Dawn take you all: Bilbo Baggins’ approach is better than “don’t feed the trolls”

“Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!”For just at that moment the light came over the hill, and there was a mighty twitter in the branches. William never spoke for he stood turned to stone as he stooped; and Bert and Tom were stuck like rocks as they looked at him. And there they stand to this day, all alone, unless the birds perch on them; for trolls, as you probably know, must be underground before dawn, or they go back to the stuff of the mountains they are made of, and never move again. – “The Hobbit,” J.R.R. Tolkien. (Yes, it really says twitter in this section of text. This is the only place in “The Hobbit” or any of the Lord of the Rings books where the word twitter appears.)

Trolls at the world premiere of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". Creative Commons license from Flickr user Kewl

Trolls at the world premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. Creative Commons license from Flickr user Kewl

 

Though I have largely enjoyed my experiences with online outreach, there are, to put it mildly, lots of unpleasant people on the internet. An extremist opinion and an anonymous forum for expressing it can be a recipe for some particularly nasty conversations. Some people seem to take pleasure in disrupting a conversation even when they have no particular stake in it, and these people are commonly referred to as “trolls.” There are various strategies for dealing with them (for example, here’s an explanation of this blog’s comment policy). In general, “don’t feed the trolls”  is a common piece of advice for those engaged in online discussions. “Don’t feed the trolls” means that if someone is behaving in an inflammatory manner, you should simply not respond. While it’s certainly true that many internet trolls enjoy a combative discussion and that engagement may give an extremist idea more exposure than it would otherwise receive, I’ve never liked the idea of “don’t feed the trolls.”

Read More