Internet Trolls
Posted by Webmaster (+10003) 7 years ago

Internet Trolls
by Timothy Campbell, Jul 13 2001

What is a Troll?

An Internet "troll" is a person who delights in sowing discord on the Internet. He (and it is usually he) tries to start arguments and upset people.

Trolls see Internet communications services as convenient venues for their bizarre game. For some reason, they don't "get" that they are hurting real people. To them, other Internet users are not quite human but are a kind of digital abstraction. As a result, they feel no sorrow whatsoever for the pain they inflict. Indeed, the greater the suffering they cause, the greater their 'achievement' (as they see it). At the moment, the relative anonymity of the net allows trolls to flourish.

Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise). You cannot negotiate with them; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion; you cannot reason with them. They cannot be made to feel remorse. For some reason, trolls do not feel they are bound by the rules of courtesy or social responsibility.

Perhaps this sounds inconceivable. You may think, "Surely there is something I can write that will change them." But a true troll can not be changed by mere words.

Why does it Matter?

Some people -- particularly those who have been online for years -- are not upset by trolls and consider them an inevitable hazard of using the net. As the saying goes, "You can't have a picnic without ants."

It would be nice if everybody was so easy-going, but the sad fact is that trolls do discourage people. Established posters may leave a message board because of the arguments that trolls ignite, and lurkers (people who read but do not post) may decide that they do not want to expose themselves to abuse and thus never get involved.

Another problem is that the negative emotions stirred up by trolls leak over into other discussions. Normally affable people can become bitter after reading an angry interchange between a troll and his victims, and this can poison previously friendly interactions between long-time users.

Finally, trolls create a paranoid environment, such that a casual criticism by a new arrival can elicit a ferocious and inappropriate backlash.

The Internet is a wonderful resource which is breaking down barriers and stripping away prejudice. Trolls threaten our continued enjoyment of this beautiful forum for ideas.

What can be Done about Trolls?

When you suspect that somebody is a troll, you might try responding with a polite, mild message to see if it's just somebody in a bad mood. Internet users sometimes let their passions get away from them when seated safely behind their keyboard. If you ignore their bluster and respond in a pleasant manner, they usually calm down.

However, if the person persists in being beastly, and seems to enjoy being unpleasant, the only effective position is summed up as follows:

The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls.

When you try to reason with a troll, he wins. When you insult a troll, he wins. When you scream at a troll, he wins. The only thing that trolls can't handle is being ignored.

What Not to Do

As already stated, it is futile to try to "cure" a troll of his obsession. But perhaps you simply cannot bear the hostile environment that the troll is creating and want to go away for a while.

If you do that, then for the sake of the others on the system, please do not post a dramatic "Goodbye!" message. This convinces the troll that he is winning the battle. There is, perhaps, no message you can write on a message system that is as damaging as an announcement that you are leaving because of the hostility that the troll has kindled.

If you feel you must say something, a discreet message to the system operator (and some of the others users, if you have their email addresses) is the best course of action. Incidentally, if you are writing the letter in an agitated state, it is a good idea to wait an hour and then give it one last review before you actually send it. That might spare you the pain of saying things that you don't really mean to people you like.


One technique used by trolls to generate chaos is to pretend to be a well-liked person. On some systems there is nothing to prevent somebody from signing your name to a distasteful message. On other systems the troll may have to be a bit more wiley, perhaps by replacing one character with another. Here are some examples of various spoofing gimmicks that could be used against a person named Brenda Q. O'Really:

Brenda Q. O"Really Brenda Q. 0'Really Brenda Q O'Really
Brenda Q. O'Rea11y Bredna Q. O'Really 8renda Q. O'Really

Note: "Brenda Q. O'Really" is a made-up name used to illustrate spoofing and is not intended to refer to a particular person.

If you react with anger, the troll wins. So if you see a message impersonating you on a message board, simply write a follow-up reply entitled "That Wasn't Me" and type only this:

I did not write that message -- it is a fake.

Of course, sometimes you will find that people who know you well have already identified the message as a fake and have tagged it as such. After all, one of the troll's goals is to make you look bad. If you have a good reputation, people will be tipped off if a message that you apparently wrote is completely out of character.

