- Published on Tuesday, 29 November -0001 18:00
- Written by Steve Streight
Have you ever met an internet troll? A troll is a special class of sociopath.
These nasty individuals are the sadistic ne'er-do-wells of the digital realm, the misanthropic misfits of information age. Unlike a normal person, when a troll enters an online discussion, he is not seeking truth or clarification. He usually doesn't even know how to debate in an intelligent manner. All he wants to do is inflict pain, ridicule, and humiliation on a targeted person.
Encountering an internet troll can be a disturbing, even frightening, experience for someone who has not had to deal with one. It can be an unexpected event, a strange twist that takes the discussion to a whole other level. You are taken off guard and find yourself struggling to defend yourself, instead of exploring a topic.
You're posting comments on a blog, forum, or social media platform like Facebook or Twitter. There are probably other people expressing themselves, some agreeing with you and cheering you on, others disagreeing with you and trying to debunk your assertions. The conversation is heated, or passionate, but civilized. Strong opinions are stated and countered with other strident points of view.
Suddenly, someone, usually anonymous or using a nickname (pseudonym), starts attacking you. They may use filthy language, wild insults, and crazy misinterpretations. Often they will put words in your mouth, along the lines of "So what you're saying is...." or "Nutjobs like you are only interested in ...."
The main tool of the troll is accusation. It's a form of psychological torture, to break you down by turning your words against you, twisting your statements and pounding away at one aspect of your viewpoint. No matter what you declare, the troll will question you as a person. Understand this immediately: it's you as a person that they are attacking.
Personal attacks are often banned in forums, and not tolerated in blogs and social networks. Administrators tend to block and remove anyone who engages in trollish behavior.
The troll doesn't care. Trolls don't follow the rules or terms of service. They jump from one platform and one conversation thread to another, causing as much damage as possible. If they get kicked off a site, they'll try to return, using a different username or a different computer.
Trolls are easy to recognize by their mode of operation. They will never compliment you for a smart statement, or admit that your question is difficult to respond to, or tone down the rhetoric with a smiley emoticon.
Trolls accuse and insult. Trolls needle you relentlessly. They love to flame others. They enjoy causing grief, making another person feel bad. Trolls will quickly move from serious discussion about an issue to a sustained personal assault.
The goal of a troll is to disrupt an online discussion, picking on one person, or on everyone who expresses a particular point of view. Trolls will also invade a presentation on a live videoconferencing channel or an audio podcast where people can phone in and ask the presenter questions.
Recently I encountered my first audio troll on my internet radio broadcast on BlogTalkRadio. My topic just happened to be dealing with trolls. Someone called into my online studio and I connected him to my show. Immediately, instead of thanking me for taking his call, he started accusing me.
"You haven't mentioned the intelligent troll. Why is that?" he asked, all pompous, with a deep professorial voice. I replied, "There is no such thing as an intelligent troll, sir. That's a contradiction, an oxymoron, an impossibility."
I let him pester me for several minutes, mainly to demonstrate to my audience how the guy was a troll, how he behaved, and how to mess with a troll. I kept hammering away at how an intelligent person doesn't pick fights with people just for a sadistic thrill. He kept trying to advance the idea that intelligent trolls exist and should be respected for their high IQ. I set a trap for him. I asked, "Do you consider yourself an intelligent troll?" He replied, "I think there's a little troll in everyone."
I cut the troll off by saying, "Well if you have anything more to say about the alleged intelligent troll, go ahead and say it, otherwise, I'm going to return to the topic of my show." He started to mumble another accusation about how I refuse to acknowledge the "intelligent troll" and I hung up on him in mid-sentence.
This brings me to the issue of how to defeat a troll. Here are a few quick pointers on troll-smashing that you may want to copy and paste into a text editor, print out, and tape to your computer monitor for future reference.
(1) Ignore the troll. Just refuse to interact with him. Respond to others in an online discussion, but shun the troll and give no reply to any of his accusations or remarks.
(2) Post "don't feed the trolls" in the debate thread and leave the conversation. Let others deal with him if they want. Just identify the troublemaker as a troll and move on to other websites or activities. If a person is trolling you via email, just stop opening and reading their messages. If you can blacklist them to prevent them from sending you emails, do that. If it's on Facebook, block -- don't just unfriend, but block – the person and if necessary, report him as abusive.
(3) Keep hammering away at your viewpoint, harden yourself like steel, and never give in. If you want to disturb the troll for a short while, just to give him a taste of his own medicine, you can relentlessly restate your opinion, in complete oblivion to anything the troll says, like you're not even reading his remarks.
(4) Misinterpret his statements. This is a very effective technique for derailing a troll and making them upset. You may even provoke the troll to give up and leave the conversation thread. Twist what they say and make it seem like the troll is agreeing with you. "I agree. Thanks for seeing my viewpoint. We seem to be on the same page now. That's exactly right. Glad I was able to convert you to my opinion."
(5) Praise the troll in a facetious way that translates into not-so-subtle rebuke. "Oh my, you are so incredibly well informed. You are the smartest person in the whole universe and everyone should sit at your feet and soak up your wisdom. Nobody can argue with you, for you have all the answers." Then sign off and leave the discussion with "You sad and silly troll."
Remember that the only purpose of a troll is to antagonize and cause trouble. There is no point in trying to reason with a troll. Generally, they are not educated in debate or rhetorical skills. All they want to do is hurl slurs and incriminations. They want to make you angry, upset, confused, and exasperated. They want to take over the conversation and reframe it as an analysis of how bad or stupid you supposedly are.
Trolls may have been victimized by a mind control cult based on humiliating people to cause them to go into meltdown mode, so they can replace a personality with their cult's indoctrination. Other times you may suspect that a troll has been abused by a rogue psychiatrist who was keen on dismantling a person's inner self and then manipulating the defenseless victim.
No matter what their origin may be, trolls enjoy raining on parades, maliciously pouncing on innocent people, and acting like a verbal predator. Trolling can turn into cyberstalking and cyberbullying (intent to cause serious harm or even suicide).
Learn how to quickly recognize a troll and you've won half the battle.
Mess with them briefly to expose their true nature to others in the audience or the discussion, then kick them to the curb by leaving the conversation. If necessary, report the troll to an administrator.