Adobe-full-color Adobe-white Adobe-black logo-white Adobe-full Adobe Behance arrow-down arrow-right LineCreated with Sketch. close-tablet-03 close-tablet-05 comment dropdown-close dropdown-open facebook instagram linkedin rss search share twitter

Productivity

Don’t Feed the Haters: The Confessions of a Former Troll

To defeat the troll we must understand the troll. Lesson one: never feed a troll.


This is a story about how I raided a wedding. Yes, “raided” — as in to steal, kill, and plunder. Growing up an avid gamer, I engaged in troll-like behavior. From hijacking people’s accounts and stealing their items, to relentlessly bullying and berating other gamers because I could, I was a troll.

My game of choice was usually World of Warcraft, a game where players make and control a character in a vast digital world, played with others in real-time.

But, back to the wedding. There were rumors that an online wedding was happening for a couple that had met through the video game. They were going to have their characters get “married” to mirror their real life arrangement. My friends and I thought this was both bizarre and funny. 

We gathered a bunch of people and found the location of the wedding. When we approached the ceremony, we kept our distance on the far hillside. As we plotted our attack, a part of me couldn’t stop laughing because I knew this would go down in the books as one of my most savage acts in online gaming.

This wasn’t a fair or noble fight—it was slaughter. We had our war gear on, while the wedding attendants wore cloth armor: tuxedos and dresses. The charge looked like something out of the movie Lord of The Rings: all of us on horseback, shining in our armor, weapons drawn, and running in as our prey scattered like ants. Flashes of red and green would spark across my screen as we fired spells at them, and the game’s cartoonish sounds of death rang in my headphones. Some of the victims tried to escape, only to be pummeled by an enormous axe or a raging fireball.

Other attendants just stood there, probably shaking their head and cursing us behind their keyboards. What makes this worse is that once we killed their characters, we didn’t leave. We stood around, waiting for them to come back to life, only to attack again. And again. In the game we call this “camping” or “griefing.” We danced on their character’s bodies, laughed on voice chat, and then resumed our day as normal. The objective was to have no survivors. What was once a field of flowers honoring a ceremony of love ended as a field of pixelated bodies.

Some of the victims tried to escape, only to be pummeled by an enormous axe or a raging fireball. 

Back then I justified the act by telling myself that it was just a video game and no feelings could possibly be hurt. But I remember reflecting on it a few weeks later once I saw the backlash from online forums, and then I genuinely felt horrible. What really gave me pause is not the attack itself, but my mindset behind it. Why did I possess a desire to hurt rather than help? I thought about how easy it has become to demonstrate our frustrations, insecurities, and fears online by taking it out on strangers and felt ashamed that I got caught up in that feeling. 

I don’t play the game anymore, but many years of outlandish trolling taught me how to detect and deflect the kind of trolling we see today. Except now, my trolls aren’t 15-year-olds in video games, they are people that try to take down my creative work. If you do work that matters, you’ve probably faced this too. The way a bird watcher understands the patterns and behaviors of birds, many years of online gaming taught me how to defend myself from the most malignant creatures on the web: trolls. 

A screenshot of a World of Warcraft wedding.  Credit revdebi.

A screenshot of a World of Warcraft wedding. Credit revdebi.

Understand the Troll

To defeat the enemy, we must understand them first. There are two fundamental reasons why a troll trolls:

  1. They’re bored: Trolls lack stimulation “IRL” (in real life), for good or ill, so they seek it online where it’s readily available and easily acquired. A troll’s behavior reflects a deep insecurity so having someone respond to their words gives life meaning, regardless of how pathetic that may sound. I raided that wedding because I wanted to be noticed and talked about. Random people cursing me out through private messages or the general chatroom invigorated me. I was so bored with my real life, and even my virtual character’s life, that I learned to find joy in harming others. If a troll had something better to do, like work or a hobby, they wouldn’t have time to troll. The next time you find yourself posting a negative comment think about why you’re doing it. 
  2. They want attention: All a troll wants is you to turn the spotlight onto them. They want you to repost their comment to your followers. They want you to write a blog post or status about them. They will use anything and everything to get it. They will criticize you, post inflammatory comments, or write remarks just to make you wonder how someone could be so dumb. The problem is that you will feel compelled to respond to “set things right.” Even if you respond in a cheerful or positive way, you’re still feeding the troll.

