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In Internet terminology, a troll is someone who comes into an established community such as an online discussion forum, and posts inflammatory, rude or offensive messages designed to annoy and antagonize the existing members or disrupt the flow of discussion (see Anonymous Internet posting).
The contemporary use of the term first appeared on Usenet groups in the late 1980s. It is widely thought to be a contraction of the phrase "trolling for suckers," itself derived from the sport fishing technique of trolling. The latter can be compared with trawling, of which it is a near homophone.
The word likely gained currency because of its apt second meaning, drawn from the "trolls", which are portrayed in Scandinavian folklore, and children's tales, as often ugly, obnoxious creatures that are bent on wickedness and mischief. The image of the troll under the bridge in the "Three Billy Goats Gruff" emphasizes the troll's negative reaction to outsiders intruding on its physical environment, particularly those who intend to graze in its domain without permission.
For many people, the characterising feature of trolling is the perception of intent to disrupt a community in some way. Inflammatory, sarcastic, disruptive or humorous content is posted, meant to draw other users into engaging the troll in a fruitless confrontation. The greater the reaction from the community the more likely the user is to troll again, as the person develops beliefs that certain actions achieve his/her goal to cause chaos. This gives rise to the often repeated protocol in Internet culture: "Do not feed the trolls."
Often, a person will post a sincere message about which he is emotionally sensitive. Skillful trolls know that an easy way to upset him is to disingenuously claim that he is a "troll." In forums where most users are similar to each other, outsiders may be perceived as trolls simply because they do not fit into the social norms of that group. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between a user who merely has different values, views, or ideas, and a user who is intentionally trolling. This can lead to genuinely hostile behavior, including flame wars.
The long history of trolling, and the strong support for anonymous and pseudonymous discourse on the Internet, suggests that the story of the "anonymous troll" is only beginning, and is expected to continue developing in subtlety and sophistication. Whether there can be a "culture" consisting of people who do not know each other, except through a common experience of being bounced from Internet forums, is questionable, but some do claim it is possible and already occurring.
There is strong evidence for this in the existence of forums that claim to exist specifically to support trolls and trolling, to exchange troll tips, and to identify targets that other trolls might fruitfully bait or debate.
Trolling culture is best observed in trolls, who do not know each other, working together. Because the common methods of creating inflammatory posts are well known, and a subject of jokes in many places on the Internet, it is sometimes possible for a troll to identify another troll in action. A troll, trolling another troll, often creates massive amounts of pretend drama between them that are taken seriously by non-troll observers (especially if they take sides). The end result is that the two trolls can work together to force a conversation to go off topic, or center a forum's discussion around themselves, more effectively than on their own.
Trolling as identity deception
A common tactic that many trolls resort to is the strategy of using multiple usernames or pseudonyms that are ready to use just in case a debate or argument emerges. By using multiple usernames (called "sock puppets" in this context) and a variety of artificial personalities the troll would have the ability to protect his image in a community. A troll would then also be able to increase his or her influence in an entire online community by simply using those other self serving nicks to increase the attention towards his or her most favored account.
Online game communities that take tournament statistics and player rankings seriously are especially vulnerable to this type of trolling behavior. This is mainly due to the fact that since players take their rankings seriously, that some would resort to solidifying their reputations by creating self made threads designed to praise his favored account. Threads such as "most favorite players", "name your top ten players", etc. are suspected to be highly manipulated self-made threads designed to increase the influence and reputation of a specific username.
Prior to DejaNews's archiving of Usenet, accounts of trolling were sketchy, there being little evidence to sort through. After that time, however, the huge archives were available for researchers. Perhaps the earliest, although poorly documented, case is the 1982-83 saga of AlexAndJoan from the CompuServe forums. Van Gelder, a reporter for Ms. magazine, documented the incident in 1996 in an article for her publication. Alex (in real life a very shy 50 year old psychiatrist from New York) pretended to be a highly bombastic, anti-religious, post-car-accident, wheelchair-bound, mute woman, named, "Joan", "in order to better relate to his female patients". This went on for two years, and "Joan" had become a hugely detailed character, with an array of emotional relationships. These only began to fall apart after "Joan" coaxed an online friend of hers into an affair with Alex.
