Last weekend I gave the opening keynote at PHPNW14. The talk was recorded, and no, the video isn't online yet. The basis of the talk was centered around community and how we can come together (and how we are drifting apart). But there was one point that I mentioned that I think requires further thought and discussion. And that point is that there is far less trolling going on than it may seem at first glance.
What Is A Troll
Well, if we believe internet definitions, a troll is someone who sows discord by starting arguments, upsetting people, posting inflammatory messages or off-topic messages or basically anything that they can to provoking an emotional response from others.
In other words, to quote the Dark Knight:
Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn...
A troll, a true troll, is someone who simply wants to watch the world burn. They want to set that spark, and then sit back and enjoy watching the fire spread. Watching people get upset. Watching everything tumble and crumble to bits.
Why? Because they can. It's as simple as that really.
But Not All Of Them Are Like That
There are plenty of people out there who look like trolls, but aren't for one reason or another. Let's look at some of them:
Those That Have A Reason
They look like a troll in that they want to watch everything crumble. They set those same sparks.
But they are fundamentally different to a troll. They aren't doing it for the kicks. They are doing it for revenge.
Perhaps they felt wronged. Perhaps they felt insulted. Perhaps they felt ignored.
The key is that they have a reason. And they consciously want vengeance. They are out for blood.
Those That Don't Understand
Many people simply don't have enough knowledge of a situation to determine how to properly act. They may be new to the community or simply naïve.
Those That Have Passion
Quite often, a person is simply someone who is passionate. Someone who cares. They don't want to watch the world burn. They don't want the world to burn. But they do care about their view point. They care deeply.
And that deep passion can manifest itself in a lot of ways. It can be enthusiastic. It can be constructive. But it also can be destructive. It can be defensive.
After all, imagine someone told you that your deepest passion was wrong. Or imagine you worked incredibly hard, only to be crushed by someone not caring.
It's important to note that they don't realize they are being damaging. They don't realize that they are causing a problem. They aren't deliberately trying to hurt people.
There is a massive problem when we write off someone as a troll. We effectively slam the door on them. We shut off possible positive benefit. We turn them forever into a negative influence.
Now, for a true troll, that's all you can ever do. They will come after you solely because you exist. Writing them off is about the only way to deal with them effectively (for lack of a better term than effectively, since it really isn't effective).
But for someone who has a reason, writing them off may make problems worse. Instead, if you were simply to stop and ask why, you may get a reason. You may get an answer. And you may be able to fix the problem (or at least prevent it from getting worse).
For someone who doesn't understand, writing them off is simply pushing the problem to the next community. They will go from community to community wondering why everyone is so hostile. Where a simple bit of teaching them would go a long way. Teaching them will help them be positive and help them be a contributor to other communities.
Finally, for someone who has passion, writing them off is the fastest way to kill that passion. And that's a bad thing. As a community, we want to harness passion, not kill it.
Turning Negative Into Positive
Next time you see someone getting aggressive, stop and re-read what they wrote/said. Are you assuming they are getting aggressive? Or are they really throwing out ad-hominem after insult? And can you tell why?
Next time you see a topic getting derailed, stop and try to see if it's because they really understand they are derailing the topic. Sometimes a simple "did you know" or "would you mind" can make all the difference.
Next time you see someone trolling, stop and think about what they are saying. Beyond the obvious disruption, are they actually saying something valid. Are they actually making a point. Even if you can't help them, can you at least learn enough to help others?
But most importantly, try to assume the best in people. Don't pour all of your energy into a flame war, but at the same point try to extract the value that everyone can deliver. After all, if we have to assume the worst in people, what's the point?