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What is a Troll ?

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posted on Jan, 3 2005 @ 05:09 PM
Internet Trolls

Approximate Reading Time: 7 Minutes

What is a Troll?
An Internet "troll" is a person who delights in sowing discord on the Internet. He (and it is usually he) tries to start arguments and upset people.

Trolls see Internet communications services as convenient venues for their bizarre game. For some reason, they don't "get" that they are hurting real people. To them, other Internet users are not quite human but are a kind of digital abstraction. As a result, they feel no sorrow whatsoever for the pain they inflict. Indeed, the greater the suffering they cause, the greater their 'achievement' (as they see it). At the moment, the relative anonymity of the net allows trolls to flourish.

Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise). You cannot negotiate with them; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion; you cannot reason with them. They cannot be made to feel remorse. For some reason, trolls do not feel they are bound by the rules of courtesy or social responsibility.

Perhaps this sounds inconceivable. You may think, "Surely there is something I can write that will change them." But a true troll can not be changed by mere words.

Why Does it Matter?
Some people — particularly those who have been online for years — are not upset by trolls and consider them an inevitable hazard of using the net. As the saying goes, "You can't have a picnic without ants."

It would be nice if everybody was so easy-going, but the sad fact is that trolls do discourage people. Established posters may leave a message board because of the arguments that trolls ignite, and lurkers (people who read but do not post) may decide that they do not want to expose themselves to abuse and thus never get involved.

Another problem is that the negative emotions stirred up by trolls leak over into other discussions. Normally affable people can become bitter after reading an angry interchange between a troll and his victims, and this can poison previously friendly interactions between long-time users.

Finally, trolls create a paranoid environment, such that a casual criticism by a new arrival can elicit a ferocious and inappropriate backlash.

The Internet is a wonderful resource which is breaking down barriers and stripping away prejudice. Trolls threaten our continued enjoyment of this beautiful forum for ideas.

What Can be Done about Trolls?
When you suspect that somebody is a troll, you might try responding with a polite, mild message to see if it's just somebody in a bad mood. Internet users sometimes let their passions get away from them when seated safely behind their keyboard. If you ignore their bluster and respond in a pleasant manner, they usually calm down.

However, if the person persists in being beastly, and seems to enjoy being unpleasant, the only effective position is summed up as follows:

The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls.

When you try to reason with a troll, he wins. When you insult a troll, he wins. When you scream at a troll, he wins. The only thing that trolls can't handle is being ignored.

What Not to Do
As already stated, it is futile to try to "cure" a troll of his obsession. But perhaps you simply cannot bear the hostile environment that the troll is creating and want to go away for a while.

If you do that, then for the sake of the others on the system, please do not post a dramatic "Goodbye!" message. This convinces the troll that he is winning the battle. There is, perhaps, no message you can write on a message system that is as damaging as an announcement that you are leaving because of the hostility that the troll has kindled.

If you feel you must say something, a discreet message to the system operator (and some of the others users, if you have their email addresses) is the best course of action. Incidentally, if you are writing the letter in an agitated state, it is a good idea to wait an hour and then give it one last review before you actually send it. That might spare you the pain of saying things that you don't really mean to people you like.

One technique used by trolls to generate chaos is to pretend to be a well-liked person. On some systems there is nothing to prevent somebody from signing your name to a distasteful message. On other systems the troll may have to be a bit more wiley, perhaps by replacing one character with another. Here are some examples of various spoofing gimmicks that could be used against a person named Brenda Q. O'Really:

Brenda Q. O"Really
Brenda Q. 0'Really
Brenda Q  O'Really

Brenda Q. O'Rea11y
Bredna Q. O'Really
8renda Q. O'Really

Note: "Brenda Q. O'Really" is a made-up name used to illustrate spoofing and is not intended to refer to a particular person.

If you react with anger, the troll wins. So if you see a message impersonating you on a message board, simply write a follow-up reply entitled "That Wasn't Me" and type only this:

I did not write that message; it is a fake.
Of course, sometimes you will find that people who know you well have already identified the message as a fake and have tagged it as such. After all, one of the troll's goals is to make you look bad. If you have a good reputation, people will be tipped off if a message that you apparently wrote is completely out of character.

Trolls have been known to become so irritated at having their spoofs identified that they have learned to write in another person's style. They may end up writing an intelligent message that is indistinguishable from your own golden words. If that happens, you can always just let the post stand and take credit for it!