"Even those who barely knew Joan felt implicated — and somehow betrayed — by Alex's deception. Many of us on-line like to believe that we're a utopian community of the future, and Alex's experiment proved to us all that technology is no shield against deceit. We lost our innocence, if not our faith." (Van Gelder, 1996, p.534)
Trolling in the 1990s
One early reference to "troll" found in the Google Usenet archive was by user "Mark Miller", directed toward the user, "Tad", on February 8, 1990 . However, it is unclear if this instance represents a usage of "troll" as it is known today, or if it was simply a chance choice of epithet:
"You are so far beyond being able to understand anything anyone here says that this is just converging on uselessness. The really sad part is that you really believe that you're winning. You are a shocking waste of natural resources — kindly re-integrate yourself into the food-chain. Just go die in your sleep you mindless flatulent troll."
The more likely derivation can be found in the phrase, "trolling for newbies", popularized in the early 1990s in the Usenet group, alt.folklore.urban. The usage was somewhat different from the current notion of trolling; it was a relatively gentle inside joke by veteran users, presenting questions or topics that had been so overdone, only a new user would respond to them earnestly. Others expanded the term to include the practice of playing a seriously misinformed or deluded user, even in newsgroups where one was not a regular; these were often attempts at humor, rather than provocation. In such contexts, the noun, "troll", usually referred to an act of trolling, rather than to the author.
Some long-time Usenet users continued to insist on these earlier definitions, even after the term was applied more generally to inflammatory actions, previously characterized as "flamebait".
In serious literature, the practice was first documented by Judith Donath (1999), who used several anecdotal examples from various Usenet newsgroups in her discussion. Donath's paper outlines the ambiguity of identity in a disembodied "virtual community" :
"In the physical world there is an inherent unity to the self, for the body provides a compelling and convenient definition of identity. The norm is: one body, one identity. ... The virtual world is different. It is composed of information rather than matter."
Donath provides a concise overview of identity deception games which trade on the confusion between physical and epistemic community:
"Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group's common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they — and the troll — understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll's enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group.
Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling — where the rate of deception is high — many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one's online reputation." (Donath, 1999, p. 45)
"Please do not feed the troll" images are meant to tell others not to encourage trolls by reacting to them.
The term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used to discredit an opposing position, or its proponent, by argument ad hominem. Likewise, calling someone a troll makes assumptions about a writer's motives that may be incorrect. Regardless of the writer's motives, controversial posts are likely to attract a corrective or patronizing or outraged response by those who do not distinguish between real physical community (where people are actually exposed to some shared risk of bodily harm by their actions), and epistemic community (based on a mere exchange of words and ideas). Customs of discourse, or etiquette, originating in physical communities are often applied naively to online discourse by newcomers who are not used to the range of views expressed online, often anonymously. Hence, both users and posts are commonly, and sometimes inaccurately, labelled as trolls when their content upsets people — ironically, the accusatory labeling of a troll may be more disruptive than the original alleged offense itself. Also, people may be more inclined to use epithets like troll in online public discussion than they would be in person, because online forums may seem more impersonal. PDNFTT is a common initialism for Please Do Not Feed The Trolls. There is a quote on IMDb that the common troll does not understand the words 'opinion' and 'leave', meaning that it feels it has superior opinions and will not quit until reaching its own trolling satisfaction.
When appropriately applied to purposefully disruptive online behavior, the word troll economically converts an abstract code of online manners into a concrete image. Experienced participants in online forums know that the most effective way to discourage a troll is usually to ignore him or her, because responding encourages a true troll to continue disruptive posts to that forum — hence the often-seen warning, "Please do not feed the Troll". Posting this warning publicly, in reply to a troll's behavior to discourage further replies, may discourage the troll. However, it can also have the reverse effect, becoming itself food for the troll. Therefore, when a forum participant sees an apparently innocent answer to a troll as potential troll food, it may be more prudent to deliver the "Please do not feed the Troll" warning in a private message to the answerer (e.g., by email, or to the answerer's wiki Talk page).
