Don’t Feed the Trolls!

I gave my first-ever keynote this week at Fluent Conference. It was fun and terrifying, in particular because I spoke about a non-technical topic, trolling in the web community. Here is the video:

UPDATE: If you would like to take the test I mentioned to uncover your own biases, it is a research project called Project Implicit from Harvard University. Please forgive the 1999 styling of the site. ๐Ÿ™‚

And, Don’t feed the trolls slides.

Photo Credit: Sam Gao



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35 responses to “Don’t Feed the Trolls!”

  1. Dan Robert Avatar

    This is great, I’m so glad you found and posted it. I was a psyc and social-psyc major before I got into web and I still always find topics like this super interesting. I think a lot of the points you brought up broadly apply to human interaction across the board and not just in web and tech (but, still, most certainly in web and tech). Anyway, great talk and thanks for sharing!

  2. Geoff Avatar

    Great talk. Thank you.

  3. Pierce Avatar


    Great presentation. Thank you for putting it together. Can you provide the link for the test to see what our biases are?


  4. Newton Avatar

    Just wanted to take the time to acknowledge that more talks like this need to happen. Its a shame that people almost prefer to be the sole keeper of knowledge rather than collaborate for something greater than themselves. Nice talk!!!

  5. Erik Vold Avatar

    Excellent talk! it was loaded with wisdom, so thank you for sharing!

  6. Michal Zuber Avatar

    GREAT talk Nicole, thank you.
    Was it easy to decide to talk about such a needed and not easy topic, in public?
    I found the tests at

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Michal – It was really hard to decide to talk about this… in fact, I was very scared. It is always surprising to me that how nervous I am doesn’t show on the outside.

  7. Keith Avatar

    The trolls at work have run rampant of late. Thanks for the advice.

  8. Andy Lester Avatar

    Fantastic. So many good points squashed into a handy little talk. Thanks for posting.

  9. Dreanlord Avatar

    Wow, thanks for the talk. I find it hard to comment online or ask for help due to trolls. I really think the talk will help me get my ideas out.(After watching it 5 or 6 more times)

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @Dreanlord – good for you!

  10. Jon Avatar

    like you said.. it makes me sad that a lot of ideas that come out on the internet could potentially be amazing resources but end up failing just because of trolls.. and how they form the site.

  11. Stuart Avatar

    Great talk… Congratulations on being shy and being visible anyway….

  12. […] a lot of time interacting on the internet, whether on Facebook, Twitter, comment sections and so on.Don’t Feed the Trolls [Stubbornella]Tags clips etiquette quotables social networking Related Stories Facebook Camera […]

  13. Brian Avatar

    Awesome prez. Thanks for getting up and doing it, and thanks for sharing.

  14. Ben Sussman Avatar
    Ben Sussman

    Just by chance I happened onto your O’Reilly Talk on Trolls, and I found it incredibly insightful and useful in both my day job as a systems accountant and as a part-time photographer, where I have a web presence . I’m quite impressed with the wisdom you’ve achieved at what appears to be such a young age. Thanks!

  15. Kenn Fong Avatar

    Thanks for writing and posting this. Back when the Internet was just hobbyists with a spare computer running on dial-up, we noticed this phenomenon. i’m ashamed to admit I’ve displayed trollish behavior, particularly in my zeal to post a gotcha. But I’m mostly cured. I used to have a friend I’d talk to once a week for hours who was not nasty but he just liked to argue for sport. I finally had to end the friendship in a very calm and civilized manner because I just couldn’t handle it anymore, although I admit is was fun trying to punch holes in his arguments.

  16. HTNMMO Avatar

    You left out a few types of trolls but overall not bad for a chick.

    ๐Ÿ™‚ J/K I got a lot out of this video.

  17. Reta Avatar

    Some people are energized by conflict. If you aren’t, you will always lose if you play by their rules.

    That’s a really helpful thing to think about. I’ve been feeling rather overwhelmed by trolls lately, and I think the constructive suggestions you’ve given in this presentation are really going to help. Thanks for posting this!

    (Also, I love the troll photos in your slides.)

  18. Taaqataawa Avatar

    Watching your very interesting keynote has reminded me a quote that I’ve read right here on your blog.

    “Work with CSS, not against it.”

    Don’t you think that this nugget of wisdom should be applied to reality as well, like “work with human nature, not against it?”

    You were embarrassed when you admitted your sexism.

    But people are racist, sexist and biased for a reason.

    It is human nature.

    Probably “just” nature, if you consider the generic response of cats and dogs when they encounter each other.

    We are biased because we are not neutral and not isolated.

    The key to this concept is that by accepting our nature we can exercise, rather than exorcise our demons.

    What I really like in the so called “object oriented” thinking is that it reflects reality.

    So let’s work with reality, not against it.

    I have a feeling that you might be on the right path.

  19. Michael Avatar

    You should do the same speech in other communities as well!!!

    It’s a universal thing.. (maybe the word troll isn’t, but the concept for sure..)