Trolls have been known to become so irritated at having their spoofs identified that they have learned to write in another person's style. They may end up writing an intelligent message that is indistinguishable from your own golden words. If that happens, you can always just let the post stand and take credit for it!

Trolls will also sometimes write a "That Wasn't Me" message after a genuine one, attempting to elicit a denial. There really is no reason to give him what he wants, since a "That Wasn't Me" warning merely reminds people to be skeptical. That is to say, it is of no real consequence if somebody isn't sure that you wrote a normal message, since in the long run it is the ideas that are important.

The Webmaster's Challenge

When trolls are ignored they step up their attacks, desperately seeking the attention they crave. Their messages become more and more foul, and they post ever more of them. Alternatively, they may protest that their right to free speech is being curtailed -- more on this later.

The moderator of a message board may not be able to delete a troll's messages right away, but their job is made much harder if they also have to read numerous replies to trolls. They are also forced to decide whether or not to delete posts from well-meaning folks which have the unintended effect of encouraging the troll.

Some webmasters have to endure conscientious users telling them that they are "acting like dictators" and should never delete a single message. These people may be misinformed: they may have arrived at their opinion about a troll based on the messages they see, never realizing that the webmaster has already deleted his most horrific material. Please remember that a troll does have an alternative if he has something of value to say: there are services on the net that provide messaging systems free of charge. So the troll can set up his own message board, where he can make his own decisions about the kind of content he will tolerate.

Just how much can we expect of a webmaster when it comes to preserving the principles of free speech? Some trolls find sport in determining what the breaking point is for a particular message board operator. They might post a dozen messages, each of which contains 400 lines of the letter "J". That is a form of expression, to be sure, but would you consider it your duty to play host to such a person?

Perhaps the most difficult challenge for a webmaster is deciding whether to take steps against a troll that a few people find entertaining. Some trolls do have a creative spark and have chosen to squander it on being disruptive. There is a certain perverse pleasure in watching some of them. Ultimately, though, the webmaster has to decide if the troll actually cares about putting on a good show for the regular participants, or is simply playing to an audience of one -- himself.

What about Free Speech?

When trolls find that their efforts are being successfully resisted, they often complain that their right to free speech is being infringed. Let us examine that claim.

While most people on the Internet are ardent defenders of free speech, it is not an absolute right; there are practical limitations. For example, you may not scream out "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, and you may not make jokes about bombs while waiting to board an airplane. We accept these limitations because we recognize that they serve a greater good.

Another useful example is the control of the radio frequency spectrum. You might wish to set up a powerful radio station to broadcast your ideas, but you cannot do so without applying for a license. Again, this is a practical limitation: if everybody broadcasted without restriction, the repercussions would be annoying at best and life-threatening at worst.

The radio example is helpful for another reason: with countless people having a legitimate need to use radio communications, it is important to ensure that nobody is 'monopolizing the channel'. There are only so many clear channels available in each frequency band and these must be shared.

When a troll attacks a message board, he generally posts a lot of messages. Even if his messages are not particularly inflammatory, they can be so numerous that they drown out the regular conversations (this is known as 'flooding'). Needless to say, no one person's opinions can be allowed to monopolize a channel.

The ultimate response to the 'free speech' argument is this: while we may have the right to say more or less whatever we want, we do not have the right to say it wherever we want. You may feel strongly about the fact that your neighbour has not mowed his lawn for two months, but you do not have the right to berate him in his own living room. Similarly, if a webmaster tells a troll that he is not welcome, the troll has no "right" to remain. This is particularly true on the numerous free communications services offered on the net. (On pay systems, the troll might be justified in asking for a refund.)

Why Do They Do It?


Regular net users know how delightful it is when somebody responds to something they have written. It is a meeting of the minds, which is an intellectual thrill, but it is also an acknowledgement of one's value -- and that can be a very satisfying emotional reward.

Trolls crave attention, and they care not whether it is positive or negative. They see the Internet as a mirror in which they can gaze in narcissistic rapture.

If you want a deeper analysis than that, perhaps a psychologist can shed some additional light on the matter.


Next time you are on a message board and you see a post by somebody whom you think is a troll, and you feel you must reply, simply write a follow-up message entitled "Troll Alert" and type only this:

The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls.

