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A Great Way to Handle Comment Trolls

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Blogger John Scalzi says he’s having a problem with a troll and the troll’s minions. And in describing the problem, he suggested a familiar solution: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

John is actually taking a pro-active approach, removing the comments from people he says are just there to cause trouble. But between the time the alleged “troublemakers” post and the time he takes action, he’s asking his many readers to just ignore them.

It’s sometimes hard to do, especially when a comment is outrageously nasty. But then that’s the whole point: trolls thrive on being so mean-spirited that people almost can’t help but mouth off to them, which is exactly what they want to begin with!

One of Scalzi’s commenters added this:

“A website I comment on…has what the moderator calls the “glass closet.” Trolls in the [glass closet] can see their own posts, but no one else can see them. Eventually, they get frustrated and baffled by the fact that no one is responding to them, and they wither and die from attention deprivation (rather than just coming back under another name). Don’t know if WP offers such a feature, but it’d be worth looking into.”

If I had a column here for “Best Idea of the Month,” this one would win the prize, even though we’re only four days into this particular month.

That’s the kind of thing nearly every site needs.

I’m not sure that WordPress does offer such an option; if so, I’ve never seen any mention of it. However, I’ve discovered that the comment system I use here, Livefyre, does. Livefyre calls it the “Bozo” function.

If you’ll allow me to use the word bozo as a verb, I’ll explain that when someone’s comment is “bozoed,” it appears only to them. So as far as they know, their comment is still visible and part of the discussion, yet no one else ever responds because no one else ever sees it.

Yes, it’s devious. But I like that.

I’ve never had to use the Bozo function; the last time I had someone I’d truly call a troll was several years back, and this particular guy was such a troll to so many people that he claimed someone started making threats against him and his family. (He made that claim on his website shortly before taking it down completely.) I felt that was a shame; it wasn’t that he was such a terrible person…he just acted like one from time to time. And his site, when he wasn’t trying to be mean-spirited, occasionally offered worthwhile content.

I wish I’d have had the Bozo option back then. But I’m glad to know it’s there now.

For trolls, there’s no such thing as killing them with kindness. But killing them with silence works every time.

Have you ever had a troll on your site? Would you use an option like the “glass closet” or the “bozo” function to deal with them?

32 Comments

  1. patricksplaceDianaCTSince I wrote this I had a major attack over one of my blog postings and as a result I had to take down my email address. After one particular post the comments were rather nasty and as usual I didn’t post them. Then a couple of days later I started getting deluged with emails from news sites like the Times of India, Washington Post and other subscription services including some far right elist servers. They also signed me up  to have insurance salesmen contact me, which I felt was not only mean to me but also mean to the salesmen who took time to send me an email for follow-up on the inquiry.
    As a result I now have a “contact me” form so my email address is not shown.

  2. Love it. Thanks for sharing. I’m using Disqus on my site so I’m going to see if they have a Bozo function…if not, perhaps I’ll switch to Livefyre.

  3. I have to say that I love the idea of a Bozo feature. I don’t attract too many trolls (every once in awhile when I guest post on 12 Most). I wish I had a Bozo feature in real life!

  4. I don’t really think I’ve had this problem. I’ve received some spam comments, but I think I could just ignore the negative. Everyone has his/her opinion, right?

    1. profkrg It’s not so much about spam, but incendiary comments that are just meant to start an argument or insult people. Spam gets deleted as well, but since it’s usually done by spambots, there’s no real advantage to “bozoing” spam because there’s no human troll to torture.

  5. I love the idea of a bozo option, Patrick. I just delete troll comments if they are mean or nasty. But I have no problem with a commenter disagreeing with me or other commenters, so long as they are respectful in their comments.
    Mostly I get spammers who are overly complimentary in the hopes that I will publish their comment. Not a chance.

    1. wonderoftech Same here…my primary rule for commenting is that the commenter is respectful. 
      I delete without question those overly-complimentary comments that come from usernames like “Quick Car Loans” and things like that. But comments from supposedly real people that are just meant to stir up trouble could be candidates for either deletion or bozoing.
      Fortunately, it’s been a while since I’ve needed such an option. It’s just nice to know it’s there if I ever do!

  6. Yes, I have some trolls that visit my site so I have to moderate the comments. I think as skquinn said, after awhile I think they would catch on to what was happening, so why not just be up front about it.
    I like a good discussion of the issues but I don’t like them using derogatory terms to describe people.

    1. DianaCT I agree that if they’re truly determined to be a nuisance, they will. But I also think there are “minor league” trolls who are only looking to be a thorn in one’s side at a given moment. I think this idea at least has the potential to run THEM off.

  7. Never feed the trolls – that’s what they want attention. I have only had the problem on Twitter a few times – and the block function does keep them at bay.

      1. patricksplace Jen Olney It is a shame but unfortunately some folks don’t get the message when you do not want to communicate with them.

  8. I completely ADORE this idea, as long as the trolls don’t find out. I’m assuming the site-owner gets to pick who to “bozo”? 
    Hello? Hello? Why isn’t anyone answering me? …bummer…. 😀

  9. I’ve never had a troll on my blog, but the Bozo function sounds like a great solution.
    It’s a shame though that the internet breeds that kind of behavior though.
    I actually feel sorry for trolls, as they probably need some genuine help in their real lives.
    And of course, trolls thrive on comments such as the above sentence.
    What a pity.

  10. Long term, this won’t work, especially after they get smart and log out to see what the rest of the world is really seeing. I’ve done a variation of this several times when Twitter has used my own login credentials against me to disallow expansion of a thread involving a user that has me blocked. (I love Chrome’s incognito windows, makes it really easy to get around this.)

    1. skquinn True, but in the short term, it might be enough to chase some minor trolls away for good. A really dedicated troll will always find a way, of course, but those “amateurs” who only look for instant gratification might be successfully annoyed to go rain on someone else’s parade.
      Livefyre also offers the option to ban a user completely, so there’s always that to fall back on.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.