Here are a few excerpts from Timothy Campbell's article on Internet trolls:
An Internet "troll" is a person who delights in sowing discord on the Internet. He (and it is usually he) tries to start arguments and upset people.
Trolls see Internet communications services as convenient venues for their bizarre game. For some reason, they don't "get" that they are hurting real people. To them, other Internet users are not quite human but are a kind of digital abstraction. As a result, they feel no sorrow whatsoever for the pain they inflict. Indeed, the greater the suffering they cause, the greater their 'achievement' (as they see it). At the moment, the relative anonymity of the net allows trolls to flourish.
Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise). You cannot negotiate with them; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion; you cannot reason with them. They cannot be made to feel remorse. For some reason, trolls do not feel they are bound by the rules of courtesy or social responsibility.
Perhaps this sounds inconceivable. You may think, "Surely there is something I can write that will change them." But a true troll can not be changed by mere words.
Why does it Matter?
Some people -- particularly those who have been online for years -- are not upset by trolls and consider them an inevitable hazard of using the net. As the saying goes, "You can't have a picnic without ants."
It would be nice if everybody was so easy-going, but the sad fact is that trolls do discourage people. Established posters may leave a message board because of the arguments that trolls ignite, and lurkers (people who read but do not post) may decide that they do not want to expose themselves to abuse and thus never get involved.
Another problem is that the negative emotions stirred up by trolls leak over into other discussions. Normally affable people can become bitter after reading an angry interchange between a troll and his victims, and this can poison previously friendly interactions between long-time users.
Finally, trolls create a paranoid environment, such that a casual criticism by a new arrival can elicit a ferocious and inappropriate backlash.
The Internet is a wonderful resource which is breaking down barriers and stripping away prejudice. Trolls threaten our continued enjoyment of this beautiful forum for ideas.
The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls. When you try to reason with a troll, he wins. When you insult a troll, he wins. When you scream at a troll, he wins. The only thing that trolls can't handle is being ignored.
What about Free Speech?
When trolls find that their efforts are being successfully resisted, they often complain that their right to free speech is being infringed. Let us examine that claim.
While most people on the Internet are ardent defenders of free speech, it is not an absolute right; there are practical limitations. For example, you may not scream out "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, and you may not make jokes about bombs while waiting to board an airplane. We accept these limitations because we recognize that they serve a greater good.
When a troll attacks a message board, he generally posts a lot of messages. Even if his messages are not particularly inflammatory, they can be so numerous that they drown out the regular conversations (this is known as 'flooding'). Needless to say, no one person's opinions can be allowed to monopolize a channel.
The ultimate response to the 'free speech' argument is this: while we may have the right to say more or less whatever we want, we do not have the right to say it wherever we want. You may feel strongly about the fact that your neighbor has not mowed his lawn for two months, but you do not have the right to berate him in his own living room. Similarly, if a webmaster tells a troll that he is not welcome, the troll has no "right" to remain. This is particularly true on the numerous free communications services offered on the net.
Next time you are on a message board and you see a post by somebody whom you think is a troll, and you feel you must reply, simply write a follow-up message entitled "Troll Alert" and type only this:
The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls.
By posting such a message, you let the troll know that you know what he is, and that you are not going to get dragged into his twisted little hobby.
July 13, 2001 members.aol.com/intwg/trolls.htm#WIA