Mattathias Schwartz of GOOD Magazine has a much-linked-to feature in tomorrow's New York Times magazine about trollius dickwadius internetius maximus, a subhuman web-based species better known as the common internet troll.
The piece is a really good read, but here's my one minor beef with it: "disemvowelling" is mentioned, without a hat tip to the person first known to have used it as a moderation technique: BB's own mod Teresa Nielsen Hayden (boo ya), whom I understand to be its inventor. She began using the technique in 2002 to moderate the worst-behaved commenters on her own blog. Snip from the NYT article's mention of this technique, which we now use on BB:
If we can't prosecute the trolling out of online anonymity, might there be some way to mitigate it with technology? One solution that has proved effective is "disemvoweling" – having message-board administrators remove the vowels from trollish comments, which gives trolls the visibility they crave while muddying their message.
I'd insert a comment here about how the NYT editors' failure to namecheck TNH's genius is akin to something Hitler might do, then maybe I'd insert a url in that that sneakily hijacks the browser for a full-screen technicolor goatse kitten-porn gotcha extravaganza — but then TNH herself would disemvowel me, and I'd join the ranks of the article's subjects, and all would be moot.
All that having been said, there are only two ways to deal with a troll:
1. Don't reply. Don't privately address him. Don't acknowledge his comments. Don't even make a passing reference in another blog post. Just pretend the troll doesn't exist. This gets rid of 90% of the trolls out there instantly. Then, if you're smart, shut up and quit blogging for a few days and logically re-evaluate the post that set the troll off. Chances are, there is a glaring flaw in your post that makes you look like an idiot or a nutjob, and that's why you got trolled. Don't post again until you're ready to amend it or defend it with better logic.
2. With the other 10% of trolls, you have to play the game. For every insult you receive from a troll, play along and join in the joke. If someone tells you're fat (because you probably are), don't get offended and rant. Just reply with a photo of a whale and say, "You mad skippy I'm fat! I would say this photo is me, but that wouldn't be fair. The whale isn't that big." If you can successfully take yourself and the insults less seriously, you will win the good graces of the troll and he'll either go away, or he'll chill out, knock off the insults, and you'll have made a new online friend. And trust me, it's good to have a troll for a friend.
Of course, now that I've revealed this, no troll is going to let up because you've all been warned and can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse. So, your only recourse is to just not be stupid and/or batnuts crazy on the Internets. If you can do that, everything will be just fine. However, just so I can be absolutely clear about this: if you escalate a war of words with a troll, you WILL lose. We know all the tricks. We have access to all the resources. We know all the laws. We're all friends with each other. We have done this thousands of times.