    I love it…


  20. […] the bridge Because every open source community has them: Don’t Feed the Trolls! And if you do feel the need to respond, show them this […]

  21. paisano Avatar

    Wonderful presentation and so funny too. I’m exhausted by trolls too and never knew why… now I know… thanks. I’ve been baited into arguing with them and feed and energize them all this time.
    I will do my best to ignore them completely from now on.

  22. Lars Berntrop-Bos Avatar
    Lars Berntrop-Bos

    Great presentation! Thank you for enlightening us all. Being a shy geek having a hard time dealing appropiatel;y with negative sentiments I am very happy to have someone speak out and offer a constructive guide. Very useful, both online and IRL!

  23. dj Avatar

    @nichole… referring to your recent comments on “shoptalk” about this talk. I’ve read your blog posts and several things which you wrote and can’t say that I remember seeing grammar or spelling faux pas; HOWEVER, I must admit that I’ve been one of those people you might label as a “grammar nazi troll”? [On the show it sounded like that was the label that you gave to anyone who critiqued a spelling error of yours, perhaps not].

    I was pleased to hear you say that you tried to find the “human element” in anyone who gave you such feedback; so, here is at least one such “scenario” that you might call up mentally whenever next someone does that: Facility with the language being written in, is seen as “professional,” “competent,” “skillful,” etc. and spelling or grammar errors as just the opposite. Yes, there are definitely “haters” lurking on the net but personally I don’t make ANY effort at all to assist something that I don’t like or plan on visiting again. If, on the other hand, the content is great, otherwise well written, interesting and I’ve enjoyed reading it – therefore worth some effort to help improve – one of the ways a reader can “give back” is to help make something better for next time. I guess it’s something like deciding whether or not you tell someone (you perhaps even don’t know) that their “zipper is down” in public. In days of “spell check” I’ve seen that people coming in to the job market have nearly lost the ability to spell; but, lately it seems that some are getting too lazy to even do spell check.

    Like I said, I don’t ever recall noticing such errors in your work; but rest assured, using my above scenario, if I did, I definitely would tell you about noticing them, somehow – I enjoy reading your work. The one regret that I notice more and more on sites I enjoy, is the loss of ability to comment privately. It seems that with all this “social media” hoopla going on, web posters/developers seem to have forgotten that once in a while people like to communicate for reasons other than to garner public attention.

  24. David Henzel Avatar

    How can you dare to give world tips on weakening our troll power???? We know where you live! :p

    Great talk! thank you very much, was already able to apply several times in the last few days.

  25. Sheba Najmi Avatar

    What a great talk. Loved the openness and honesty, and the fact that it was a non-tech talk aimed at a techie audience.

  26. Asad Avatar

    The fact tht you are giving an entire presentation on trolls suggests they have had an impact on you…

    Any how informative blog.


  27. David Higginbotham Avatar

    College humor beat ya to it, Don’t feed the bridge troll.

    1. Nicole Sullivan Avatar

      @David Higginbotham – that was fantastic! ๐Ÿ˜€

  28. Alan Cohen Avatar
    Alan Cohen

    Where were you when Usenet was the biggest game in town?

    The only feeds that I felt comfortable on were the moderated ones, and even they had a fair number of trolls.
    The only problem I have is that this video didn’t come out years ago. Perhaps your former colleaques at Yahoo all grew up on Usenet.

  29. Lisa Walsh Avatar
    Lisa Walsh

    I was actually searching the web for advice on how to handle all the negative political posts on Facebook and was directed to this page and, even though I am not a programmer, your message was exactly what I needed to hear and helped me tremendously, thank you!

  30. igmuska Avatar

    I understand your concern with the Internet’s troll problem. While I’d like to offer some suggestions on dealing with them, I’d rather point out this to you. For those suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder, we have to feel pity for them as suggested in that awesome College Humor video linked here.
    I see the Internet as being similar to the Denver International Airport where people to me resemble passing ghosts with an occasional person with some sort of annoying issue with whatever, be it trying to be first in the boarding line to grumbling about late planes or some other issue being coughed out just to get people’s attention. I also see tIAD trolls being like passing billboards on the Interstate trying to get attention or like the profanity and other jokes written on the walls of an Interstate truck stop. The point I am making is that troll garbage is symptomatic of the illness growing with the Internet that is actually causing people to be sick. Imagine a troll admitting they are sick, imagine a troll revealing their true personalities; they relish in the thought they have “power” over more sane people not as trapped as they are in the Internet. We have to pity them as they are locked into some meaningless job, living a meaningless life, and eventually, hopefully, they see their troll behaviors as being a sickness and that they need help in reconnecting with the good things in this sometimes awful world…ignore them if you can, pity them if you want, the trolls will always be there, lurking, waiting for that moment to be annoying.
    Just my two cents

  31. Jason Avatar

    What a great talk! I really got a great deal out of it.

  32. SunRay User Avatar
    SunRay User

    Great talk! Just stumbled upon it. Thought you might like this too “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work by Suzette Haden Elgin” as I’m always battling trolls in IT.