Trolling in different Internet media
Trolling takes distinct forms in different media; it started on newsgroups, and as the Internet has evolved, so has trolling.
- Usenet — hierarchies of newsgroups limit trolls' exposure, but cross-posting can overcome this. Some Internet service providers limit the number of newsgroups to which a message can be cross-posted. In a notable example, alt.net, instituted a cross-post limit after the trolls on the system had become so notorious that Peter da Silva instituted a campaign for other systems to cease exchanging news with alt.net until they did something about the problem.
- Mailing lists are usually controlled by moderators, so unwanted contributors can quickly be banned.
- SlashCode-based forums use a rating system so that readers can moderate a post up or down from its initial rating. Readers can then choose to ignore posts that others have "modded down." Timing of trolls is particularly important, since earlier posts are more likely to be read than later posts. An ideal troll would generate much heated discussion and posting without further intervention from the troll.
- Wikis — the flat, asynchronous and open model allows anyone to post anything; users work to undo negative changes using the built-in reversion tools, but this requires hundreds of volunteers to monitor large popular sites. Trolls tend to be more subtle than in discussion groups, often posting material that could be legitimate, but will cause controversy by challenging the current power structure. Difficulty is compounded by the impossibility of discerning whether a user is simply espousing a controversial opinion, or trolling.
- Weblogs — in their most common form as a personal soapbox with the ability for anybody to leave comments, popular weblogs often make effective springboards for trolls, either as inflammatory comments or provocative entries. The ease with which weblogs can be linked encourages troll propagation.
- IRC — the open nature of most IRC channels on popular networks enables a troll to enter and utilise any of a range of techniques, ranging from simple crapflooding to subtly irritating remarks which trigger angry responses. The ease of evading bans from channels and servers and the volatile nature of many IRC users can allow trolls to perpetuate indefinitely.
- Multiplayer first person shooters — online gaming attracts a large number of trolls, who take advantage of the combative atmosphere and their general anonymity to disparage other players. See pwn or noob for more information. Team killing and griefing -- breaking the social rules of the game to harass other players -- can also be considered similar.
- Online Fantasy Sports — A troll will infiltrate a free, online league with multiple teams from different identity accounts and then attempt to make lopsided trades of players to improve one team. The troll will leave numerous messages on the league bulletin board from different identities to give the appearance of legitimacy to otherwise illicit behavior. Players that object to the obvious charade may be showered with insults and other attempts at evasion.
- Web forums — Forums of all kinds attract trolls, whose behavior differs little from the above examples. Few forums are free of trolls, except for very small sites and those with very strict policies on trolling.
Prison time for trolling?
On January 5, 2006, United States president George W. Bush signed into law the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act, which, among other things, places a prohibition on using the Internet to transmit, solicit, or create anonymous messages containing obscenity intended to "annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass" another person. Criminal penalties include large fines and up to two years in prison. Concern has been raised as to the Constitutional legality of the law, as critics allege that it infringes upon the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees every U.S. citizen the right to free speech. This does not necessarily affect all trolls; it makes illegal the common trolling tactic of posting links to shock sites containing obscene material.
Defensive and recreational trolls
In some Internet subcultures, notably Kibology, the words "troll" and "trolling" have taken on a different meaning. Instead of the aggressive invader and his (sic) loud, often abusive posts, the terms refer to someone more subtle, seeking to create a loud, indeed furious response, to a post that may be moderate and even reasonable in its tone, while pushing the victim's hot buttons. This treatment may be applied to invaders, especially cranks such as Archimedes Plutonium or George Hammond (Scientific Proof of God, not the TV character) and the loud, obnoxious, self-centered kind of invader called trolls elsewhere.
Trolling may also be done as a kind of practical joke among group members. Those who can see through such trolls quickly, and respond in kind, are held in high esteem, while those who fall for the trick may eventually be informed "YHBT"--You Have Been Trolled. The admiring response to a particularly subtle troll is "IHBT"--I Have Been Trolled. In addition to James Kibo Parry, the most esteemed practitioners on alt.religion.kibology include Lisa Pea, Andrea Chen, and Sarah Cherlin.
