From asking innocent questions before mounting an attack to inciting online abuse by others, trolling is entering a new, subtler era. Here’s how to deal with it

The internet, almost everyone agrees, is a terrible place. You can’t move for trolls – malicious actors out to ruin your day with an argumentative tweet or Facebook post. Four in 10 Americans have experienced online harassment, according to the Pew Research Center.

The simple answer is to keep shtum. “Don’t feed the trolls” is a maxim many live by online. “There’s no benefit to it. You’re not going to be able to change anybody’s mind,” says Dr John Synnott, senior lecturer in investigative and forensic psychology at the University of Huddersfield. “There is no talking back to someone when they have made their decision.” But as Sarah Jeong, a tech journalist who will join the New York Times in September recently discovered, saying you’ll take a vow of silence is easier than actually keeping it. Her decision to fight fire with ironic fire backfired as trolls piled in, taking her joking responses to insults out of context in an attempt to get her into trouble with her new employers. She’s not unique.

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