 

Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Don’t Feed The Trolls

The reason we respond to negative comments is the same reason a troll does what they do: ego. When someone unknown comes at us, it’s part of our human nature to defend ourselves. A part of us doesn’t want to stay silent, because we think silence means surrendering, and surrendering means losing. That’s just a bad philosophy. 

After years of dealing with this kind of behavior, both in a virtual reality and in the comment sections of an article, the harsh reality is this: You will never beat a troll. You will never change a troll’s mind. You may delude yourself into thinking that you proved them wrong, however, never in my years of dealing with trolls have I seen a troll lay down his or her arms and say, “You know what, you’re right. I was so wrong.”

I have never seen a troll lay down his or her arms and say, “You know what, you’re right. I was so wrong.”

Indeed, blowing off steam after dealing with a troll is our first reaction. It’s like driving: someone cuts you off, you feel disrespected, so you drive up next to the person’s window so you can see what they look like, or you flash some hand gestures to let them know that they aren’t getting away with it. What makes this practice of not responding to trolls so difficult is that many of us are naturally inclined to react to our impulses. It’s so much easier to respond than it is to hold back.

When I trolled other gamers with words—harsh words—many times they would ignore me. Because hindsight is 20/20, I remember being bothered by that. “Why won’t they defend themselves? Entertain me!” The ones who ignored me, and even better, put me on their “Ignore List” so that they couldn’t receive my messages, were the ones who understood this principle.

Here’s a few ways that I use to handle trolls:

Use foresight

So a troll is attacking you. Ask yourself: If I respond to this troll, what will likely be the outcome? This requires us to pause and take a breath. We need to be mindful of what we’re telling ourselves after reading something that attacks our ego. What are we feeling and why? Are we angry because the troll’s comment contains validity? Have you seen this scenario before in other settings? These small shifts in our perception should influence us to not feed the trolls, to realize that any attempt to change a troll’s mind is an exercise of futility.

Talk to a friend

Sometimes we need to vent. No meditation or deep breathing exercises—just straight-up getting it off our chests. One time I shared a very vulnerable story on my blog and a reader attacked me from all corners. It felt like I was in group therapy, admitting my mistakes and what I learned, and someone stood up and shamed me for it. I wanted to delete the post, but after talking it over with a friend, he made me realize that deleting the post would be the same as feeding the troll. It would show them that I was affected. But the most important lesson was this: deleting the post would remove value from those who appreciated and resonated with the story. Focusing on one troll ruins the fun for those who actually matter.

Practice your principles

If you don’t have principles on how to deal with trolls, now is the time. The reason why abiding to principles is so helpful is because they tell us how to act. “Do this, not this.” It focuses on the long-term outcome, whereas acting on our impulses creates many possible—and unfavorable—results. If there is one thing I learned both in psychology and philosophy, it’s this: No one can hurt you. It is what we tell ourselves about the specific event or person that creates the feeling. So if we’re telling ourselves, “How dare this person say this to me,” we’re creating feelings of entitlement and anger. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you — inside or out.”

The 30 percent rule

In James Altucher’s book, Choose Yourself, he shares a story about responding to critics that wondered why he always used half-naked women for his blog post photos. The woman in the picture responded to the post, sharing her story and insight. Altucher said, “I’ve seen it in action repeatedly: no matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter who your audience is: 30 percent will love it, 30 percent will hate it, and 30 percent won’t care. Stick with the people who love you and don’t spend a single second on the rest. Life will be better that way.” File those trolls under the proper 30 percent and move on.

So did that couple ever get married? My best guess is that they did. Meanwhile, I spent hours on a video game, tormenting strangers, ultimately getting nothing done. It’s like smoking a cigarette for the first time in a long time: heart beats a little quicker, head gets lighter, a kind of euphoria lingers, but before you even realize it, the feeling is gone. At the end of it all, I did nothing but harm my mind and body.

***

The people at the wedding may have suffered an hour or so of frustration, sure, but they didn’t even acknowledge us. At the end of the day, they accomplished their goal, and all troll-Paul did was add negativity into the world as well as hurt himself. Two people got married and were happy, and one person was still just as lonely and sad.

All troll-Paul did was add negativity into the world.

As we become more vulnerable online, the chances of being trolled increases. The more you ship and put yourself out there, the more likely you will come across people who despise or don’t understand your work. Because technology is maturing faster than we are, trolls will always exist and will feel compelled to sabotage you and your work. Why? Because they have nothing better to do. It unmans them to see you pursuing an artistic and worthy endeavor. 

