I’ve been reading a lot of pieces about trolling . And I’m always a bit fascinated by trolls because, I think, on some level, when I was a teenager, I probably would have really enjoyed going into extremely right wing webpages and trying to pick fights with people. I joined the debate team and got it out of my system. But! I can see the appeal of going someplace and trying to fight with people, especially if you’re convinced you are smarter than them (nothing gets that out of your system except age).

But, what always defines a troll in my mind is that they have an ulterior motive. They have deliberately singled out an article to pick a fight with, not because they genuinely care about the topic at hand, but because they like picking fights with people. That is the end game.

That is not the end-game for people who just disagree strongly with something you have written.

To some degree, when people talk about how they are being trolled, I always wonder if they are not seeing just what they want to see. I remember after The Game came out, there were certain woman who would hear an offensive comment from a man and immediately reply “he’s clearly negging me.” And I always felt like replying “No. That man was not doing that to pick you up. That man just did not like you. There was no secret ulterior motive. He just didn”t like you.”

How can you tell the difference between someone who is out to infuriate the commenters – which is legitimate trolling – and someone who just has decided they hate you?

People often say that you should consider whether this person is giving you constructive criticism or not, but, no. That’s just a test of whether an unusually polite person is responding to you. Most people are not unusually polite.You have to assume people who comment on the internet are going to be, at best, only somewhat polite.

This can be tricky, because people who decide that they hate a stranger because of something that stranger wrote on the internet are sometimes very, very dumb. Sometimes they will write things so ridiculous that you will assume that they have to be doing this for lulz.

But sometimes, this is not the case. At those times I wonder – and I feel like this is something I do – if we’re a little quick to jump to the conclusion that we’re being trolled. Because really, people can just hate you. And the thing about the internet is that they are allowed to hate you.

The answer is: there’s no true way to tell.

Except! While common wisdom goes “don’t feed the trolls” I would say – if you don’t have a website where you have to maintain some position of authority – feed the hell out of them. Just gorge them with it. Just give them long, like, 1,000 word responses. People who love picking fights will love this. They will engage with you forever. That’s a troll. You can poke their little gemstone belly and move on.

Someone who legitimately hates you will not reply, because they do not enjoy fighting. They are just swirling around in a little hate-tornado. That’s not a troll. They will go away.

I mean, the downside is that you’re going to have to write really insanely long responses, but, hell, that can be fun. Just write about what you ate for breakfast, or something. Try it! See if it works! Try it because I cannot!

Picture via World of Troll Dolls