"Don't Feed The Trolls" is a bad idea

When I say 'bad idea,' I want to be clear about what I mean.  I mean the idea -- the entity, meme, whatever, that exists as a metaphorical object in the collective consciousness of humankind -- is bad.  Morally wrong.  Toxic.  Destructive. I was thinking about this again because the New York Times just posted an article about the sexism issue in gaming, which, I'm happy to report, seems very much to be not going away. At this point, I have no doubt that it will keep getting near-constant attention until it's actually resolved -- by which I mean it will no longer be acceptable in the mainstream gaming community to be openly misogynistic, and games will generally at least superficially be made with both men and women in mind.

People often describe two kinds of trolling when discussing this issue, suggesting that for one, "Don't feed the trolls" really is good advice, and for the other, it's just misapplied.  I don't think that's correct.  Because that first kind of trolling isn't about getting just any response, not really.  It's about getting the right kind of response.  It's about creating enough of a disturbance to break the norms of the community.

So, the power to set the terms of trolling is in the hands of the community.  If trolling is about disrupting the mainstream, then all "Don't feed the trolls" does is sets the bar incredibly low for successful trolling.  If, instead, the appropriate community response to trolling was to take them seriously as human beings, and compassionately but firmly responding to their inappropriate behavior, then the win condition for trolling becomes seriously less accessible.

There are plenty of preexisting explanations for why "Don't feed the trolls" is a bad response to the second kind of trolling.

But we don't need it for any kind of trolling.  Trolls only win if you break the rules of community response, and saying the rule is "Never respond" disempowers the community to defend itself against people trying to take it apart.