There are a couple of different schools of thought for dealing with trolls. One popular one is to ignore them. This is much like the advice mothers give to their children about bullies.
This may have been an effective tactic in the 70's, when American culture was a much different place, ruled by a different type of social norms.
Nowadays, if you ignore a bully, there's a decent chance you will get knifed, which is quite difficult to ignore. Back in my day, ignoring a bully didn't work. We weren't quite into the "bring guns and weapons to school" and "bomb threats every few weeks, whenever the bad kids need to skip a day to go get drunk" days, those didn't come until I was in high school. But we were close to those days. In middle school, ignoring bullies just got me into a lot of fistfights. It was far from a slum, but I didn't grow up in the best neighborhood. I never got beat up, robbed, or knifed, but I chalk that up partly to luck, partly to an unwillingness to act afraid, and partly to having a few good friends. It was bad enough that my mom took a job so she could put me and my sisters in private school, which was a monumentally safe environment. I was actually one of the more "bad kid" types there, which was really weird. Compared to middle school, high school was a picnic of nurturing for me, which was nice because it let me come into my own a lot more easily. Thanks, Mom.
As I got older, I found that bullies got even harder to ignore. In the real world outside of school, bullies are usually armed or in large groups, or both. You can ignore the guy who tries to goad you into a fight by calling you a name as you walk by. You can't ignore the guy with a knife, and you can't ignore the 3 drunk guys who start messing with you when you are alone on a dark street at night, either. Once someone crosses a certain line, trying to ignore them just isn't going to work.
But enough autobiographing, my point is that without social niceties or metal detectors to restrain them, bullies will not let you ignore them if they can help it. As an armchair psychologist (well not really, I actually have a Masters degree in psych. Would that make me a "deskchair psychologist?"), it seems that they learned from their caregivers that negative behaviors were the way to get attention and learned from example that attacking others was a way to build up oneself. Unless the likelihood of getting caught and put in jail is approaching 100%, there's no reason for them not to constantly escalate until they get the attention they crave.
So while on the surface ignoring them seems to be an obvious way of denying them the thing they want most, it forgets that our capacity to ignore them is not limitless. In fact, our ability to ignore them likely does not go as far as they are willing to go to get our attention. It' s hard to ignore fists, knives, theft of property, or even defamation. And I maintain that those things shouldn't be ignored, even if it reinforces the bully's desire to do those things to get attention.
And that brings us back to what sparked these thoughts: these two wowblogosphere posts taking different stances on their own varieties of trolls/bullies/sanctimonious asses.
First, Tobold responds to the mob of pseudo-religious zealots who love Darkfall (or what it represents to them, more likely) so much that they'd rather harass anyone who speaks ill of it rather than play the game itself. He advocates ignoring them completely, deleting their comments and pretending Darkfall doesn't even exist, thus locking them in a metaphorical "padded cell".
In this case, ignoring them is a great idea. Don't link to them, don't talk about them, and don't even let them use your space to comment and get attention that way. Just shut them out. There is little they can do to force you to pay attention, aside from the occassional death threat, which so far has only been leveled at the eurogamer reviewer who gave it a 2/10. They can't get close enough to knife you, and you don't have to deal with them from day to day.
But even in those situations, the thing that bothers me is that those people deserve to get hit back. If all I was concerned with was my own feelings, those people would be easy to ignore. They aren't hurting me, so they can't goad me into responding out of emotions. The thing that makes me respond is the desire to bat them on the nose with a newspaper like a bad puppy. What they deserve is to get smacked and told "no" until they stop acting like assholes. They deserve to get disciplined. They deserve not just an absence of reward, but an active punishment for their behavior. So it's inherently unjust to ignore them. It may be the best response available, but the idea of allowing them to cause an injustice to occur sticks in my craw.
On the web, they can't hurt you physically or steal your property. But if no one responds to their wrong ideas then they look like they are right, or we look like we don't have a response. Sometimes we need to stand up to them just to keep other people from getting bad ideas from them, and sometimes we need to save face. On the web, the only thing they can really do to you is pull your name through the mud and spread shitty ideas.
Which brings me to post #2, Ixo's response to an anonymous preachy douche. I really can't do it justice here, please read his post for a good bit of entertainment. The quick summary is that Ixo mentioned, hyperbolically and in passing, that he stayed up late getting drunk and raiding Ulduar, and this Anonymous commentor on his blog started telling him how to live his life in the most sanctimonious and self-satisfiedly assholish way imaginable, telling Ixo that he should be doing something "productive" instead of playing WoW.
Says the guy commenting extensively on a WoW blog. Sheesh.
But Anonymous Preachy Douche doesn't stop there, he goes on to talk about Ixo's family, his fathering, and what his in-laws think of him. Ixo quite righteously (and hilariously) lashes out at APD in retaliation.
Some of Ixo's commentors advise him (Yes, people try to tell him what to do under a post where he eviscerates someone for telling him what to do. Don't ask me what they are thinking.) not to give APD so much attention by making an entire post about him. I think the evisceration was so thoroughly deserved and effectively delivered that it was much better than just letting things be. Besides, it was just. Maybe he got some attention, but he also got to look like a complete idiot, which was well deserved.
Can we generalize these situations to other types of trolls? It depends on the situation. I propose that instead of using a blanket rule of "ignore" or "engage" for trolls, we instead go situation by situation. I plan to consider how ignorable the troll is, and give 'em hell when they go to far. Far more important than ignoring them is never giving them the satisfaction of hurting you. Don't believe anything they say. Don't let them shake your self-confidence. But fight back when it seems like the right thing to do.
In my real life example, you can't ignore someone physically attacking you. But you can do the next best thing: let them know that you aren't afraid. Bullies don't push you because they want a fight, they push you because they want to scare you. Show confidence and fight back, and you don't seem like a very appealing target to them anymore. It worked for me. Sort of a combo of both ideas. It won't always save you from getting your wallet stolen or a rib broken (thought it sometimes will), but you get to keep your dignity and they don't get the satisfaction of getting into your head.
I realize that I've gone in a dozen different directions here, and a lot of this doesn't really gel together. This is more of a first-draft riff on bullying in both the real and virtual realms. I would clean it up and make a better pieces, but in the end I can't spend as much time on this blog as I'd like, and I'm sorry for that.