Can Internet Trolls Be Reformed?

Anyone who is an experienced Internet user has probably encountered a troll  —  someone who, by Wikipedia’s definition “sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous,  or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.” (

I just listened to a podcast with a segment about a young lady, Lindy West, who writes on the Internet ( and thus has to deal with trolls and their cruel remarks all the time.  But she discovered a new low when she received a tweet from her father.

What was low about that?  First, it was very insulting, and second, her father was dead.  Yes, someone had gone to the trouble of researching her life just to harrass her in the most personal way possible.

The first rule is “don’t feed the troll”.  In other words don’t respond, don’t give them a reason to continue the harrassment, don’t let them know you are bothered by what they said.  But she didn’t do that.  She wrote about the experience and how it made her feel in her next column.  And then a very unusual thing happened…

The podcast is Act One of This American Life Episode 545, “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS.”  (

Human behavior?  Well, it’s complicated.


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