Don’t Feed the Blog Trolls

I have a fairly liberal comments policy. I have turned my blog filter on so that it automatically sifts out comments with profanity. Other than that, I generally do not screen all the comments. I’m not saying it’s the best policy. It’s just the one that I use because I simply do not have time to read all of the comments (especially in the longer threads), and I do not want to turn off the comments altogether.

For this reason, I sometimes get complaints about the tone of the debate that goes on in the comments section of this blog. I agree that some people’s rhetoric in the comments is way over the top. In fact, the tone in some of these comments is positively sub-Christian. Some people think that it doesn’t matter how they speak so long as what they speak is right (at least they think it to be “right” from their own perspective). Of course, we are all tempted to do this from time to time, especially when we feel like our cause is just or when we feel like we’ve been wronged. Nevertheless, this kind of talk is patently unbiblical.

When we disagree with one another, it’s critical that we do so in a way that is not disagreeable. The book of Proverbs teaches us that “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable” (Pr. 15:2). It also says that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger” (Pr. 15:1). Consider also this text, “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Pr. 16:21). The Lord Jesus Himself was no stranger to controversy (Mt 12:34; 23:31). Nevertheless, it was said of Him that “All were speaking well of Him and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips” (Luke 4:22).

The goal of this post is a very practical one. Given that I am not sifting out all of the inappropriate comments that may appear, what should we do? How should we treat those who ignore the wisdom of the Proverbs and the example of Jesus? How should we respond to rude, obnoxious, and caustic commenters—those whom I like to call “blog trolls.” Having dealt with and thought about this for a number of years now, I’ll offer a little bit of advice that might be helpful.

Before offering my advice, let me make a confession. I am not innocent of the behavior that the Bible rebukes. I am a blog troll at heart, though hopefully a repentant one. If anyone needs the wisdom of the Proverbs on this point, it’s me. Here’s an area in which we could all do better, and hopefully this advice might help us from becoming what we are attempting to correct (Mt 7:5; Gal 6:1). So here’s my advice on responding to blog trolls.

1. Do not respond in kind to a blog troll. Blog trolls feed on arousing the ire of their targets. If you feed a blog troll by equaling his vitriol, then he will come back for more. Instead, think of ways to speak kind words in all your communication with a blog troll.

Proverbs 26:4 – “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.”

2. Do not demand an apology for bad behavior from a blog troll. This tactic generally encourages the blog troll to dig in and to defend the righteousness of his cause all the more. This leads to more rude and caustic commentary, and the cycle starts all over again.

Proverbs 12:15 – “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.”

3. Do not attempt to correct or to rebuke the blog troll in the comments thread or in any other public forum. That only leads to more nasty conflict. If you feel that you have been wronged, then the private confrontation enjoined in Matthew 18:15 is probably the best way forward. Try to get the blog troll’s e-mail address, and resolve the matter there.

Proverbs 17:10 – “A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool.”
Proverbs 27:22 – “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him.”
Matthew 18:15 – “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

4. Do not acknowledge the comments of an unrepentant blog troll. If the blog troll is unresponsive to your private efforts to get him to play nice, then you should ignore his comments thence forward. Once again, do not feed a blog troll. It only makes him bigger. If everyone will simply pay no attention to blog troll comments, then the blog troll will eventually go away.

Certainly there is more that could be said on this topic, but perhaps this post will give us enough food for thought so that our interaction in comments might be a little bit better. It’s much better to moderate our own comments than to have someone else do it for us.

20 Responses to Don’t Feed the Blog Trolls

  1. Ferg October 2, 2008 at 4:42 am #

    Denny,
    Thanks for that, and thanks for your humility. Very well put. I don’t say thanks from a moral high ground, I say thanks because I can learn from what you’ve written.
    Ferg

  2. Truth Unites.. and Divides October 2, 2008 at 7:04 am #

    If you feed a blog troll by equaling his vitriol, then he will come back for more.

    I have made the mistake of feeding blog trolls.

    And I have mirrored their rhetoric back upon trolls, thinking that they’ll see that they are arguing against themselves and their own “logic”. And hoping that the realization will cause them to stop.

    Turns out that such attempts are usually just feeding the troll. Oh well. Live and learn.

  3. Lucas Knisely October 2, 2008 at 7:39 am #

    I fell prey to the “demanding an apology” one on this blog at least once. I definitely learned back then that it is pointless to ask a fool to see clearly what he is doing. We can only pray that if we commit sins against one another that God reveals it to our wretched hearts and brings us to confession and reconciliation.

  4. MatthewS October 2, 2008 at 7:52 am #

    Denny,

    TUAD was the last straw for me when I quit interacting in the comments on your board. I’m curious: do you perceive TUAD’s behavior to be trollish?

  5. Lance October 2, 2008 at 8:47 am #

    Is there a way to only allow commenters who can be identified by their blogs or websites?

    Seems to me that we sinners might think twice before we say unkind things, if we knew we could be identified.

    But then again, that puts more work in your lap.

  6. John October 2, 2008 at 8:51 am #

    Thanks Denny, I confess I’ve been guilty of this behavior sometimes in the past, and I want to apologize to everyone for it.

  7. Denny Burk October 2, 2008 at 8:53 am #

    Thanks, John. No problemo. I’m grateful that you take time to read and to comment.

  8. Don October 2, 2008 at 9:30 am #

    Thanks Denny for this reminder.

    I read somewhere that my flesh can confuse the righteousness of a cause with the righteousness of me-me-me. In other words, when I think I am right, watch out, as this makes is very easy for my flesh to act in a wrong way.

