original photo: Robyn Michael, My JouRNEy Photography
term 'Internet troll', originated in a comparison with the angler who 'trolled'
a trailing bait to catch a fish. But for non-anglers, the mental image of a troll
is the slabby, thick, moss-laded creature of Scandinavian folk lore, further popularised
by Terry Pratchett in the Discworld novels, and J. K. Rowling in the Harry Potter
books. This sad figure of fun lived under bridges and startles the unwary, but
is easily outsmarted by anyone with any intelligence, or a small dog.
truth is somewhere between the two.
Internet doesn't have ancient slimey stone bridges, but trolls lurk around in
quiet corners of the internet; while they can pop up almost anywhere, they thrive
in distant relatively uninhabited corners.
don't have friends. On the internet, because they interact with human beings,
they can convince themselves that they are important, the centre of the universe
- that, to them, is better than any friendship. Don't forget, the troll thinks
he is always right, and therefore better than other folk. In real life, exactly
the opposite applies. the troll has no friends and virtually no interaction with
If he's a teen (many are), then he lives in
his bedroom, trolling, playing computer games with 'friends' (who he doesn't know
at all), and joining roleplay sites, where - of course - he is a hero, or a powerful
villain, who is respected in an inverse ratio to the respect he feels for himself.
he's an adult, then he has serious social issues. He may work, where people think
he's a weirdo, and avoid him, he may sponge off his parents or be 'looking for
work', which means he blames everyone for his problems. Except himself.
people who are out of work are nothing like this stereotype; most want to work,
and gain their self respect through work and being part of the world; but the
troll IS the stereotype whining scrounger, to whom the world owes a living. In his mind, anyway.
Almost every troll is male; I don't know why this is.
The troll has few social skills, and most have never had a
girlfriend, many never will.
There's a clear pattern among
trolls; they are much more likely to ignore posts known to be from women. And
when they do respond to women, they are much more likely to be brief, abusive,
condescending and patronising.
This is almost certainly more
due to fear than misogyny - they just don't know any women. Except Mom. But their
attitude rather reduces their chances of reproducing, which is probably a good
It would be easy
to dismiss trolls as mentally ill. Easy and wrong. Most would not score significantly
on mental illness assessments. But most are simply immature. Fair enough in a
teenager, and they have a chance of growing out of it (though the longer they
leave it, the harder they may find it to break the habit). But in adults, it's
Once upon a time, they would have been called 'inadequate
psychopaths'; attention seeking loners, forever feeling sorry for themselves,
but too bone idle to lift themselves out of their self-selected mire. Some live
in a fantasy world, and find it hard to concentrate on real life; they can't make
eye contact, and will say just about anything, frequently contradicting a previous
Most trolls are
pretty thick. Let's face it, it doesn't take much intelligence to sus out that
the troll life is a pretty pathetic one, and given the choice, even a gerbil would
choose a more rewarding lifestyle.
don't have to be highly intelligent to be an angler, though some would say that
it's difficult to be a successful angler without intelligence. Trolls have all
the basic skills, and some are successful, though this is often due to negligence
by their victims.
Trolls lay a variety
of baits. The real idiots go for single lines, such as religious bigotry in religious
groups, overt misogynism in nurses' groups, and mind blowing subtly, such as "BILL
GATES SUCKS" in microsoft support groups. Darwin tells us that if they get
a response at that level, then why would they bother to expend what little brain
power they have on a better post?
If basic bait fails, then
the troll may use a variety of techniques, from sheer twaddle to mild insults,
from a controversial view to completely irrelevant questions. Anything to get
a response. The human flaw in a troll is a failure to tell the difference between
"any response" and "approval". So insulting them merely encourages
Playing the Fish
skilled troll will then focus on a key responder; possibly the rudest, possibly
not - but the one the troll thinks is most likley to keep responding. At this
stage, other responders may be ignored. But if the original target drops out,
then troll may turn to others. Few trolls bother to play more than one sucker
at a time. They can always come back later.
Tickling the Trout
trolls do not respond at random. Once they have a sucker in their sites, they
control the conversation. One post may elicit a long, detailed and perfectly reasonable
response, but that is not what the troll wants. So they'll often complete ignore
the main argument (which they started!), and focus on one careless detail - a
date wrong, a misspelling for their next attack. And then the same trick again.
And again, so long as the sucker responds.
all else fails, the troll will do just what lazy anglers do: they'll drop explosives
in the water, clean up and go home. The failed troll can be very abusive indeed.
have no life, no power; but by manipulating others, even if for just a couple
of exchanges, they have control.
If they can catch an acknowledged expert,
so much the better for them.
There's no need ever to get caught by a troll,
though it is amusing to see Mensa members frothing at the mouth.
their weaknesses, as they'd exploit yours.
Trolls are nothing without attention, just a monster
under the bed. While the first post may be camoflaged, it really doesn't take
rocket science to identify an active troll. The best response from fellow members
of the group is simply to ignore it. And the best response from moderators is
to delete their membership; quickly and cleanly, with no negotiation or second
chance. The group is more important than one idiot.
Trolls have no self respect and low self esteem, and
cannot cope with normal human interaction; start with a bit of flattery, and they
may be stuck for a response. Even if they recover, they will not able to react
appropriately, which should convince everyone of their trollism.
focus on their target, not the issue; additonally, most trolls can only pick
on one person at a time. This leaves them wide open to paralysis when you talk
about them, but not to them.
Published September 2008