One-shot troll messages are intended to be disruptive, and tend to be very obvious to ensure that they will receive annoyed replies.
- Off topic messages: Those that are irrelevant to the focus of the forum. This can also be done in the middle of an existing thread to attempt to hijack the thread, or otherwise change the topic at hand. Off topic messages usually occur when a member has been completely disproved in a serious debate thus, causing that member to use his or her other multiple pseudonyms for the purposes of changing the subject matter. These disruptions may result in the degeneration of a well informed thread into a heated juvenile exchange consisting of insults and childish accusations between multiple parties. Such an incident may have been the case in Flyordie.com  when it decided to censor all freedoms of speech relating to 9/11 evidence disclosure topics 
- Page breaking: Filling up fields with large pictures or characters to make previous posts unreadable. A skilled troll will use an extremely wide and narrow picture that blends into the forum background to make it harder to catch.
- Offensive media: Annoying sound files or disturbing pictures in a message, or linking to shock sites that contain such media. Often these links are disguised as legitimate links.
- Inflammatory messages, including racist, sexist, classist or otherwise needlessly hateful comments.
- Opinionated statements: Posting messages expressing their own opinions as generally accepted facts without offering any proof or analysis.
- Spoiling: Deliberately revealing the ending or an important part of movie, book, game etc.
- Bumping an old discussion, or rehashing a highly controversial past topic, particularly in smaller online communities.
- Deliberate and repeated misspelling of other people's nicks in order to disturb or irritate them in a conversation.
- Promising nonexistent pornography to people who post in the forum, producing an interminable flood of "please send" messages (especially common in the alt.sex Usenet hierarchy in the mid-1990s)  
- Defensive trolls:
This class of trolls seeks to incite as many responses as possible and to absorb a disproportionate share of the collective attention span.
- Advertising another forum, especially a rival or a hated forum.
- Claiming to be someone they cannot possibly be: "As an actual, real-life samurai, I have some problems with (the film) The Seven Samurai."
- No longer having affiliation to or current knowledge of the subject at hand, yet continually posting opinions and commentary as "experts".
- Messages containing a deliberate flaw or error: "I think 2001: A Space Odyssey is Roman Polanski's best film."
- Asking for help with an implausible task or problem: "How do I season my Crock Pot? I don't want everything I cook in it to taste the same."
- Intentionally naive questions: "Can I cook pasta in Evian instead of water?"
- Intentional typos: "Does anyone have a copy of Super Maria Bras. for the Nintendo?"
- Messages containing a self-referential appeal to status. "Pepsi is for white trash. I prefer a real soft drink like Coke."
- Intentionally posting an outrageous argument, deliberately constructed around a fundamental but obfuscated flaw or error. Often the poster will become defensive when the argument is refuted, and may continue the thread through the use of further flawed arguments; this is referred to as "feeding" the troll.
- A subclass of the above is the flawed proof of an important unsolved mathematical problem or impossibility (e.g. 1 = 2); however, these may not always be troll-posts, and are sometimes, at least, mathematically interesting.
- Politically contentious messages: "Everyone knows that all Republicans/Democrats are evil."
- Posting politically sensitive images in inappropriate places.
- Feigning innocence, after a flamewar ensues.
- Off-topic complaints about personal life, even threats of suicide: sometimes, this is the "cry for help" troll.
- Plural or paranoid answers to personal opinions expressed by individuals: "I don't think that all of you really believe that -— you're just ganging up on me!"
- Paramour trolls get a thrill from establishing serial online affairs with females of a group. This incites public rivalry among the women who once thought the nicknames, poetry, and declarations of affection were exclusive to them. Since the online love affair is developed separately in chat programs, it takes a long time for the online cat-fight to be detected.
