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Ignore, imprison or confront? How to deal with Internet trolls.

Published: Wednesday, May 14 2014 4:15 a.m. MDT

Trolls are anyone on the internet who tries to annoy or defame internet users. Recently, British police imprisoned a man for trolling someone via Twitter.

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"Don't feed the trolls" is the oft-given advice to those who are dealing with rude commenters.

But Britain has a different way of dealing with trolls, or individuals who create conflict by posting abusive or threatening material on websites. Robert Riley, a British Twitter troll, was recently sent to jail for eight weeks, reported Kashmira Gander at The Independent.

Riley's offense was tweeting he would have murdered "all the (expletive) teachers" at the Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds, which is where schoolteacher Ann Maguire was murdered at the end of April, Gander reported.

Riley also called Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp, a "health spa" and recommended drowning Muslim babies, Gander writes.

Some believe jailing Riley and other trolls is extreme.

"I … strongly believe, because I’ve seen enough of this thing (trolling) in action, that a significant percentage of this behavior seems to be perpetrated by individuals who are not entirely accountable for their actions," wrote Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon, who cited cases where people who were jailed for trolling had mental or substance-abuse disorders.

"It doesn’t make me sympathetic to them, but it does influence how I tread around them. And I know that the reasons behind their behavior can be varied," Williams said.

So how should people deal with cyber-trolls? Susan Benesch a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University suggests trolls can be taken down with counter arguments, according to Steve Annear at Boston Magazine.

"(Engaging in counter-speech) might convince people to stop posting their awful, racist, homophobic stuff, even if it might not change their mindset in general. But it would be better than nothing to get them to stop posting that garbage," Benesch said, according to Boston Magazine.

Benesch added she has seen cases in her research she studies methods to reduce hateful speech online where trolls apologized for making hurtful comments.

This approach may not work in all instances, however, because some trolls sincerely enjoy sowing discontent. In fact, psychologists found a "robust association" between sadism and Internet trolling in a recent study titled "Trolls just want to have fun."

Tim Dowling at The Guardian offered different suggestions for combating trolls in a 2012 article. One of his recommendations was to "unmask your troll."

"Trolls thrive on anonymity, but they're not, in my experience, too careful about guarding it. A little digging will usually turn up something that makes their bile seem beside the point," Dowling said. "The information you uncover needn't include names, addresses or photographs — just enough to turn your rage into pity."

Email: kpolatis@deseretnews.com; Twitter: KandraPolatis

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