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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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