- Combinations of the above. For example, a troll combines inflammatory statements with poor grammar and Internet slang (aka 'netspeak' or 'chatspeak'): "lmfao! d00d, ur so week minded an predictable i thought i wan iggied i play ya like a card... pwned j00 n00b f00! l4m3r! w00t!""
Some trolls may denounce a particular religion in a religion newsgroup, though historically, this would have been called "flamebait". Like those who engage in flaming, self-proclaimed or alleged Internet trolls sometimes resort to innuendo or misdirection in the pursuit of their objective. It is possible to distinguish between comments that are flamebait and as a result of trolling: flames have the intent of being anti-social and offensive, while trolling comments are intended to provoke a reaction, though trolling comments may also be perceived as being anti-social, although that may not have been the intent of the author.
A variant of the second variety (inflammatory messages) involves posting content obviously at odds with the (stated or unstated) focus of the group or forum; for example, posting cat-meat recipes on a pet lovers forum, posting evolutionary theory on a creationist forum (or vice versa), or posting messages about how all dragons are boring in the USENET group alt.fan.dragons.
The "sock-puppet" troll enters a forum using several different identities. As provocative postings from one identity draw increasingly critical comment from other forum members, the troll enters the discussion under a second identity in support of the first. Alternatively, the troll may under the second identity criticise the first in order to develop credibility or esteem on the forum.
Cross-posting is a popular method of Usenet trolls: a cross-posted article can be discussed simultaneously in several unrelated and/or opposing newsgroups; this is likely to result in a flame war. For instance, an anti-fast food flame bait might be cross-posted to healthy eating groups, environmentalist groups, animal rights groups, as well as a totally off-topic artificial intelligence newsgroup.
An example of a successful troll is the well-known "Oh how I envy American students" USENET thread which had 3,000-odd follow-ups. A new USENET newsgroup, "alt.genius.bill-palmer", was created by Igor Chudov for the purpose of creating an outlet for discussing a controversial USENET personality, Bill Palmer, himself an alleged USENET troll who managed to make his personality the center of all discussions -- a characteristic that is common amongst attention-seeking trolls. A swirl of messages attempting to disprove his alleged status as genius, cross-posted to hell and back, made "a.g.b-p", the most popular new "alt.*" newsgroup of the year. Its creator was nominated for the "Troll of the Year 1996" award.
Recreational/Defensive: Confucius TROLL, he say: "The absence of a TROLL, that is also TROLLing"
Self-proclaimed "trolls" may style themselves as devil's advocates, gadflies or culture jammers, challenging the dominant discourse and assumptions of forum discussions in an attempt to break the status quo of groupthink — the belief system that prevails in their absence.
Some critics claim that genuine "devil's advocates" generally identify themselves as such, out of respect for etiquette and courtesy, while trolls may dismiss etiquette and courtesy altogether. Most discussion of what motivates Internet trolls comes from other Internet users who claim to have observed trolling behavior. There is little scholarly literature to describe either the term or the phenomenon. The comments of accused trolls might be unreliable, since they may, in fact, be intending to stir controversy, rather than to advance understanding of the phenomenon. Likewise, accusers are often motivated by a desire to defend a particular Internet project, and references to an Internet user as a troll might not be based on the actual goals of the person so named. As a result, identifying the goals of Internet trolls is most often speculative. Still, several basic goals have been attributed to Internet trolls, according to the type of disruption they are believed to be provoking.
Further complicating the issue, many accusatory labelers fail to first question whether the alleged "troll" material actually is disruptive (a requisite component of trolling behavior) before being declared as such. Thus, many "trolls" are born of a second party's hasty inference of supposed intent, accurate or not.
Proposed motivations for trolling:
- Trolling can be described as a breaching experiment, which, because of the use of an alternate persona, allows for normal social boundaries and rules of etiquette to be tested or otherwise broken, without serious consequences. This may be part of an attempt to test the limits of some discourse, or to identify reactive personalities. By removing identities and histories from the situation, leaving only the discourse, some scientists believe that it is possible to run social engineering experiments using troll methods. However, few believe that troll organizations are engaged in science, and a few scattered individuals, with no particular method or thesis, cannot be described as scientists. They might however be engaged in research.
