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Andrew Heenan's Guide to Trolling

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Trolls - Advice for Moderators

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Under Bridge Troll

Troll eradication is one of those jobs that is dirty but necessary, like pouring salt on slugs.

Don't feel guilty about it; scientists assure us that they feel nothing. Maybe the slime protects them, who can tell. Who cares?

Internet Troll

Under Bridge TrollInternet Troll

The key to a successful forum is the moderator; and the key to troll eradication is low key. Never argue with a member; but if intervention is required, act quickly, quietly and effectively. There are two rules for moderators that you ignore at your peril:

  1. You loyalty is to the forum, no member is above that
  2. Whatever a troll does, you can undo much more quickly

Forum Settings

In my youthful days of running discos, I learned that trouble is best controlled at the door; keep out the troublemakers, and life is much more fun for us human beings. Exactly the same applies with trolls. You want to keep your forum settings as 'loose' as possible, to encourage new members, and keep a warm atmosphere. And why not?

That's fine, so long as you have no trouble. By all means, let anyone in, let non-members post, let them do as they please. But if that's abused, then you may need to tighten up.

The first line of defense is your moderators; few forums do much more than cover their costs, so the only reward they are likely to get is being part of a good place; appoint active members, give them some control over posts and people, and they'll keep things going while you are away - or asleep. But don't dump on them; give them a private forum so you can discuss policy and agree on management - trolls are good at dividing a confused management.


Membership should always require a 'working email address', and if things get difficult, you should be able to hold all new memberships for review. Use that carefully; people won't wait for long, but a 24 hour wait may be enough to lose a troll - they have little concentration and no patience.


Personally, I believe in letting anyone read the forum, but only members can post. This means perspective members can see if it's for them, but drive-by trolls cannot get in.


Forums never manage themselves; trolls come and go, as do other problems. There's plenty of other forums, so if you do not invest enough time, members will vote with their feet. A troll should never be able to destroy a forum. But it happens.

This means that unacceptable posts or threads can and must be deleted quickly, quietly and without fuss, trolls and abusive members can be banned by name, email and IP addresses. However obsessed the troll, they cannot win if you simply delete, ban, delete, ban ... rejoining takes minutes and banning takes about four clicks. Retyping takes minutes, deleting takes one click. A calm, consistent moderator cannot lose this battle.


There is no 100% sure way of preventing trolls from a forum, without denying membership to all except those you know, or those referred by trusted members (and that's not perfect!).

However, most forums can allow all applications to be held until moderator-approved, and others can prevent members posting in all or some sections of your forum until permission is granted.

This is not ideal, as it can put off new members, who feel rejected and go elsewhere (they know nothing of your problems ... and telling them would be equally off-putting. But if you have a particular problem - such as a concerted attack, where an ejected troll is inviting his friends along, hoping for revenge, then entry control for a few days is often all you need - after all, troll friendships are pretty superficial, and their attention span is low. So most of the trolls best friends will soon slime off somewhere more inviting.


Only you can decide what's acceptable to your forum; strong language, teasing, sarcasm may all be alarm bells for some, part of life for others. What matters is what the membership in general will tolerate. In most groups, attacking new members is not acceptable - let's face it, most people read before joining; why would they join to be abused? But if one member causes upsets, delete the posts. Don't argue, delete. It may be wise to send a private message saying why, which they could take as a warning. But, for most forums, never post that rebuke in public.

With decent forum setup, deletiing a troll post takes just one click - you have the advantage over the troll. Use it.


Moderators are often slow to ban members; 'he's usually ok', 'she's never lost it before'. So what? He's not OK now, she's lost it now. Nobody wants to lose members, but if you are slow to ban, it's the other members - the good ones - that you'll lose. Plus the lurkers who will never join. If a member is upsetting the forum, they are out. If they've been good members, then emailing a reason should be considered. If they have been deliberately stirring, don't bother, you are asking for a stalker.

Second chances? Up to you. I would never ask for an apology - some people will say anything - but an unasked for genuine-sounding apology from a previously good member would usually warrant a second chance. But here I diverge from Ronald Reagan - it's TWO strikes and you're out. If they've gone back on an apology, they cannot be trusted, and I have a life. I banned one person, and got fifteen emails in 24 hours, with untold explanations and waffle, but no apology - the person he attacked apologised (quite unnecessarily!) for accidently provoking him. Go figure.

But the point is, don't base your decision on what that member wants or 'deserves' - base your decision 100% on what is best for the forum.

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06 January 2018   Copyright Andrew Heenan