By posting such a message, you let the troll know that you know what he is, and that you are not going to get dragged into his twisted little hobby.

The Internet is a splendidly haphazard collection of both serious and silly material. Because it is so free, there are bound to be problems. I think that we can best enjoy it if we deal with everything that happens online with a wry grin and a ready shrug.
Posted by Wendy Wilson (+6167) 7 years ago
Thanks for the reminder, Larry. I must admit that I get a kick out of most trolls and am sad when they are banned. But you are the boss.
Posted by Elizabeth Emilsson (+787) 7 years ago
Words of Wisdom. Thank you, Larry.
Posted by Big Dave (+435) 7 years ago
So trolls are bad, but the following is acceptable?

Tab - how's 'bout instead of wasting your time trying to navigate a keyboard (which I know is a challenge) and articulate other people's hackneyed talking points (also a problem for you), why don't you make yourself useful and go make me a lousy hamburger, you pompous asshat?

On the thread that disappeared, everyone seemed more interested in insulting each other than actually answering the question I asked. In addition, are posts like this one the reason that no one outside of a very small group will participate in those discussions and why advertisers won't touch this thing with a 10 foot pole?

It's Larry's site to do with as he chooses. Just seems that the goal of an open forum happily sponsored by local businesses is a bit unrealistic. Since Larry announced that he would be selling ad space, I have been curious as to how that would go. Unless I'm missing something that endeavor appears to have been a struggle.
Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr. (+14970) 7 years ago
The person who wrote that, Big Dave, isn't a troll, as he used his real name. We know exactly who posted those elegant insults. Trolls tend not to use their full real name. If there was any change I'd make to this site, it would be to require people to use their full name. Why are you hiding?
Posted by David Schott (+17184) 7 years ago
And people wonder why the Miles City Star publishes the sanitized and sugar-coated version of Miles City's news.

"How dare you. I'm canceling my subscription!"
Posted by MRH (+1495) 7 years ago
If there was any change I'd make to this site, it would be to require people to use their full name. Why are you hiding?

Then you might have more people abandon the site. As you know, I sometimes include my name in a post, but do not necessarily want it blasting across the internet.

As I read the original post, I keep thinking about the concept that 'Folks do not make others mad, but folks just allow themselves to get mad.' This frequently seems to occur with the slightest provocation.

Marshall Haferkamp
Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+17494) 7 years ago
'Folks do not make others mad, but folks just allow themselves to get mad.'

Amen to that. It always amazes me how people get worked up over the internet.
Posted by Big Dave (+435) 7 years ago
Richard, I don't use my real name, because I think having an alter-ego is sort of fun and that participation here for me is entertainment and abstraction. So feel free to cast whatever aspersions upon me you choose and discredit my posts to the degree necessary based upon my anonymity.

As to my original post, if it appeared that I was trying to paint the author of the "cook me a hamburger" post as a troll, I was not. I am simply attempting to point out a bit of irony. He is not a troll, and there can be no doubt that as an insult within the context of that particular discussion, it was done magnificently. The author is truly a master of the written word, but I digress.

The point I am trying to make is about this website and the stated goals of the webmaster. And before I go any further, I am doing this because one can observe some interesting human nature here and I have made, what is to me, an interesting observation over the last few months of lurking. And this point may perhaps be more obvious to those more courageous and intelligent folk who post using their given name, so please forgive me if I am being simple.

In the last year or so, Larry has made 3 separate statements. 1. He is trying to attract advertisers to help defray the cost of the website. 2. He has stated that he would like to have more folks of the conservative persuasion posting. and 3. All comments are welcome as long as they are civil.

So if the "cook me a hamburger" post is civil (and it must be since no one blinked an eye) does that not immediately render points 1 and 2 as null and void where is concerned?

So in the end, I am just trying to point out a bit of irony that I have observed and that when I have tried to start this discussion two other times it has gone in quite different directions.

Can there be an open internet forum where opinions (and insults)flow freely that is happily sponsored by local business?

