Something that I learned from The Gift of Fear, among other readings, is that any reaction reinforces a behavior by demonstrating the threshold for provoking a reaction. Yes, that’s tautological, but it’s important.
If someone isn’t constrained by other concerns like their reputation, or the perception that you could materially punish them, or sheer emotional stress from conflict — and there are many people who aren’t constrained in those ways, especially when anonymity is an option — then a troll from that unconstrained population will prefer a negative reaction to zero reaction.
In that case, any sign that you’re paying attention and being affected by someone’s behavior will encourage them to continue. Hence “never feed the trolls” is a decent heuristic despite its edge cases. See also: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.”
In closing, think carefully about when to feed the trolls. How motivated is your adversary or group thereof? What’s stopping them from escalating further? Do you have any leverage?
My thoughts above were originally posted as a Twitter thread. Lightly edited for this format.