, one player told me he hated me (my opinion differed from his), then he found my comments in a couple other threads. He wanted an angry response; luckily, I gave him nothing, though I admit I was tempted when he proceeded to call me, "son...kid...fanboi." Sometimes, a troll at WoW will create an entire thread with the sole purpose of upsetting readers so much they feel obligated to respond, and all the troll needs to do is post an outright lie.
The sharpest weapon in a troll's arsenal is discrediting the opposing commenter, rather than what they say. Such behavior is rampant in game forums. Should you write anything that might support the game, you're sure to read, "Fanboi, White Knight, or Wrathbaby," soon after. Along those lines in political articles, people are called, "Libtards or Repturds." Both sides claim the other is drinking Kool Aid and told to use their brain.
What do you say to a person that just publicly insinuated you're a brainwashed drone? Any response will get a rise from the troll, who will only attempt further aggravation. My advice is to either stay calm and write something sensible, which, to an intelligent commenter, outs the troll, or click off the link and find another bridge to cross. Retreat is always an option, especially if you're outnumbered and your opponent starts correcting grammar instead of the issues.
Have I succumb to trolls? Most definitely. I've taken their bait on occasion in seething fashion; it happens to the best of us, even the savvy Internet users. What used to drive me the craziest was when I had written a carefully plotted response, attempting to stay objective and on point, and my opponent retaliated with, "Strawman is a strawman." From there it was a downward spiral as I tried to prove I didn't write a straw man while they use a straw man to enrage me--I wouldn't be surprised if it's on purpose as the original debate shifts into an argument over semantics.
While I doubt trolls will ever go extinct, resilient hobbyists that they are, keep up the good fight. Stay witty. Stay vigilant. And if worst comes to worst, at least be whimsical.