If you’ve been to the Internet, you’ve probably encountered a troll. That’s the nickname given to the people behind nasty or inflammatory posts in online outlets. Trolls seem to revel in sowing discord, provoking and tormenting other readers. “Don’t feed the trolls” is often considered the best response for dealing with such commenters, and data suggest that it’s effective: A recent Pew Research Center survey found that of people who did nothing in response to an incident of online harassment, 83 percent felt the ignoring tactic worked.
But the same survey found that of people who responded to the harassment, 75 percent felt that the tactic of engaging with the harasser worked. These intriguing data fit with several emerging lines of evidence suggesting that responding to online ranting can influence the behavior of the ranter. While censorship can further rile trolls, the right kind of reaching out can spur repentance. Sometimes, it’s good to feed the trolls.