Trolls will also sometimes write a "That Wasn't Me" message after a genuine one, attempting to elicit a denial. There really is no reason to give him what he wants, since a "That Wasn't Me" warning merely reminds people to be skeptical. That is to say, it is of no real consequence if somebody isn't sure that you wrote a normal message, since in the long run it is the ideas that are important.

What about Free Speech?
When trolls find that their efforts are being successfully resisted, they often complain that their right to free speech is being infringed. Let us examine that claim.

While most people on the Internet are ardent defenders of free speech, it is not an absolute right; there are practical limitations. For example, you may not scream out "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, and you may not make jokes about bombs while waiting to board an airplane. We accept these limitations because we recognize that they serve a greater good.

Another useful example is the control of the radio frequency spectrum. You might wish to set up a powerful radio station to broadcast your ideas, but you cannot do so without applying for a license. Again, this is a practical limitation: if everybody broadcasted without restriction, the repercussions would be annoying at best and life-threatening at worst.

The radio example is helpful for another reason: with countless people having a legitimate need to use radio communications, it is important to ensure that nobody is 'monopolizing the channel'. There are only so many clear channels available in each frequency band and these must be shared.

When a troll attacks a message board, he generally posts a lot of messages. Even if his messages are not particularly inflammatory, they can be so numerous that they drown out the regular conversations (this is known as 'flooding'). Needless to say, no one person's opinions can be allowed to monopolize a channel.

The ultimate response to the 'free speech' argument is this: while we may have the right to say more or less whatever we want, we do not have the right to say it wherever we want. You may feel strongly about the fact that your neighbour has not mowed his lawn for two months, but you do not have the right to berate him in his own living room. Similarly, if a webmaster tells a troll that he is not welcome, the troll has no "right" to remain. This is particularly true on the numerous free communications services offered on the net. (On pay systems, the troll might be justified in asking for a refund.)

Why Do They Do It?

Regular net users know how delightful it is when somebody responds to something they have written. It is a meeting of the minds, which is an intellectual thrill, but it is also an acknowledgement of one's value — and that can be a very satisfying emotional reward.

Trolls crave attention, and they care not whether it is positive or negative. They see the Internet as a mirror into which they can gaze in narcissistic rapture.

If you want a deeper analysis than that, perhaps a psychologist can shed some additional light on the matter.

Next time you are on a message board and you see a post by somebody whom you think is a troll, and you feel you must reply, simply write a follow-up message entitled "Troll Alert" and type only this:

The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls.

By posting such a message, you let the troll know that you know what he is, and that you are not going to get dragged into his twisted little hobby.

The Internet is a splendidly haphazard collection of both serious and silly material. Because it is so free, there are bound to be problems. I think that we can best enjoy it if we deal with everything that happens online with a wry grin and a ready shrug.


Additional Reading:

[edit on 14-2-2005 by John bull 1]

posted on Jan, 3 2005 @ 05:14 PM
Bottom line:

When somebody drops a troll bomb in a thread you're working in--

write a follow-up message entitled "Troll Alert" : that's all.

The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls.

Now we know. Thank you.

posted on Jan, 3 2005 @ 05:52 PM
With ATS being the first discussion board that I've participated in, I initially was accused of being a "troll".

I didn't have any idea what was meant by the term, by I will admit that I did cause a little ruckus and regret my actions in doing so.

Now, I find the discussions on ATS very interesting and have no intentions of upsetting any members here.

I find a majority of the members here are firm in their beliefs and highly intelligent.

With this statememnt I would like to apologize to anyone I might have upset with my "trollish" statements and threads.

posted on Jan, 4 2005 @ 01:25 PM
Nice piece, FFTT. Bravo.

Not to detract from your post at all, but on a side note, the word "troll" is bandied about a little too enthusiastically sometimes. It's very convenient to label anyone who opposes your opinion strongly as a troll, thereby immediately invalidating that person's post(s) in the minds of other readers.

This kind of labeling can be limiting to freedom of expression if allowed to get out of hand, just like it's not OK to say anything bad about atrocities that Israel carries out for fear of being labeled an "anti-Semite".

In the days of the ink bottle, quill, and parchment, a letter might say, "Sir, you have offended my wits and my sensibilities with your incessant, unsubstantiated rambling." In the Internet/phone text-message age it becomes, "d00d, you are SO wrong. How could you post such ignorant crapolla?" Sometimes a troll is not a troll; he/she is merely a poster who doesn't feel the need to be as eloquent as others in order to get a point across.

posted on Jan, 4 2005 @ 07:05 PM
There's a great difference between members having a "spirited debate"
and trolling.

