Musings & Younger Perspectives:
Don’t Feed the Trolls!
By Patrick Scriven | Illustration by Wikimedia Commons

The word ‘troll’ is used on the Internet to describe a person “who posts a deliberately provocative message with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” If you’ve never seen a troll in action, find a provocative topic on a popular blog or news site and work your way down to the comments section. In and among the people seeking to engage in genuine conversation are the trolls who poke, prod, and bully others, quickly stifling the possibility of any real dialogue. Trolls come in all shape, sizes, and theological perspectives.

In general, trolls have no real interest in conversation. The tools normal people might use, like logic and basic respect for another person’s opinion, are a sign of weakness to trolls. You are unlikely to find a troll apologizing as they generally don’t care about the feelings of others. When someone engages them, imagining that they are having a conversation, trolls will work to frustrate and provoke as they feed off of negative energy. Trolls aren’t into ‘relationships.’

Discerning a troll from someone who simply disagrees can be a difficult task. In the religious world, people’s tendency to conflate personal belief with spiritual truth complicates matters even more. On a secular blog, you might expect to encounter a person with strong opinions – some being trolls and some simply being passionate people. But on a religious blog, those opinions quickly become God’s opinions as simplistic arguments are shoved into God’s mouth, chapter and verse.

When a troll’s opinion isn’t accepted; a small sociopathic twist can quickly convert them from aggressor into victim. If you are a compassionate person, it is easy to suddenly feel as if you have done something wrong as the rules of the conversation suddenly change.

Part of the challenge in identifying trolls is that we’ve all been one, or at least exhibited troll-like behavior, at some point. There are times when our personal frustration with something causes us to ignore our better angels and we forget that getting ugly leaves little room for God’s transformation of the other. I suspect that the difference between trolls and the rest of us is that they ate those better angels for breakfast.

I personally enjoy robust conversation even when it gets a little heated. If a person doesn’t respond positively to a private, polite, request to tone down their behavior, that’s a good sign that you’re dealing with a troll. Passion often emerges when we are discussing important things. When discerning whether you are dealing with a troll, you might consider a preferential option for those you disagree with. The stronger our opinions are about something, the easier it is for us to disregard the other and write them off as unreasonable.

If you discern that you are dealing with an actual troll, your best option is to take away their privilege to participate in the conversations you hope to nurture. Good dialogue, even when it gets a little heated, can help us to appreciate the viewpoints of others and see the world differently. Trolls are a barrier to the development of such conversations. Setting clear guidelines, and enforcing them in a nonpartisan way, does for a conversation what weeding and watering does for a garden.

I have a lot of friends who have simply given up on conversations online. I get that. No one needs the frustration particularly when it’s optional. But the sad fact is that we encounter trolls off-line as well. Some of these same trolls attend our churches and they wreak havoc, particularly in those communities that like to avoid conflict. In such places, trolls can bully other members, and even the pastor, with their opinions and preferences. Lacking the anonymity of the Internet, they may be less aggressive in person, but church trolls still lack real concern for the health of the community and the relationships that embody the Spirit within them.

Fortunately for us, trolls are only capable of using the forums that we give them.

I believe that the Gospel requires us to approach the task of discerning trolls with great seriousness and a preferential option for those who truly seek to offer an alternative take. But our Kin(g)dom work also demands that we create space, in a variety of arenas, for real conversation. And that, dear friends, requires that we weed, instead of feed, the trolls among us.

Patrick Scriven is the director of Communications & Young People’s Ministries for the PNWUMC.


Cyberbullies (D4501)
Chat rooms, blogs, and instant messaging have become standard forms of communication for many young people. Unfortunately, they have also become popular ways to bully and harass others. This program is designed to prevent children and teenagers from falling victim to cyberbullying, using dramatizations and Q & A discussions to expand awareness of the issue. The video discusses cyberbullying warning signs, common patterns of abuse, and questionable online activities to stay away from. Includes guide.

To reserve this video now, e-mail The Regional Media Center.

Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World (D5094)

Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World (D5094)
Virtual People. Remote Intimacy. Googling Prayer. Tech Sabbath. Those are some of the video commentaries included in this DVD by Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennnials (age 25) ordained into the Episcopal priesthood. Adam points out that we live in a time in society unlike any other. We are a people of connection and isolation–both at the same time. As Christians how do we view our faith and personal ministry in this culture? This DVD can be used in a variety of settings such as Sunday School classes, youth groups, campus ministry, discipleship groups or as individuals in personal devotions. High School; Young Adult; Adult (30-55)

To reserve this video now, e-mail The Regional Media Center.

Channels 70

Channels 70, February 2014 (COMING SOON!)
Remembering Bishop Jack M. Tuell • The District Service Center is Open for Business • HFCA Welcomes Rose Mangini as Sponsor Coordinator • Opposition to Iran Nuclear Weapons-Free Act • UMs help communities rise up on the frontline in the Philippines • Finding God in Juvenile Detention • On the Shelf February Resources • Musings & Younger Perspectives: Don’t Feed the Trolls! • An Open Letter to the UMC • Rich Lang: Looking Good on Wood • Adapting to Lead: A Way Forward… • Nurturing Elders: Making Friends with Grief

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