What does “Don’t feed the trolls” mean?

In online discussions - for example in forums, on social media or in the comments of blogs or YouTube videos - you sometimes read the note Don't feed the trolls. But what does that mean? Which trolls shouldn't you feed? And why? In this guide you will find explanations of this saying as well as the background and development that made it part of Internet jargon.

Don't feed the trolls. You shouldn't feed internet trolls comments because they only want to provoke them. Even factual answers quickly lead to negative reactions. (Image: Created with HitPaw AI image generator)
Don't feed the trolls. You shouldn't feed internet trolls comments because they only want to provoke them. Even factual answers quickly lead to negative reactions. (Image: Created with HitPaw AI image generator)

What is an Internet Troll?

An internet troll is a person who intentionally interrupts or even disrupts an online discussion or posts a comment with a similar intention. It is not uncommon for these people to hide behind the more or less anonymity of their online presence in order to make statements ranging from harmless practical jokes to offensive statements. Troll content ranges from misleading but not harmful comments or questions to provocative, offensive and/or hurtful statements.

Different motivations: trolling vs. worldview

Trolls are usually aware of their disruptive role in conversations or in the presentation of content (website articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, etc.). Out of boredom or a calling, they take on the task of misunderstanding the discussion or content, reinterpreting content or distracting by mentioning another topic that is only vaguely related. The whole thing can go hand in hand with a certain degree of self-expression. Here, too, there are gradations from harmless playing of a naive character to cocky behavior as an ego presentation.

This behavior is a controlled act for “real” trolls, who are limited to troll activities on the Internet or only in certain areas of it. The matter is more critical when people intervene negatively in online discussions based on a genuine opinion or worldview. Ultimately, this could still be a simple misunderstanding. Depending on the medium, target group or groups attracted by the topic covered, it can also end in confusion such as conspiracy theories as well as serious insults, threats and criminal offenses. This then has nothing to do with trolling.

Positive Trolling: Naive statements made for the sake of entertainment

Above I already mentioned the range of troll behavior on the Internet. The end that can be viewed more positively should be considered here: naive and harmless, if sometimes disturbing, statements. In the early years of the Internet, when “netiquette” did not necessarily have to be established in forums and elsewhere, this form of Internet trolling emerged. Purposely misunderstood facts were used to derail a discussion.

An example in today's Apple cosmos would be that, during the discussion about the A17 chip in the current iPhones, someone would ask what Autobahn 17 has to do with smartphones. Or the question could be asked as to what one could solve for A if the equation is “A17 = iPhone15”. If two trolls with similar humor met, this could lead to a discussion about the rule of three, which no longer has anything to do with the iPhone, but which - apart from the discussion as such - does no harm to anyone.

Negative Trolling: Provoking for the sake of provoking

The other end of the scale consists of people who post comments, forum posts and the like in order to deliberately provoke and elicit an equally provocative or even worse reaction from the online counterpart. The aim is to lure the participants in a discussion or the content creators out of their reserve and drive them to make ill-considered statements. Anyone who doesn't recognize this can fall into the corresponding trap and thus bring themselves into criticism. In addition, the trolls of this type are given the opportunity to portray themselves in the role of victim.

Dealing with negative, provocative troll comments is difficult. On the one hand, one would like to give in to the impulse to clarify the misunderstanding of the content, to name an insult as such and to otherwise act defensively. On the other hand, you only heat up the discussion and run the risk of getting another, even more provocative and now more ad hominem troll comment. So it's no longer about the topic, but the discussion becomes personal and consists more of "you have...", "you should...", "you are...", etc.

The result: Don't feed the trolls

The well-intentioned advice “Don't feed the trolls” arises from precisely this development, namely that negatively acting trolls do not stop going further and further down the negative spiral. Because with every answer, even if it is intended to be well-intentioned and informative, you are giving these people more and more fodder to work through some frustration. The topic or the person they imagine behind the comment is then further and further dismantled, either intentionally or through being misunderstood and thus only producing more unnecessarily negative things.

How should you deal with trolls?

Whatever the motivation behind online trolling, it's usually disruptive and drawing attention to something other than the main topic. And with the note Don't feed the trolls It is pointed out that people who act in this way should not be given the attention they require. They shouldn't be given the opportunity to continue producing.

Here on the blog we have the option of simply not publishing offensive or otherwise misguided comments. However, if they have to do with the topic of a post and do not fall into the completely negative troll category, we usually release them. If a misunderstanding is identified, attempts may be made to clear it up. But I'll be completely honest: sometimes it sounds from the forest like someone was calling in before. But I increasingly limit myself to just a comment to explain myself. If the tone continues in a negative tone, I will leave the discussion and give no further answer.

And that's exactly what you can do if you don't have the time or nerves to respond to troll comments: you can simply ignore them. If they are too provocative, perhaps even offensive and/or if such statements constantly annoy a person, you can also block them (e.g. on social media). Furthermore, you should never take comments, especially troll comments, personally. These are just people who take themselves too seriously and want to provoke you. Don't get involved in it.

If you can't avoid a discussion or if you really want to clarify an issue, then concentrate on the matter at hand. Address the substantive points and leave out the personal in your answer. And if the troll response is too violent or is clearly no longer trolling but becomes a criminal offense, then don't be afraid to report the user in question. It's important that you don't take the whole thing personally, don't escalate things yourself and use the options available to you to correct people who are being too strict.

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