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a blog by Chris Barrow

The Troll

Don't Feed the Troll sign with sky background

I know I shouldn’t (because it gives them oxygen) but I find myself pondering the motivation of internet trolls who wait for you to broadcast anything about which they can express their outrage.

In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl//ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,[1]extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2]or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion,[3] often for their own amusement.

I’ve had my fair share of trolls over the years, some of whom it has been necessary to block from all of my social channels.

Their activities and comments have included:

  1. browsing through my partner’s personal photos on Facebook to copy and post some of my crazier and indiscreet moments at home and publish them on other forums;

  2. a famous contribution to an on-line dental forum that included “I’ve never met Chris Barrow but I’ve heard he has terrible teeth.”

  3. engaging direct with my children in defamation of my character

The rule is always to ignore and disengage, “please don’t feed the trolls”, no matter how tempting it may be to point out their (predictable) lack of erudition as well as provide further insight or evidence to back up one’s original point.

There is an important distinction to be made here between healthy debate and trolling.

Clearly, I’ve been advised by family, friends and colleagues over the years that I put myself in harm’s way by:

  1. having opinions and

  2. sharing them publicly in my blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin

Many is the time that I’ve been asked why I posted something when I knew darn well that it would cause trouble.

That’s part of my brand.

The distinction is between:

Response – I read what you posted and this is why I disagree.

Known as a healthy debate and often extremely useful in shaping and changing paradigms.

Reaction – I read what you posted and “you are a twat. I hate bullys (sic)

This last masterpiece of cogitation appearing on a recent thread that erupted after I named and shamed a Front Desk Manager following a hotel check-out experience that would have won Olympic Gold if they had a category for disinterested customer service.

Most trolls arrive, deposit their comments, wait for a counter-reaction and leave when it doesn’t happen, presumably looking for other targets with large audiences.

Others hang around, patiently waiting for the next opportunity to post and yet don’t seem to be put off by the lack of engagement.

I wonder whether the combination of the originator’s large following  and the chance to simply see their names on a thread is sufficient titillation?

I’ve followed the advice on lack of engagement and also operate a simple rule of thumb on deciding when to block the troll:

  1. as soon as they become slanderous

  2. if their appearances become unhealthily frequent

  3. if they give me the creeps

But, other than that, they can be pretty good to keep around for entertainment value (a point which I suspect, they don’t fully realise – that we laugh AT them and not with them).

The ultimate irony is that I don’t only post because I’m narcissistic and opinionated but because its good for my business!

So the longer the thread and the more contributors, the more that Google’s algorithms see me as a person of influence and increase my SEO.

The more opinions expressed, the more likely it is that they will be shared, more followers will arrive and, ultimately, some of them will turn into clients at a future point.

So the trolls have a role to play in maintaining that visibility, because I know from feedback that some of their pithy outbursts get more shares than my original and considered pearls of wisdom.

I wonder whether any will comment on this post?

Please do – it’s good for business – but behave yourself.

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