The object of this page is to bring together
a definitive document to cover the utter sadness of the Internet troll. Usually,
a troll is nothing more than a passing nuisance, but, as this page will show,
they can be a worry (stalkers). However, it is almost invariably
an inadequate individual who can be safely ignored.
This page will define
the activity, and help with early recognition; once acknowledged, trolls can take
up residence, and, like athlete's foot, can be difficult to shift. And when you've
finished here, I recommend this fairly comprehensive
guide to managing sad thirteen year olds loose on Mom's computer.
Is A Troll?
The term derives from "trolling", a style of fishing
which involves trailing bait through a likely spot hoping for a bite. The troll
posts a message, often in response to an honest question, that is intended to
upset, disrupt or simply insult the group.
Usually, it will fail, as the
troll rarely bothers to match the tone or style of the group, and usually its
Why do trolls do it?
believe that most trolls are sad people, living their lonely lives vicariously
through those they see as strong and successful.
Disrupting a stable newsgroup
gives the illusion of power, just as for a few, stalking a strong person allows
them to think they are strong, too.
For trolls, any response is 'recognition';
they are unable to distinguish between irritation and admiration; their ego grows
directly in proportion to the response, regardless of the form or content of that
Trolls, rather surprisingly, dispute this, claiming that it's
a game or joke; this merely confirms the diagnosis; how sad do you have to be
to find such mind-numbingly trivial timewasting to be funny?
trolls are cowards; they'll usually post just enough to get an argument going,
then sit back and count the responses (Yes, that's what they do!).
- Angler or Underbridge Dweller?
can troll posts be recognised?
- No Imagination - Most are frighteningly
obvious; sexist comments on nurses' groups, blasphemy on religious groups .. I
kid you not.
- Pedantic in the Extreme - Many trolls' preparation
is so thorough, that while they waste time, they appear so ludicrous from the
start that they elicit sympathetic mail - the danger is that once the group takes
sides, the damage is done.
- False Identity - Because they are cowards,
trolls virtually never write over their own name, and often reveal their trolliness
(and lack of imagination) in the chosen ID. As so many folk these days use false
ID, this is not a strong indicator on its own!
- Crossposting - Any
post that is crossposted to several groups should be viewed as suspicious, particularly
if unrelated or of opposing perspective. Why would someone do that?
posting - Often genuine errors, but, if from an 'outsider' they deserve matter-of-fact
response; if genuine, a brief apposite response is simply netiquette; if it's
a troll post, you have denied it its reward.
- Repetition of a question
or statement is either a troll - or a pedant; either way, treatment as a troll
- Missing The Point - Trolls rarely answer a direct
question - they cannot, if asked to justify their twaddle - so they develop a
fine line in missing the point.
- Thick or Sad - Trolls are usually
sad, lonely folk, with few social skills; they rarely make what most people would
consider intelligent conversation. However, they frequently have an obsession
with their IQ and feel the need to tell everyone. This is so frequent, that it
is diagnostic! Somewhere on the web there must be an Intelligence
Test for Trolls - rigged to always say "above 150"
are you likely to find trolls?
Wherever they are tolerated - this means
forums and networking sites that have loose or lazy moderation, and places like
Usenet (newsgroups) where there may be no moderation at all.
are successful is a slightly different issue - some forums allow members to set
an 'ignore' function, so they just do not see troll posts, after the first one,
and some specialist forums are tightly focussed so that troll posts stick out
a mile and are ignored - it's larger, more general forums that have issues, as
it only takes a couple of members to be drawn in for the whole forum to suffer.
They also thrive on 'opinion' sites, such as politics and religion, where feelings
often run high anyway. But, again, only if moderation is weak.
a special problem, as moderation is impossible; for trolls to be controlled, requires
committed members using their killfiles effectively, and avoiding accidental cross-posting
- which is all too easy with many newsreading software setups.
trolls have set up their forums to exchange notes. These rarely thrive, as most
trolls are not team players, and they simply fight among themselves. in other
cases, they become centers for cyberbullying (see stalking);
while that's a sad development, it makes it easier to have the sites closed.
is at risk?
Any newsgroup, bulletin board, forum or chatroom can attract
trolls, but they don't have the brains to attack nuclear physicists, and they
are drawn to the quick response where sex, religion and race are found; so politics
is easy prey.
One troll famously tried to infiltrate a mensa group; the
results read like 100 trolls and one regular, it didn't have a chance - but it
was stupid enough to persist until removed.
Should You Be Concerned?
Usually, no, though fractured funny bones and
occasional waves of nausea have been reported.
When a troll become persistent
and personal, you may need to consider the possibility that it has fermented into
an Internet Stalker - equally pathetic, if not more so - but sometimes requiring
weedkiller. Find Out More