Troll mentality? - a story of abuse
Having been in from before the start of IRC - the first generally available anonymous Internet chat (excluding compuserve et al.) - I've observed this troll behaviour with some fascination, coming to understand or at least rationalise it, since it is an alien mentality to me.
I adopt the "laugh at them" approach, both for attacks aimed at me and at others around me - but just once - then totally ignore the trolling either mentally, or using technical measures (/ignore /ban etc.).
What I've observed is that all troll's *CRAVE* attention and wither away rapidly if they feel they're ignored. Even if you're reacting in the background (logging, tracing IPs, dropping honey-pot URLs into your conversation for them to visit [giving you info about their browser agent]) there should be a total lack of reaction in the troll's eyes.
A few years back my partner ( a man) was subject to escalating abuse that began online with blackmail-style attempts (threats to make allegations to me that would cause distrust in our relationship, etc.).
My partner was hugely upset and depressed by it, adopted what I call the 'victim mentality' and generally playing into the abuser's hands until I became aware and initiated a plan to identify them and put a stop to it.
It rapidly escalated to the real-world, first with poison letters to me, then to getting home visits from random (male) strangers at silly hours of the night who thought they were onto a random sex meet-up!
For the latter we tried to persuade several to provide details of how they had been fooled but most - understandably - were very embarrassed and eager to leave. So much so we recorded their vehicle registration numbers and later passed them to the police.
Due to the personal knowledge it was a reasonably good bet someone who knew us well was responsible so we set a honeytrap web-site and managed to get our primary suspect to visit it. That allowed us to correlate the IP and user-agent with details in some supposedly anonymous emails sent via services that add the SMTP X-Originating-IP header.
That gave us information about the ISP being used which correlated with yet more information we gathered on our range of suspects (from postmarks, etc), and we eventually got a perfect match that confirmed our primary suspect.
With all that information we made a complaint of harassment to the local police. A regular copper dealt with it and couldn't have been more helpful. Although she lacked the technical knowledge she was able to follow our (well organised and explained) evidence and through more technical colleagues rapidly came to the same conclusion as us.
The ISP information we'd gathered turned out to be the suspect's sister's family so when the police called at their house (in another county on the East Coast near Skegness) it of course made the entire family aware. From the sister they obtained the telephone number of the suspect and invited him in for an interview where - we are told - he was a trembling wreck. Presented with the evidence fell apart, admitted it, but had no rational explanation for the behaviour.
He was given a formal caution and a warning that any further contact and he'd be charged and taken to court. The last we heard was one last anonymous message saying he was "goodbye, I'm going to kill myself tonight". That was four years ago and we've not heard anything since.
I theorise it can't have done any harm in the online communities my partner used to hear the story since it marked him as someone to be wary of.
Sorry for the ramble but I wanted to give some confidence to others who may be targets that you do have options, especially if you have, or can obtain, technically literate expertise and a more cunning thought process!
In summary, trolls crave attention, are usually (but not always) meek and retiring in person, and generally have an inferiority complex. Thus, they feel safe to use anonymous mediums to attack people they deem weaker than themselves in an attempt to boost their own ego in their own eyes.
So, laughing at them can send the message "I'm confident and more psychologically strong than you" which lets them know they'll end up loosing so they rapidly loose interest.
If you are subject to such abuse and aren't mentally strong enough to counter it yourself I urge you to ask for help from someone who is and can - but avoid hot-heads that think making threats to the abuser will help in any way. At the least register a complaint (in writing, get an incident number, etc.) with the police to establish a history so if it later escalates it will be dealt with more urgently.