- Anonymous attention-seeking: The troll seeks to dominate the thread by inciting anger, and effectively hijacking the topic at hand.
- Amusement: To some people, the thought of a person getting angry over statements from total strangers is entertaining. This could be categorized as a form of schadenfreude - trolls with amusement motives deriving pleasure from the actual frustration/anger/pain (or what they may perceive in their own minds as such) from their targets.
- Anger: Some people use trolling to express their hostility to a group or point of view.
- Cry for help: Many so-called trolls, in their postings, indicate disturbing situations regarding family, relationships, substances, and school — although it is generally impossible to know whether this is just simply part of the troll. Some believe that trolling is an aggressive, confrontational way by which trolls seek a sort of tough love guidance in an anonymous forum.
- Self-proclaimed trolls, and their defenders, suggest that trolling is a clever way of improving discussion, or an alternative method of viewing power-relations.
- Setting oneself a challenge, simply to see if one can do it, and be successful: One member of an online forum, for example, joins under an unrecognizable identifying name to see if the other members of the forum can be fooled and, if so, for how long.
- Wasting others' time: One of the greatest themes in trolling is the idea that a troll can spend one minute of time posting a troll, causing multiple other people to waste several minutes of their time, catalytically affecting others. Most trolls enjoy the idea that they can waste others' time at comparatively little effort on their behalf.
- Domino effect: Related to amusement, but in a more specific fashion, it starts large chain reactions in response to one's initial post. Achieving a disproportionately large response to a small action is the general theme. This is similar to how a young child that goes "missing" (but is actually hiding) may act with glee, seeing a large number of people conducting a massive search in response to the supposed disappearance.
- Suppression of information: A particularly nihilistic troll often aims to curb the sharing of helpful information between forum participants. For example, the skilled troll can turn an informative discussion about tips and techniques on coping with disease X... into a completely useless flame fest. This can keep essential information out of the hands of those who need it most, thus proliferating human suffering. A slightly less hostile variant is the supression of a discussion the troll does not like or finds offensive. A troll trolling a thread of sexist jokes would fit into this category.
- Effect change in user opinions: A troll may state extreme positions to make his or her actual beliefs seem moderate (this often involves sock puppeteering or duals, where the bad cop is a sock-puppet troll) or, alternatively, play the role of the devil's advocate to strengthen the opposing convictions (with which he or she actually agrees).
- Test the integrity of a system against social attacks or other forms of misbehavior: For example, blatantly violating terms-of-use in order to see whether any action is taken by the site administrators.
- Overcome feelings of inferiority or powerlessness by getting the experience of controlling an environment.
- Fight "groupthink": Many trolls defend their actions as shocking people out of entrenched conformism.
Klerck, also known as Kevin Ealy, was an Internet troll and Slashdot troll before his 2005 death.
- Satire: In these cases, the individuals do not think of themselves as trolls, but misunderstood humorists or political commentators.
- Satisfaction gained from personal attacks.
- Harassment: following a person — who has been targeted for harassment in one forum, but who has chosen to escape being victimized by moving on — and trolling the forum as a means of making that new "home" an uncomfortable place for that person to be online.
- Lowering signal to noise ratio: On Slashdot, moderation points, that could be used to moderate up alternative posts, are wasted on moderating down things like ASCII pictures of the goatse man. At certain thresholds, this lowers the quality of comments.
- Anonymously testing an alternate persona.
- Emptying a forum: this is usually only feasible if the forum is small.
- Attempting to discredit a group by posing as a member of that group, and posting inflammatory messages to give the appearance that the group espouses such opinions. This type of troll usually gives him or herself away fairly quickly.
Some users of Internet forums are considered to be "trollhunters", or "trollbaiters". They willingly enter into conflicts when trolls emerge. Often, trollhunters are as disruptive as trolls. A single troll-post may be ignored, but if ten trollhunters "pounce", following a troll, they will drive the thread off-topic.