    I confess there is a part of me that wants to win for winning’s sake. God has informed me that loving is more important than winning.

  9. Faimon October 2, 2008 at 9:33 am #

    Whoa! Did you describe yourself as liberal? Shocking….:)

  10. Brian (Another) October 2, 2008 at 10:54 am #

    Thanks, Denny. Piercing words as usual (in a good way, of course). Lance hit on a good point. The anonymity of the internet allows us (I being first in that list) to “speak” in a way we never would speak to some one face to face. There are site requirements for some (but then again, we don’t all have a blog or website, either.), but even that (to me) doesn’t bring it very close to home. We discussed this in one of our small group studies (or accountability sessions or other). What we did (and, personally, I do) is have someone we know (or a group) know where we comment. That way, it’s someone who is close. It’s like any other aspect of our lives, accountability is crucial, I think. But that’s just me.

    Great post. The only question I have is where to find an image of a troll with an ibook……

  11. Paul October 2, 2008 at 12:00 pm #

    “Is there a way to only allow commenters who can be identified by their blogs or websites?”

    bingo. you’d be surprised how much less vitriol and/or stupidity people would be willing to let loose with if it suddenly meant that we’d know just who they are.

  12. Adam Omelianchuk October 2, 2008 at 4:50 pm #

    Accountability through visibility is the best way to have it on the Internet.

    Denny, thanks for allowing your site to be a place of vigorous discussion. It comes at a cost for sure, and thanks for the good post today.

  13. Greg The Anonymous Troll October 2, 2008 at 5:37 pm #

    Denny; Thanks for hosting one of the best theological blogs on the web. There are true Blog Trolls but… most of what I see labeled as troll behavior is simply another persons opinion which disagrees with the majority. Most of the blogs (unlike yours) I see, have become enclaves for sycophantic backslappers and they do not take kindly to other perspectives. The PC party line is enforced with threats and insults that are allowed to be thrown by the insiders but are forbidden to those who dare to disagree. This ghettoizes the blogs and causes me to stop reading them. (Jesus Creed is a prime example) Interestingly it’s the liberal and left leaning blogs that are the worst offenders in this. Here is an interesting except from;
    http://www.fact-index.com/i/in/internet_troll.html

    “Sometimes people use this to discredit an opposing position in an argument. By asserting that one’s opponents are trolls, one is asserting that they are only maintaining their position in order to feed the flames, and that their position is actually indefensible. To demonstrate that someone is a troll in this sense therefore carries a far more difficult burden of proof than is required merely to show that someone has posted messages that have the effect of creating controversy. In any case, merely asserting that someone is a troll without providing the appropriate evidence amounts to an ad hominem argument, and is itself thus usually indefensible – many views that have met with opposition and even the ridicule of experts have subsequently been found to be justified.”

    Again your blog is one of the best around precisely because actual honest discussion is allowed to take place without constant threats. Even though it’s uncomfortable sometimes I would rather be challenged to think things through and come to a clear understanding than to be stewed in my own juices. Keep up the good work Denny.

    Greg The Anonymous Troll 🙂

  14. micah the pilot October 3, 2008 at 12:25 pm #

    Denny, what’s with the troll being an Apple user? Are you trying to make some psuedo-spiritual alignment with PC?

    Knibb High football rules!

  15. Sandy October 4, 2008 at 7:25 am #

    Denny,
    I see not only your humility in this post but also your constancy in seeking answers to life’s questions in the Source of all answers. I’m amazed at how you can solve any problem in life, even cultural issues, with the Word, confirming the power and relevancy of the Word and refuting the situation ethics philosophies that scream to us of Scripture’s irrelevancy in modern society. I’m also grateful for your lifestyle and worldview that make you do this problem-solving process as a first-response habit. More and more, everyday, you remind me of the Parson in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
    sbgayle

  16. Denny Burk October 4, 2008 at 5:11 pm #

    Sandy (in #15),

    Thanks so much! You sound like my mom, whom I love very much!

    Sincerely,
    Denny

  17. Marnie Tunay October 8, 2008 at 7:43 pm #

    I am very curious to know, Denny, what you mean when you say you are a “blog troll at heart.” Perhaps you could answer this best by elucidating what you mean by the word, “troll.” Because, to me, the word, in reference to online activity, means someone who is out to harass an individual or a group online, with comments that are abusive and/threatening. If you are only using the word to refer to somone who tends to make critical comments, that are reasonably civil, on topic and non-threatening, then in my opinion, you should not be calling yourself a “troll.” You’re a critic. I think most people can handle negative feedback, within reason. So, what about it, Denny? Are you indeed a “troll at heart,” – within the parameters of the definition I have given?

  18. Paul October 9, 2008 at 1:27 pm #

    I’m pretty sure that at the very least, TUAD considers me a troll.

  19. MrData November 28, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    Thanks for the advice but it’s best to stay away from comment forums all together………………… if you can.

    I have seen moderators on video game/TV forums acts as trolls which *innocent* problems gets mis-understood and often blown out of propotion by the nazi mods while *VS threads* or *Character X is better then characters Y AND Z* that are full of ego-boosting (sometimes bullying) comments are turned a blind eye too.

    You can see some posters really push the bounderies in their comments while little problems go out of propotion.

  20. MrData November 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm #

    The 1,000th post person usually gets treated the nicest or if they are a friend of a moderator or a friend of a friend of the moderator can get away with just about anything.

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes