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Disarming Internet Trolls

Updated on March 4, 2017

Portrait of an Internet Troll


Internet Leviathans

Trolls have become the Leviathan's and Behemoth's of the internet. They have strong-armed and taken over internet forums, news groups, blogs, social media and content sites by being obnoxious, argumentative, contentious, and intimidating. You could also call them forum Nazi's.

Internet trolling has become such a monumental and pervasive problem, that many administrators are closing down comment features. This is disappointing, because it means the bullies, in one way, have caused the masses to back down. I am sure with large media and social media sites that monitoring forums and comments can be more time consuming and tedious than they can handle. But the axiom, "Don't Feed the Trolls," is very effective. If only other participants could all agree to ignore them, we could disarm them and enjoy discussion groups and comments once again . Silence silences when it comes to trolls. It's a tried and true method. Identifying trolls as early as possible can save everyone a lot of grief and a safe blood pressure level.

Definition of a troll

1. troll (noun)

a mythical, cave-dwelling being depicted in folklore as either a giant or a dwarf, typically having a very ugly appearance.

2. troll (verb)

fish by trailing a baited line along behind a boat: "we trolled for mackerel."

~ New Oxford American Dictionary

Trolls jump down people's throats.
Trolls jump down people's throats.

Types of bait used by trolls

Internet trolls behave like ugly, cave-dwelling giants or dwarfs. They hide behind their computers and other devices while starting arguments.

They use the troll-fish method by making baiting comments and dragging their line of contention through the thread. Here are some identifying types of bait:

  • They jump right in with a snarky comment of criticism or argument. Either another troll will jump on the bandwagon, or some unsuspecting person bites by reasoning their argument, or by calling out the troll for rudeness. Then the games begin.
  • They begin with a non-offensive, but rigid rebuttal, or comment. The troll becomes more assertive and arrogant with each comment. Pretty soon there is a cyber free-for-all. The article reviewing exotic coffees from foreign lands, moves to controversial coffee growing methods, and somehow ends up with racism.
  • They start out friendly, then turn on you quickly. This troll may compliment you and your article or post to gain your trust, then become argumentative and rude.
  • Trolls play the blame game with their victims.The idea is to turn the tables so they will look like the victim, thus justifying their actions.
  • They buffet the other commenters with nastiness by jumping down throats at the first hint of disagreement. If the administrators are worth their weight, they will either shut down the thread after a few warnings, delete the troll's posts, or kick the troll off the site.

Be familiar with these types of behavior from the beginning so you don't become a casualty.

A troll profile image.
A troll profile image. | Source

Check their profile page

Once you recognize the troll's bait (hopefully at the very start), check their profile page. There are several clues on the profile page of a troll.

  • No profile photo. A faceless silhouette offered by the site gives them anonymity.
  • Profile images of an imposing nature. The message is "I'm bad, I'm tough, and don't mess with me!" The images are dragons, demons, superheroes, animals, birds, or reptiles of prey, insects like spiders and tarantulas, silhouettes of a naked person (usually a woman) or an intimate act between two people that flies under the radar of obscenity rules.
  • Sinister or deceptive monikers, with real names missing. Anonymity is the name of the game. Sinister, made-up monikers are more powerful and imposing - think Lucifer or Cobra vs. Ned Smith.
  • Have few to no followers. No one wants to follow a troll.
  • Follows few writers, or only follows those with opposing views. They're not looking to support people, only to argue with them.
  • Following, or being followed, only by other trolls. Predatory birds of a feather flock together!
  • Been with the site only a short time. They stay only long enough to stir up strife. They are kicked off shortly or get bored and move on to the next place.
  • No bio. This, along with no profile image, is usually a dead giveaway. Remember, cave dwellers seek anonymity.
  • A defiant or strongly opinionated bio. The troll comes out with his dukes up. He states his bad guy-ness; his rigid and narrow purpose; and a confrontational - "I-dare-you-to-challenge-me," attitude.
  • An Illiterate bio. Poor spelling and grammar, rambling, random, disordered message.
  • A one-line bio. Just enough to make you think they're legitimate or serious.
  • Little to no content listed. They're not there to offer any of their work, only to stir up trouble and criticize others on their work.
  • Titles indicating preoccupation with one or a few topics. Usually focus is on hot button, controversial issues.

Engaging a troll is like stepping on a land mine.
Engaging a troll is like stepping on a land mine.

Don't trip the landmine

Engaging a troll in discussion or debate is like stepping on a land mine. If you are not familiar with the signs and tactics of a troll, you will end up with sky rocketing blood pressure, racing thoughts of indignation, and irritability with anyone nearby. Unfortunately, people don't learn. They are so passionate about a subject - and perhaps it is personal - they tend to go from forum to forum, trying to defend themselves and/or their cause. This may seem nobel, but it is just feeding the troll Popeye's spinach. Trolls are not out to win the argument, they often don't care about the topic they argue about, they just want to hurt people and feel powerful. That's why you can't stop an argument with stubborn, mean trolls by reasoning and arguing your case. The new buzz phrase is, "Don't feed the troll." I call it, don't trip the land mine. Don't argue back and you won't get blown up!

Some key signs of troll behavior

Attitude of trolls
Tricks of the troll trade
Cyber bullying
Starting arguments
Name calling
Straw man arguments*
Deception, lying, misleading
Threats of violence or harm
Daring /challenge to provoke
Encouraging other trolls to gang up on the target
Accusations of a serious nature
Playing the victim (blaming)
Posing as a different person to create another way to harrass
Friendly approach turns contentious
Cyber stalking
Apologizing then returning to troll behavior
Lewdness or profanity
Jump down your throat when you disagree
Racist or bigoted toward any people group
Targeting one person with abuse
Disagreement no matter what
Seductive, inappropriate advances
Reactive rather than responsive
Changing the subject to start another argument (when they can't win the original argument)
Relentless harassment
Circular argument
Hateful speech
Won't answer posed questions
Goes on other people's articles to bash you

* Straw man argument is when you misrepresent someone's argument to make it easier to attack.

Created by Jesse Richardson, Andy Smith, Sorm Meaden. CC BY-NC 3.0 2015

"Trip, trap, trip, trap!" went the bridge.

"Who's that tripping over my bridge?" roared the troll.

"Oh, it is only I, the tiniest Billy Goat Gruff, and I am going up to the hillside to make myself fat." said the billy goat...

"Now I'm coming to gobble you up," said the troll.

Be a part of the solution, not the problem

If you are a frequent user of forums, social media, news groups etc., you may already be able to spot a potential troll right off; and if you enjoy engaging them, it would be good to consider how it affects everyone else. The more the trolls are acknowledged and fed, the more powerful they are allowed to become. On a personal note, I don't need the drama. But many people want to have civil, intelligent discussions, and trolling ruins it. It is very disheartening that administrators have to shut down comments and forums.

If you are new to forums, news groups and social media, or if you have been at it awhile, but feel like you get sucker-punched by trolls, I hope you have found something here of value. Be a part of the solution, not the problem. Be a spreader of light and respect. Engage with the people who care about respectful exchange of ideas. Be a builder-upper, and don't bite the baited hook of those who only want to tear down. Let's put the trolls out of business!

If you disagree with something, it's easier to say 'you suck' than to figure out and explain exactly what you disagree with. You're also safe that way from refutation. In this respect trolling is a lot like graffiti. Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.”

— Paul Graham

Cyber bullying is dangerous

It is no longer trolling if people become blatantly abusive and threatening (see chart above). Cyber bullies are not trolls. Trollers want to argue and stir up strife, but are relatively harmless except for giving everyone high blood pressure. Cyber bullies can do a lot of psychological damage and can be downright dangerous. Threats to harm, cyber stalking, being extremely abusive (name calling, insulting etc.), shouldn't be tolerated. Before signing up for social media, news groups and the like, check out their rules and policies, and make sure there is a protocol set up for reporting trolls and bullies. The media group or content site should take responsibility for keeping their members and users in a safe environment. If they don't have safe guidelines, rules, policies, and protocols for reporting, you are walking into a land mine situation and there will be no protection. If you are a user somewhere, and they don't enforce the good policies they offer, get off and go elsewhere. Call law enforcement if necessary. Recognize bullying and dangerous behaviors and don't engage.

Be careful! Be safe! And don't settle for anything less.

© 2015. Lori Colbo. All rights reserved.

© 2015 Lori Colbo


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    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      Hi Audrey, thanks for stopping by. Poetry is hard to argue with, although I know you do have hubs that aren't poetry. Trolls will only go with easy targets.

      Take care.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      I have to say Amen! And although I have been lucky here, I have had my share elsewhere--hope you are doing well!

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      Hi Ann, you are a wise woman indeed.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      I've come across some of this behaviour and when I do I just ignore it, as you wisely advise. What's the point in feeding them a line?

      They are sad people who don't have a worthwhile life of their own.

      Bullying is a bad thing, whether in person or in words, on or off the internet. It affects lives, sometimes to the point of suicide.

      Shame they can't turn their efforts and anger to something good, but then I suppose they're not that kind of people.

      Great hub with a great message, Lori.


    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      Eric, thank you and amen!

      Goat mama, I know your experiences. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, true trolls don't care about the issue, they use a rebuttal as a bait. Then there are those who do feel strongly about their opposing opinions but they are just plain mean about it. For whatever it's worth, you rock in my book!!!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting article. I find it a bit sad that good folk are seriously bothered by trolls. I hope your article helps them to feel better about it. Understanding is a valuable tool against evil in any form.

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      Poetry, that's hideous! It sounds more like cyber bullying! He's bad news! Was this on Hubpages? If so, that should've been reported immediately! He could be dangerous!

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      6 years ago

      There are places where trolling and deeply immature behavior are encouraged and rewarded. Certain Craigslist and Reddit forums come to mind. Recently I was foolish enough to say out loud something like : So there were secret parts of that treaty that neither we nor the negotiators knew about? I wonder if we have signed up for something that will come back to haunt us in the future?