Is a world without trolls possible? Highly unlikely. So we must stop asking the impossible. Instead, we can follow the one principle that safeguards our creativity and productivity, and keeps the troll at bay. Whatever you do: Don’t feed the trolls.

How about you?

How do you handle the trolls in your life?

More Posts by Paul Jun

Paul Jun is a writer and author. His latest book, Connect the Dots: Strategies and Meditations on Self-education, is available. His blog, Motivated Mastery, is where he connects the dots between subjects like mastery, philosophy, psychology, culture, self-awareness, and more.

Comments
  • fmd123

    Hi Paul,

    You say that they experienced only a few hours of discomfort but how do you know that? I’d really like to hear from the wedding people themselves. I’m sure you could easily find them. How about a follow-up post?

  • Snoopy - Your Friendly Neighbo

    People get married in World of Warcraft? Rofl, uh….

  • peabody3000

    trolling comes in many forms. a lot of people are sophists.. people who love to carry a stupid debate, the goal is never being defeated even though one’s point is wrong or even ludicrous

  • Psi

    I get the gist of this pretty readily and agree on most points. I would say that while the mantra that nobody can make you feel a certain way is supposed to be empowering, it often has the opposite effect: it makes the person being abused/mistreated responsible for feeling abused/mistreated.
    I subscribe more to a philosophy of compassion or humanisation: the person calling you that name, tearing you down, trying to make you feel bad is just a person, just like you – and they clearly are using you as a scapegoat or a way to work through whatever feelings they have or issues that have cropped up in their lives. Don’t exonerate them for their maltreatment of others. And don’t trust their limited perspective of you more than you trust your far more detailed perception of yourself. Let the fools own their folly; recognise them to be foolish, don’t chastise yourself for being made a fool of, and don’t become one yourself by letting them mean more than you do.

  • Breena

    I fed the troll by sharing the trollpost via facebook and showing everyone that it didn’t harm me at all… Just now i realized i fed the troll with that.
    Next time I’ll try your way. thanks (;

    Breena
    http://www.breenasmith.com

  • http://dragoninc.net/ Romi Gon

    paul YOU are GREAT!! Me too…I’ll link this article every time I run across one!!

  • Alexandra

    In Germany, there’s a saying that goes like “The one who knows better, surrenders”. It’s not like literally surrendering, it’s more like just going away or just leaving them alone.

    I’ve been living by that ever since I was little. It’s true, it’s sometimes frustrating because you want them to understand, you want them to know. You have your ego, you know better and you want the world to know you know better – but I then think ‘that poor guy, he’s going to meet more people who know better, maybe someday he’ll understand – maybe he won’t, but essentially, it’s his problem, not mine’. And that then makes it pretty easy for me to just take a step back and end the discussion.

    BTW.: I don’t know about WOW, I’ve played many MMOs, still am occasionally, but in the ones I know, you can’t just attack someone, you have to send a request and when they click no, you can attack all you want, you can’t hit them. It’s totally new to me that you can just walk around attacking people. That’s one reason I love The Secret World. If you want to fight players you go to the fighting zone, if you don’t, you just don’t and you’re good to go 😉

  • sieteocho

    I don’t normally feed trolls but there was one that I fed until he choked on his vomit. This is possible but you need a phenomenal amount of feeding and a great appetite for wanting to make somebody’s existence miserable. That experience made me not want to deal with trolls ever again.

    He’s dead now – died young in a car accident.

  • GabrielMoro

    I’ll be following your advice. Thank you! This is great 🙂 positivity all the way!

  • Eve A

    I am doing just that – ignoring the trolls.

  • Jason C

    From the way you described your attack in the article above you seem to still enjoy the idea of it, I don’t think you’ve come as far as you seem to think you have.

  • naTRON

    Great article! Awesome and effective advice! Fresh perspective!