Resolutions and alternatives
In general, popular wisdom advises users to avoid feeding trolls, and to ignore temptations to respond. Responding to a troll inevitably drives discussion off-topic, to the dismay of bystanders, and supplies the troll with the craved attention. When trollhunters pounce on the trolls, ignorers reply with: "YHBT. YHL. HAND.", or "You have been trolled. You have lost. Have a nice day." However, since trollbaiters (like trolls) are often conflict-seekers themselves, the loss usually is not on the part of the trollhunter; rather, the losers are the other forum-users who would have preferred that the conflict does not emerge at all.
Literature on conflict resolution suggests that labeling participants in Internet discussions as "trolls" can perpetuate the unwanted behaviors. A person rejected by a social group, both online and offline, may assume an antagonistic role toward it, and seek to further annoy or anger members of the group. The "troll" label, often a sign of social rejection, may therefore perpetuate trolling.
Better results normally ensue when users take the moderator role and describe more constructive behaviors in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way. Trolls are excited by trollhunters, and frustrated by "ignorers", and neither of these emotions produce positive results for the forum. Engaging trolls results in "flame wars". Trolls frustrated by the "ignore strategy" may leave the forum (and either troll elsewhere, or become constructive users) or may become progressively more inflammatory until they get a response.
Novice trolls may experience serious "troll's remorse", a feeling of great regret after losing their account (whether it be from an Internet service provider or from a website) as a consequence of their reckless trolling.
There are those who argue that a lack of response to trolling can also inspire trolling, a "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" result. Particularly fanatical or irrational commentators will respond to a forum that irks them largely independent of responses. Trolls also often continue to post, taking umbrage with peripheral arguments or arguments that were less well-founded, until their positions become untenable, then turning either to insults or moving to another topic. By this logic, relentless confrontation through argument of trolls (when such argument is to be found) can be vital.
Usefulness of trolling
A major debate on the Internet is whether or not trolls perform any useful function. Because troll is such a broadly-applied term, if all definitions thereof are to be accepted, the answer must definitively be "yes and no".
Users performing many useful, but controversial, functions are often decried as trolls, and in these cases, so-called trolling may actually benefit the forum in which it occurs. For example, the presence of a radical right-winger, described as a troll, may allow a conservative lurker to feel more comfortable expressing his or her viewpoints, which seem very moderate in contrast. On the other hand, if trollhunters mount a flame war against this right-wing troll, the conservative bystander may feel less comfortable in expressing her views, to the detriment of the forum. As much as trolls claim to fight groupthink, they may actually encourage it by solidifying opinion against them.
Trolls can also, in some circumstances, be a source of genuine humour, which depends entirely upon whether the troll is a good or a bad troll. It is usually fairly easy to spot the difference between such actions: a bad troll resorts only to weak uncreative arguments, whereas a good troll will create a subtle set of arguments which draw people in, with cunning twists to provide a thread of non sequitur humour.
Trolls may also provide a valuable service by making people question the validity of what is read both on the Internet, and from other sources. Trolls show that expressing any opinion is as easy as expressing an informed and considered opinion, and may get as much visibility. It has also been argued that shock jocks, and newspaper columnists, often track public opinions by trolling. John C. Dvorak, and Slashdot, have often been cited as examples.
Even though useful content and productive users are sometimes decried as trolls, the consensus is that pure "trolling" benefits only the troll and trollhunters, and has no place in any forum. Most forums reject the claim that pure and intentional trolling serves any useful purpose. Some trolls have been known to try to troll threads into deletion, serving as a form of negative reinforcement to "newbies", but also helping at the same time to reduce the clutter of spam threads on a large message board. In many cases, trolling can lead a forum administrator or moderator into implementing features to the site to prevent trolling. Although this could be regarded as improving the website itself, it remains that the features would not have been needed, had the trolls not been there.
Precise definitions of "troll" have been difficult because such definitions rely on assumptions about internal motivation, which have been difficult to conculsively prove. Some behaviors, such as "name-calling" are not candidates for a "troll" classification unless their intent is to provoke a reaction, as "name-calling" could be considered more anti-social, perhaps falling under the classification of "flamer" instead.
