The Right Way to Shame Internet Trolls

May 28, 2012 — 30 Comments

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about how we in the online community should respond to jerks and trolls. In it I said that we should stand against it. Not feeding the trolls, but calling them out and making it clear that their kind of discourse is a poison.

Cut to: The comments section at the A.V. Club. I love the A.V. Club. I adore it, particularly for their TV reviews. On last night’s review of the latest episode of Girls, Todd VanDerWerff showed us all how it’s done. His ‘A’ review of the episode was met with a flurry of comments, but one in particular caught his ire. The person left the comment, “If you’re sporting a mug like Lena Dunham, you’d better be really,really fucking funny. Unfortunately…”

VanDerWerff’s response was epic.

People, this is how you deal with trolls. Now, maybe you don’t always have to respond with such length, but the message is important. Instead of ignoring trolls, or letting them draw you into an argument, just call them out.

My favourite bit of Todd’s diatribe is this:

Most of all, though, it just bugs me that you–and yes, I’m sorry to single you out, because there are a ton of people in this very article who are being dicks and acting like it’s the height of hilarity, when if you’re going to be a dick, you’d better be really, really fucking funny–were just an asshole and didn’t seem to care and (even worse) got 12 automatic “likes” for being an asshole who makes the world a worse place to live, just a little bit. Here’s the thing: I don’t know you, but I know you don’t have to be an asshole. You don’t have to say that thing. You don’t have to start this whole conversation. You don’t have to make the women in our midst feel unwelcome if they don’t look like Allison Williams. You don’t have to make me feel disgusted to write for a website that people like you comment on. You don’t have to make the world a worse place. You don’t have to make that joke. It’s not worth it. You can be a bigger man. You can be a better person. And you’re just not.

And that pisses me off.

Todd gets at the heart of it right there. Nobody needs to be an asshole on the internet. Being an asshole can happen. Lord knows I’ve been one, including online, but the attitude of this kind of asshole is unique to the anonymous online sphere. It’s so easy to come into the comments section of a site and leave a jerky piece of snark that’s manages to be reductive, mean and misogynist all at once. Letting this particular kind of asshole slide is unacceptable and so I applaud Todd VanDerWerff for calling it out.

30 responses to The Right Way to Shame Internet Trolls


    I’m still of the opinion that responding to a troll this way only adds fuel to the fire. The only thing a troll wants is attention. And now he has it.


    I’m pretty sure that “George Tierney of Greenville, South Carolina” is proof that anonymity has nothing to do with it.


      Well, it’s anonymity of a different sort. Sure, you can look up his name and location, but on the internet, on some random comment thread, that information is useless. He’s still a random stranger whose name has no meaning.


    This might work on some trolls. It would work on me, at least temporarily. But what I’ll call the “unthinking trolls”, people who aren’t even trying to be original or trigger any sort of discussion, but act out of pure rudeness, they won’t care. They won’t even notice except to think they “got someone”.


      You may be right, but I think there’s a side benefit to calling the troll out. Maybe that one person will continue to be an ass, but the other people who read it get the idea that this kind of crap is unacceptable.


        Setting a standard for future posts might be a worthy cause. Maybe it has deterrent value. As long as it doesn’t encourage more trolls because they know there’s food.

        (not sure why my previous post was anonymous; I must have misclicked details)


          I think it’s a deterrent, but it also helps to make it clear to those who might want quality discussion that as a rule trolls are not tolerated. It can be an encouraging factor. I don’t comment at A.V. Club, but Todd’s reply to the troll shows me that quality discussion is valued and makes me want to contribute.


      i’d like to hunt those assholes down to extinction and never get punished for it.


    Thanks for posting this comment. I find it really fascinating and not because it shows a good way to respond to trolls. I don’t feel like someone like that guy (and many others) will get the issue no matter what people do.

    What I found so intriguing was the clever way that VanDerWerff makes his points without being lazy and directly attacking the person who commented. Instead, he uses that idiotic comment to make a larger point that goes beyond a simple debate over a close-minded point of view.


      Yeah, I think that’s what I responded to most and why I said he dealt with that guy the right way. He didn’t so much engage an argument as point out to everyone else the larger wrong. Great form.


    Damn. He got troll punched right there. It was really satisfying to read that, whether or not the troll got the message.


    I guess I’m of the minority opinion–I thought the VDW’s response was unwarranted and not commensurate with the comment author’s offense. I’m not saying there isn’t a time to slap down trolls, but I don’t believe this was it. I think VDW was correct in thinking that the author didn’t intend for his childish comment to offend the way it did.

    This clown is simply ignorant, and in his callow assessment of female talent raised some offensive notions. However, rather than pointing that out to him in a more reasonable way or even ignoring his inanity the way he ignored the majority of the other comments, VDW engages in a pissy, holier-than-thou lecture which is a lot more likely to piss off the offender than to convince him the error of his ways. So really, this didn’t accomplish anything more than to stir up a hornet’s nest of self-righteousness.


      I can see that, and I think if it was just one random commenter VDW might have been going overboard, but as he indicates in his response, he was brought to this point by a consistent and persistent misogyny in the comments for that show week to week. He chose one guy to highlight, but that was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.


    I doubt the troll was shamed. He probably just laughed his ass off because Todd VanDerWerff came off like a sobbing twat. “You can be a better person. And you’re just not. And that pisses me off.” Boo boo. Maybe Todd “the Writer” could start more sentences with ‘And’. Or maybe he could go cut himself and write some poems. He’s a soggy limpdick, just like all of you. All ‘the troll’ was saying is that he doesn’t want to look at broads that aren’t hot. And all you 5’s and 6’s got pissed. Suck it. Be hotter or STFU. Now, please shame me. Which (according to whoever wrote this trite shit) would include one of you whining about how I am a bad person. All because I disagreed with you.

    And that doesn’t piss me off at all.


    Trolls lack understanding of a topic. They will not respond with a proper answer to a proper question.


      It’s a mindset I just don’t understand. I get being a dick in the flow of a normal conversation, but just popping up out of nowhere to be a douche? I get that there’s a sense of satisfaction in it, but for the life of me I don’t understand what it is. As long as everybody understands that the dick is being a dick, that’s what matters.


      and that’s why they should be aborted like the retards they are.


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    If I see trolls, I’d be super nasty to them. Hell, this world would be better if they never existed.

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