  • David Peretiatko

    I tried. I guess the reason I failed was those variables you were talking about. I was abused my entire childhood. My parents did things to me that you don’t even see evil step parents in horror movies do to their kids. My dad poured boiling water on my crotch. Constantly called me the n word even though he and I are both white. Constantly called me worthless and said I’d never amount to anything or be better than him in anything. The thing that really screwed me up psychologically about that was he owned a recognition company (the company that does Employee of the Month plaques for restaurants and places like that), and we was constantly preaching to me about how statistics show employees would rather receive praise for a job well done than a 10% bonus on their check or a gift certificate. Yet he never once thanked me for mowing the grass or taking the yard, even though, unlike most lazy kids, I went out of my way and did beyond what was required of me even though I didn’t even receive allowance for it. When I confronted my dad and asked him why he never thanked me for doing chores he responded (after laughing) “It’s your job”. So I asked him, “aren’t the people who you say would rather receive praise than money just doing THEIR job? And they’re even getting PAID which I’m not?” And then he would call me a fggt or make fun of me for being sensitive. Once, during the winter in North Carolina, I asked him if we could turn the heat on because I was cold (my dad is a penny pincher ). He responded by making me stand outside in the snow in nothing but my underwear for over half an hour in the middle of the night. I brought the welcome mat from in front of the front door so I wouldn’t have to put my feet in the snow. My mother beat me ever since I remember, the first time being when I was 3 years old. She hated my father, who was 250 lbs of muscle, and she took it out on me because I looked like him. She would hit me in the face until I fell down and curled into a ball where she would continue to hit me by kicking me. These kinds of things happened on a daily basis. I was never allowed to leave the house or have friends over. I worked illegally for my dad’s business, putting together plaques for hours after school, most nights not even having a chance to do my homework. My dad pulled me out of school for the 8th grade to home school me. I didn’t do any school at all. I worked for his business for a year. I feared for my life every day. One time I signed up to talk to my school counselor to tell her what was happening (in the 5th grade) but by the time she saw me, a week later, I was too scared to tell her so I lied and said I signed up to talk to her because my dog died and I missed him. I have made a lot of mistakes, but I have always done my best. I was on food stamps for almost 5 years. I lived off $400 a month, $200 in cash and $200 in food stamps, but I would give money to homeless people several times a week. I’m. It trying to brag because if you only do good things to tell other people that defeats the purpose, so I will just say I did a decent amount for people around me who were struggling even though I was worse off. But the world refuses to be kind to me. I see all these people who escape occults or abusive homes and the media makes them out to be heroes and the people praise them and love them. But whenever I tell my story people will say, without even knowing me, “You deserved it” or, “I wish they would have hurt you more”. No one has ever offered me compassion or sympathy. All I wanted was to be a contributing member of society, but the universe seems to have a different plan for me. No matter how hard I try to be the good guy, the universe has people treat me like I’m a villain. My parents are loved and respected members of society while I’m treated like trash. People don’t even know why they hate me so much, but no matter if I’m nice or mean, people naturally just don’t like me, and so just recently I have finally accepted my place in the universe as a Villain. There is nothing I can do to change of later the path which Fate wants me to take.

    • Teq

      *hug*

    • OC

      “Life is not fair” as they say and know that first hand without bitterness (most of the time:) and fully understand realities of life, this time around. On the topic of “Don’t feed the hate”, trolling, bullying, etc…this story puts the powerful emotion of anger and hate into a much bigger perspective and relates to the context of these posted messages. It may be extreme in comparison but what a powerful message and real-life reminder of so many “wounded heroes and victims trying not to become villains” as anger and hate tests their will many years ago and today. Wild Bill said “ it was an easy decision”… read on and keep hope alive!

      “Wild Bill”
      “George Richie, a psychiatrist, wrote a book :Return From Tomorrow”
      which he relates the following powerful story. Before he became a Doctor, Ritchie was part of the small medical team sent to a newly liberated Nazi concentration camp. There he met Wild Bill Cody, the nickname of one of the Jewish prisoners. His eyes were bright and he worked along with American soldiers 15 to 16 hours a day without showing weariness. Though the soldiers showed fatigue, Wild Bill’s
      strength seem to increase, “His compassion for his fellow prisoners glowed on his face,” Dr. Ritchie reported.

      It seemed obvious to the Americans that Wild Bill had not been in the concentration camp too long. Richie was shocked when he discovered records that showed Wild Bill was imprisoned there in 1937. He asked him how he had kept his vitality for six years when everyone else was barely alive. He said, “We lived in the Jewish section of Warsaw, my wife, our two daughters, and our three little boys… when the Germans reached our street, they lined everyone against the wall and opened up with machine guns. I begged to be
      allowed to die with my family, but because I spoke German, they put me in a workgroup. I had to decide right then whether to let myself hate the soldiers who had done this. It was an easy decision, really. I was a lawyer. In my practice, I had seen too often what hate could do to people’s minds and bodies. Hate had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world. I decided then that I would spend the rest of my life -whether it was a few days or many years -loving every person I came in contact with.”

