Prelude: What's trolling?
Trolling is saying:
- All the people I like from the PodTech podcast network tell me they don't like their boring company.
- Technorati is a disappointing blog search engine (especially considering the outstanding team working there) that's lost its focus with weird features like "Where's the fire" and a daily "Buzz" show; it wants to become a portal, but it's doing this all wrong. Meanwhile the actual search engine sucks. Luckily for Technorati, so do all its competitors.
- Startup culture is boring because there aren't enough clever dicks like Weblogs, Inc. founder Jason Calacanis.
- Wired News bloggers think linking to Valleywag makes them look cool.
See what I did there?
Prevention: Don't stick your neck out.
Some of us just have to pick fights or declare ourselves king or something else that makes us a target. But if you can suppress this, you'll be hard to troll. For example, if TechCrunch or Valleywag ever wrecks itself, crowds will gather to laugh at the carnage and use our burning corpses to light marshmallows. If another Silicon Valley blog, Om Malik's GigaOM, went tits up, there'd be no glee. The other two are brash (TechCrunch's editor says he wants to replace CNET; Valleywag is just a dick to everyone); Om is just sane, strategic, a worker. Therefore, fewer trolls.
Response: Don't respond.
So someone trolled you, and you're pissed. You have a really great response. You're gonna take that troll down and make him cry! Geez, you are so playing into the game.
Do nothing. Repeat this to yourself. Then go do something unrelated. When anyone brings up the troll attack, say "Oh, I didn't really think about it" and change the subject. When they bring it up again, feign boredom. Not amusement (the laughter behind "Oh man, it's so great that they compared me to Bush!" rings hollow), not frustration at your idiot friend's persistence with this topic, but boredom. And a new topic.
If you must: The snappy comeback
Granted, some people are smart enough to craft a good response to a troll. How can you tell if you're one of them? Well, do you troll people? Are you strategic? Are you witty? Are other people reporting on the trolling incident and asking for comment? Jesse Oxfeld, then-editor of Valleywag's New York sister blog Gawker, could say "yes" to all this when fellow gossip blogger Perez Hilton published the phone numbers of him and his colleagues. So Oxfeld delivered dryly, "We're thrilled to see that [Perez] has learned to use the phone book."
Here's how to properly compose a comeback:
- Belittle the troll by belittling their attack. (Not their person; people have more sympathy for a person than for a dumb move.)
- Raise a good point. (Obvious but often missed.)
- Don't be self-righteous. (You lose the game.)
- Be witty. (If you're wittier than the troll, you win.)
- Don't attack in kind. (That just raises the stakes for round 2.)
- Consider saying "mea culpa." (Wittily.)
- Never let them see you bleed.
Photo: Genista. Nick Douglas writes for Valleywag, Prezzish, and Look Shiny. He's proud that after he criticized the awful programming of his last trolling victim, PodTech, the company responded with a front-page video that called him a cheap whore.