      The troll pounced: You evil piece of human filth you want millions to die right NOW so that you can drink their blood and smear it all over your face!!!

      Needless to say, I deleted my question and have not been back to that particular forum. I do take comfort in the notion that with my question deleted, only a rant aimed at thin air remains.

      How does the saying go: If you argue with a fool....

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      Well Bill, I can think of times when you and I battled them together and giving up was the best thing we dd!

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      6 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Well Lori, you said it! I'm thinking of a couple of trolls right now. They're all over, even here on HP. Thanks for the warning and the wise advice as to how to shut them down. Personally, I think ignoring them works the best for me. Thanks again!

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      mary, boy are you lucky. I hope you never do find one.

      Marlele, you handled it well but too bad people have to avoid discussion altogether because of them. Thank you both for stopping by!

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      6 years ago from USA

      This is very enlightening and now I know how to deal with trolls. My first encounter with trolls is when I joined HubPages and attended my first forum. I had never attended a forum before then and I was thrown back by the rudeness and wondered if this is what I signed up for. You are right about the increased blood pressure because mine surely raised whenever I experienced an encounter with a troll. Eventually, I stopped visiting forums. I knew it was better not to engage.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      These people should just "get a life"! I like HP because we can just delete the comment if we like!

      I've been fortunate, I guess cause I've never been visited by a troll (that I know of)

      Voted UP, etc.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Lori, I find this article very useful, and I voting accordingly. Your explanations are clear and simple, and they heighten my awareness of the trouble trolls can be. Thank you.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Great post, Lori! Boy, I learned to spot them real quick while in the forums ... and you're right, their first comment is usually bait and relatively harmless, but then once you comment back to address their comment ...BAM!!! Here comes the name calling and all other ridiculous time wasting measures.

      Up +++ and sharing everywhere

      God bless you

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have run across trolls a number of times, and you are right, often they can be spotted with their first post. I have learned to ignore most of them, but occasionally, I engage, and try to come up with the best response I can. I post that, and I am done--hoping that my 'zinger' worked. It rarely does, but occasionally is enjoyed by some others who have bee fighting with this troll. Great article--thanks for posting.

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      Sunshine, good for you for learning right off the bat.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Bravo! Well done! I do not have time or patience for trolls, but a few had time for me but moved along when I ignored them.

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      billybuc, this kind of behavior happens here on HP as well I know. I have had to learn the hard way to just ignore them. But I do get it when you say sarcasm wants to come out. That is what they seek to draw from you, as well as indignation, calling them out, and watching us make fools of ourselves trying to reason with them. They bait, and we bite. Biting is the land mine.

      I got the idea for this hub when a new hubber got nailed by an arrogant troll. I dedicate this to all my new hubber friends.

    • profile image

      Garnet Bird 

      6 years ago

      Well done!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't hang out in forums for just this reason. I refuse to be a part of this type of behavior. I've had my run-ins occasionally on social media but not often, and when it happens I waver between being ultra sarcastic, which usually doesn't affect the troll at all, and just ignoring them completely.

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      6 years ago from United States

      Rodric, I know what you mean. You gave me a good reminder that keeping your cool and remaining kind can sometimes disarm trolls as well. That's where the phrase "kill them with kindness," likely came from. Than you so much for stopping by.

      Jack, I appreciate your appreciation (smile).

      Jodah, Bingo! That is so typical. I've had many like that. You bring up a good point that they sometimes will start trouble on another article of the same author. Thanks for your comments Jodah, they were very helpful.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Gondwana Land

      hi Lori, great article and excellent advice. I have only really encountered one "troll" here on Hub Pages in my 5 years here. He commented on two of my hubs and started off politely but..then came his argument against the info I presented. In one hub I started off the hub with an image of Albert Einstein and a quote by him. The troll said something along the lines of 'The title of this hub sounds very interesting but the first image and quote credited to Einstein stopped me from reading your hub as he wouldn't have said that. A good reporter should make sure they get their facts straight before ....blah blah blah". I replied politely that maybe he was right and I would check it out etc and thanked him for drawing my attention to it....but he kept posting and got more insulting trying to provoke. I looked up the quote and found it wa actually by einstein and in a book written by him which I was able to quote and prove my point and say you can't believe what most reporters write these days anyway,,they just use news mills and don't check sources anyway....this made the troll delete his last comment and leave....but then he posted a nasty comment on a different hub about climate change....

      Sorry for the long comment, voted up. :)

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 

      6 years ago from Yorktown NY

      Great article. Good to keep in mind before posting comments.

    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Anthony Johnson 

      6 years ago from Surprise, Arizona

      Sometimes I am so excited that someone has commented on my article that I forget to check the Troll alert. It happened on a recent post of mine. All the signs you mentioned about trolling appeared, yet I engaged the troll.

      The funny thing is that I think I won the troll battle. I suppose I was a little billy goat gruff trying to get fat! I met every argument with kindness. Usually kindness takes the steam out of such type people, consistent and perpetual kindness.

      Voted up and interesting and useful. This hub was relevant to me.


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