We must always be mindful not to confuse the two and to be careful of other's feelings.

posted on Jan, 4 2005 @ 07:10 PM
No need to say anything, just keep one of these in your image center...


posted on Jan, 4 2005 @ 07:19 PM

Originally posted by Gazrok
No need to say anything, just keep one of these in your image center...


now I'm a troll - one line poster

posted on Jan, 4 2005 @ 07:21 PM
Well, it gets the point across...

I suppose you could add some commentary, but the pic says it all, hehe... I'd never one-line someone for something like that, hehe...

posted on Jan, 4 2005 @ 10:49 PM
especially the part about flooding i'll definatly keep such things in mind when posting here.

Not sure but i think i may have been a victim of a troll at one time or another and ended up being the bad guy cause i blew my gasket and posted an utterly ridiculous thread because i was so mad.

Anyway thanks again very informative.


posted on Jan, 5 2005 @ 02:18 AM
After a very recent thread, I made this in case I am unable to get the message across any other way.

If you would like to, please feel free to use it wherever you see fit!


[edit on 5/1/05 by JAK]

posted on Jan, 5 2005 @ 02:41 AM
I have seen some cases on another board I used to subscribe to where I made a moderator pretty mad cause I exposed him lying about something, the next thing you know, every thing I said was trolling to him and my threads were deleted pretty much as a rule. I would be very careful about just throwing that term around lightly, as it is becomming a pretty serious accusation these days and can get somebody banned or booted when they may just be abrasive.
It suprises me how much personality comes out in a text, it really does, but in that sense, we have to realize that there are just some folks out there you aren't going to get along with. True trolling is hard to seperate from a simply disagreeable poster, I guess really only a patterned behavior could indicate a true troll. But I haven't really seen alot of it on ATS, so my applause to the moderators here for being dilligent, or to the community for keeping it real.


posted on Jan, 5 2005 @ 03:11 AM
twitchy I would have to agree with the statement about both the Moderators and the community.

I have see a couple of threads about people being banned and despite seeing the banning as justifiable it has been interesting to see that, although as a rule of thumb ATS members are very respectful of Moderators decisions (a respect which can only come about through all of the Mods behaviour being seen as overall fair and balanced), there has been times when questions have been raised over such incidents.

I think because members of ATS have such an affection for both the site and in turn the members who make it what it is, seeing then a member banned, especially a well known long term member, does not pass without question. Questions that in some cases have been addressed in public.

I am very impressed indeed with the way that this site conducts its business, both Mods and members.


posted on Jan, 5 2005 @ 09:02 AM

there has been times when questions have been raised over such incidents.

As well there should be. We are people too, and make mistakes just like everyone else. However, banning is always a LAST resort, and isn't done lightly, or without some discussion between mods. Such discussion, and/or reasons may not be viewable to the public always, i.e. serious infractions in chat, or U2Us, etc. rather than publicly being a troll. But when there are questions, we do try and explain the reasons as best we can. In the end, we all want what's best for the board.

have seen some cases on another board I used to subscribe to where I made a moderator pretty mad cause I exposed him lying about something, the next thing you know, every thing I said was trolling to him and my threads were deleted pretty much as a rule.

Such behavior here by a mod would likely quickly end with said mod being banned, or at the very least, losing mod status...I would like to think.

posted on Feb, 14 2005 @ 12:30 PM
I feel there are a lot of trolls these days on ATS, I just learned what is a troll....there are PLENTY right now so it makes it hard to keep a nice conversation and yes, I don't like it!


posted on Feb, 14 2005 @ 12:36 PM
Ha, that was very nice to read, I tough a troll was somebody that will get on your butt and don't let go, following every thread you visit and posting immediately after you do.

Or is that also fixiation....................

I don't mind some and others I welcome but is just that littler few that I wish they just get swallow in the cybernetic sea of internet information super highways and never find their way on my channel.

posted on Feb, 14 2005 @ 12:38 PM
Is that the mountain troll from Harry Potter?

posted on Feb, 14 2005 @ 12:56 PM

No, that's LOTR. Mine is from Harry Potter though....

posted on Feb, 15 2005 @ 11:35 AM
Excellent post FFTT. Informative, helpful. Thank you.

posted on Feb, 15 2005 @ 11:41 AM
A Jolly Old Troll, Indeed

There is often an element of sexual gratification involved in trollery.

Some people just get their jollies from tormenting other people.

In other words, trolls are sadists and deviates.

I studied the phenomenon for a while in the '90s. A lot of people on alt.flame openly described the phenomenon.


posted on Feb, 16 2005 @ 01:26 AM
How about this?

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