Deal With Trolls in Your Listserv

How to Deal With Trolls in Your Listserv

There’s a troll in my listserv! A troll, in my listserv! What do I do? Well, don’t panic. Trolls are annoying, but you can learn how to deal with trolls in your listserv.

First, what’s a troll? Well, that’s often hotly debated. The word has evolved within the last decade. But, generally, trolls are people online who are mean for the sake being mean. They typically contribute nothing to conversation but stress and anxiety. They attack people personally over arguments that aren’t personal. They say something is stupid without qualifying. They play the devil’s advocate with no particular goal in mind. A troll is not someone who just likes to debate or argue or maybe isn’t quite as diplomatic about their words.

Thankfully trolls are rare on listservs. Especially professional listservs where people have to pay dues to get in. But you may run a more open listserv or you may have just had one slip in.

So how do you deal with trolls in your listserv?

Establish Firm Guidelines

I know I’ve said this before. You need guidelines. When the trolls descend, you need to have something to point to when you moderate or ban them. Some simple anti-troll guidelines might be:

  1. Don’t ask questions for the purpose of causing arguments.
  2. Think before you post.

Here are some more sample guidelines to get you started.

Remember That Trolls Are Human Beings

When you deal with trolls in your listserv, remember that trolls aren’t some feral, savage beasts. They’re real human beings. (Unless they’re troll bots.) With real human problems. Often trolls are young and stupid or even mentally ill. (Note this great article on why trolls trolled and quit from former trolls themselves.) It won’t hurt to take them aside privately and talk to them first before you take more drastic measures.

Make Them Pay Money

If you’re a listserv pointed at a particular profession or field and you’re a useful resource, you may already be charging fees. But if you’re not, you should consider it. If your community is good enough, your members should be willing to pay a few dollars. (Especially if you provide other services.) And dues will discourage the random trolls from wandering in.

Deny Them Anominity

Trolls like being heard. They like people listening. It’s like when you’re cousin tries to get a rise out of you. It’s not any fun if you don’t react. Thankfully, email discussion groups already have this denial built in through the infrastructure; you have to at least have an email address to participate since they’re email based. And through tradition: listserv members mostly use their real names in their communities.

Ignore Them

Trolls, like bullies, are looking for attention. Sometimes it’s best to just not give them that attention. This has to be a group effort. Teach your community to just not reply to trolls in any way ever. This won’t work on the most persistent of trolls, but it’s a good place to start.

Moderate Them

If your list has a giant troll problem, you made need to appoint some moderators to help you trim out the bad weeds. (Note, obvious plug, but this is definitely a feature of our listserv software.) Make sure your moderators know the difference between argumentative people and trolls, though, or you may cause bad feeling in the community.

Block Them

In the end, you may just need to delete certain people from your list. Keep in mind, though, that it’s pretty easy to pretend you’re someone else, down to IP addresses and emails. So keep an idea out for reoccurring trolls. A good way to spot a troll in sheep’s clothing to compare writing patterns. Do they use the same words or phrases as a former troll? Do they troll the same subjects? Watch out, this might be a repeat troll.

Do you have a troll problem? Do have other ideas for how to deal with trolls in your listserv? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Looking to make your community even better? How to create a positive community culture.


Miranda Regan

Miranda Regan

Freelance Writer & Editor at
A freelance editor who also writes about people, tech, English grammar, and anything else she can cram into a paragraph, Miranda's been hopping around online communities since she was 11 and wasn't allowed to play Neopets.

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