    • Junior

      I offer you compassion and sympathy.

  • Joy Villa

    AWESOME! Im sharing this! Thanks, Paul. You can crash my digital wedding when I have one, by the way. ;P

  • Victim of a Troll

    Thank you for this article. I am dealing with the worst troll I have ever encountered. Someone using a fake name posted a RippOff report about me full of false information that is a complete defamation of character and internet bullying.

    I don’t know how to find out who posted it, but I have my suspicions. (An insane angry ex.) RippOff report is an ideal venue for trolls, and the website itself extorts $2000 from people who can’t even defend themselves against lies.

    It is really bothering me, but I realize over time it won’t matter. And my reputation in the real world is fine. I do, however, have my lawyer looking into it. I’ll sue the hell out of this troll if I can prove who it is.

  • DrumminD21311

    The couple made the mistake of not hiring bodyguards for their wedding. A few high level mages could have repelled the attack. I mean, it is the “World of WARcraft.” The whole point of the game is to kill people.

  • Tahir

    I can understand some people trolling a little bit as a joke and it doesn’t bother me but still some people do take it to far like that. messing with a player a little bit as a joke is fine but just being an asshole for the fun of it is just wrong.

  • Junior

    Nice job Paul. I can totally relate. Thank you for your courage. And for your honest and informative article. Have a good day man.

  • dauða til tröll

    I feed them until they explode. I have fed trolls so much that they just get bored, embarrassed or have deleted themselves. I get other people in on it too- hey they were hungry right? “It’s wafer thin!”

    • Derelict

      Can you share some of your methods? Maybe the Internet as a whole could benefit from them.

  • randomgamer

    I came across this article as I was researching ‘internet gaming trolls’ for a college paper. I am in my 40’s, been a gamer all my life, and finally going for a degree. I have to applaud you for writing this article with many ways to avoid/ignore trolls, as well as openly admitting your own unique style of trolling. I have played various MMO’s and the one thing I have learned is that no two trolls are alike. Many times I do have to remind myself that I am playing a game that I enjoy and ignore the trolls by default. However not everyone appears to play the game for the same reason. There are those who have stated on game chat something about the game is only there so they can troll others. For them, trolling is the game. Most trolls are obvious enough, full of whatever crap they are spewing, or believing they are, or accusing others of being elitist or some other negative virtue. Sneaky trolls can come off as friends and wait a long time before their true ugly colors are known. My favorite are the trolls that pump up other trolls to an extreme level of trolling that is, well, just unpleasant to say the least. The one thing I do not ponder is the motives of any troll, I would probably have a better time trying to herd cats. But I do have to remind myself over and over again that somewhere on this planet is someone looking at a computer screen who does not have to care at all about their actions. So depending on the troll, a different approach may have to be taken to ignore them. The ‘ignore’ option usually works best when it is available. Even if it is not, I like to use the ‘Live a better life’ approach, where I enjoy the game without their consent or approval. Now I should let you know that I do not always ignore every troll. Yes I am guilty of ‘Trolling the Trolls’, and sometimes I even get pleasure from it. Knowing when to stay silent and when to fight is never an easy decision, but once chosen I see it through until the end, and honestly, no one wins. Even if that is a guilty pleasure.

  • scubblebutt

    Although trolling in its everyday form is an obnoxious blight, the Warcraft story is kind of epic in a George R.R. Martin Red Wedding type of way. On the other hand, total dick move dude.

  • Marianwhit

    Definitely attending a WOW wedding unarmed or undefended seems unwise. While your actions were dishonourable, your candid sharing of the experience gives us valuable insight. Thanks for writing this piece.

  • Christina Knock

    I love this! Thank you Paul.

  • Boss mode

    I usually just tell the troll they’re getting me off

  • Ryan

    Brilliant! Thank you for this article Paul. It sheds light on a problem from the “side of the source”. Congrats on making it over from the dark side.

1 2
blog comments powered by Disqus

More articles on Productivity

Female Athlete Gymnastics by Gun Karlsson
Painting Woman By Emily Eldridge
Two figures looking at painting
Figure inside a battery icon.
Figure balancing on top of a calendar.