Some have suggested that instead of calling somebody a "troll", they should focus on specific behaviors that a group finds uncomfortable, and enforce behavioral rules to consistently and fairly prevent such behaviors. The idea is to focus on the undesirable behavior itself, rather than on the motivation for the behavior. If such behaviors cannot be identified, then perhaps the alleged troll should be tolerated out of fairness. Some call this, the "If you cannot identify it, then tolerate it" plan.
A general consensus could be that a post intended to be upsetting or offensive is a flame while a post attempting to incite these is trolling.
While trolls and trolling are, by and large, considered a negative and undesirable presence on a forum, some claim a belief that trolling is inherently bad can have damaging consequences. The use of the word "terrorist" is often cited as an example of stepping over the line. However, anything that is labeled with the word "terrorist" rallies a feeling of an "us versus them" mentality, which is helpful both in ostracizing trollish behavior, and in strengthening the "need" for anti-troll tactics, thereby consolidating the webmaster's support.
In most cases, the latter is an unexpected bonus in dealing with trolls. However, a pertinent question arises: "What if this is the only goal, and that the webmaster merely wishes to silence a variety of criticisms, ranging from poor moderation and too much advertising, to restrictions on discussion topics?" Playing the "troll" card may therefore be the webmaster's weapon of choice.
Many (perhaps most) people, labelled "trolls", are simply being called thus by someone else in the course of a religious, political or other ordinary type of dispute; in other words, they are labelled as one for acting as a dissident or heretic. To characterize systems administrators or moderators as "the troll who got there first" is not entirely inaccurate. Many debates between those with and without administrative or legal powers seem simply to resemble a heated personal argument. On the Internet in particular, the holding of technological powers (such as the power to ban users or block IP addresses) is not necessarily a sign of any superior political or moral judgement. Similarly, one may be labeled a troll for simply disagreeing with someone, who is often the topic starter.
As with similar pejorative labels, a group of people who are assigned the label can turn it around to create group identity, and the power to collectively resist. Individual outsiders using the label on someone become targets for a collective response. Insiders, however, may use the label without consequence, usually in a joking or disarming way.
Specific trolling subcultures
- Gay Nigger Association of America (GNAA)
- Slashdot trolling phenomena (see also: Slashdot subculture)
- Yahoo! trolling phenomena
- Troll organizations
- Trolltalk Trollgnaws: alt.fan.karl-malden.nose
Related trolling terminology
- Page widening
- Sokal Affair (an offline example)
- Gadfly (social)
- Breaching experiment
- Devil's Advocate
- Virtual community
- Troll Wars: A board primarily for Yahoo! trolls.
- Annoy.com: A professional troll who fights for freedom of speech.
- Adequacy.org: Archive of Adequacy.org, now only an archive version of a troll site.
- Searching for Safety Online: Managing "Trolling" in a Feminist Forum
- Trolling for information: How to use trolling techniques in order to lure information (together with fravia's "Trolls and Schopenhauer" comparison).
- The Troll Hall of Fame: Trolling history, Links, and information on types of trolls.
A view that too many bullies troll scum use the internet
- General, specific and fundamental trolling lore
- urban75 Trolling FAQ: Comprehensive guide to the dark art of trolling
- alt.troll FAQ (how-to)
- Spiralx Slashdot troll how-to
- How to Handle a Troll and Beat Them at Their Own Game
- Bruce Thompson's page on logical fallacies
- alt.syntax.tactical FAQ
- afk-mn FAQ: Mostly old-style Usenet trolling.
- What Makes A Fuckhead? by David Kendrick.
- False repentance
- The relationship between social context cues and uninhibited verbal behavior in computer-mediated communication
- Moral panic and alternative identity construction in Usenet
- Troll entry in the Jargon File
- Plonk in Ursine's Jargon Wiki
- Humorous definition of a troll
- Internet Trolls
- Flame Warriors: Troller: Witty and well observed cartoon depictions of flame warriors, including trolls and related types.
Categories: Customary categories of people | Internet culture | Internet terminology | Internet trolling | Popular psychology
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