So criticize me if you choose for my anonymity, but I am curious to hear thoughts about the aforementioned question.
Posted by Tucker Bolton (+3685) 7 years ago
The "Utne Reader Salon" called "Cafe Utne" is the very definition of civility. I should have said was. I was going to provide a link but it is gone, vanished, kaput. It, the Cafe, disappeared in 2003 when it was purchased by Ogden Publications. According to the New York Times, Utne Reader was part of the salon movement of the 1980s, devoted to debate on the issues of the day.

I swallowed that bitter pill and went in search of an alternative, certain that I could find a similar forum with a civil exchange of alternate and opposing viewpoints. I was excited to find "The New Cafe", founded after the demise of the Utne Cafe. OOPS! whats this? A site filled with great talking points and the opportunity to start a new dialog. ...................WTF? participation and looking at the dated posts I could see the slow death of dialog starting around 2006.

Here are the the user guidelines from their site. I don't know. Are we seeing the death of civility and dialog? I'm not crazy about trolls. I do appreciate our hosts efforts and time. I really hate the language filter.

New Café User Guidelines

The New Café is a "virtual community." In any community, there are certain expectations of acceptable behavior among its members. The New Café is no exception. In order to ensure that participants feel comfortable here, we've established a few guidelines. Please abide by them when participating at the New Café.

Your Identity at the New Café

In the interests of open and honest conversation, we encourage you to register under your real name. In no event should you post messages under someone else's name. If New Café management suspects an account is being used by someone who is not the authorized account holder, the New Café may temporarily disable that account. In all such cases, the New Café will contact the member as soon as feasible.

You must have a working e-mail address to register and participate at the New Café. While New Café management has access to this e-mail address, you may choose not to have it accessible to other Café patrons. The New Café reserves the right to revoke access to patrons for posting with a false e-mail address.


The New Café does not screen postings before they appear in our forums. In order to ensure that the New Café remains a welcoming and civil space for our patrons, however, please refrain from posting messages containing gratuitous personal attacks against other New Café patrons. Such an expectation does not mean that patrons can not and do not disagree in a spirited, even heated manner, at times. Lively debate abounds in some conferences.

Nevertheless, there is a significant difference between disagreeing with an idea and attacking an individual. We ask all patrons to participate in a civil manner. We recognize that patrons have varied interpretations of civility and that the dynamic interaction of a diverse community of users will present subjective and challenging circumstances for New Café management and hosts. In this light, we ask for compliance with the specific requests made by our forum hosts.

Deliberate disruption will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to "hide" or delete posts of an abusive and disruptive nature and/or to revoke access to users who refuse to comply with requests by New Café management and hosts.

New Café participants have a reasonable expectation to not be bothered by others against their will. For this reason, a filtering tool is available at the New Café to filter the posts of specific users. You can utilize this tool at any time. In addition, please do not send e-mail to another patron if that patron has expressed a desire not to receive messages from you.
Posted by David Schott (+17184) 7 years ago
"Big Dave", for what it's worth I'd say that "uncivil" posts are more likely to be tolerated from people who are willing to sign their name to it. Because Brian had "skin in the game" by signing his name to his "hamburger" post, it was tolerated. Also the post was not typical of Brian's posts. If Brian pooped all over every discussion thread, he would likely be banned.

If you were to take a look at who has been banned over the years, you would find that it is spammers and people who are engaging in blatant trolling behavior.

I'm not sure it was the Webmaster lamenting the lack of conservative posters on this site as much as it was others. Conservatives are a clear majority in the community so it's interesting if they fear being "attacked" on the forums. Stand up for what you believe in for crying out loud. And one can always opt to post on non-controversial topics if one wishes to keep out of the fray.

As for the controversial topics here scaring away advertisers, that could be, I don't know. I do note that the FREE classifieds get plenty of use in spite of the controversial topics and that numerous civic organizations don't hesitate to announce their events and fundraisers on this site. Controversy doesn't scare them off.
Posted by Webmaster (+10003) 7 years ago
I was going to post something, but Dave pretty much nailed what I was thinking. So what he said. ^^^
Posted by Tomm (-1031) 7 years ago
and they return.............
Posted by Brandy Allen (-2409) 7 years ago
One mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter.
Posted by Hal Neumann (+9965) 7 years ago
Interesting read, even though I don’t really think there is a way to stop trolling.

“Why People Troll and How to Stop Them”
--Howard Fosdick
January 24, 2012