Some Truths about Trolls

Note: This was originally published on my blog on 31 August 2012

There’s regular talk of late about the ills of the dreaded trolls. It foments notions and apparently legitimate discussion about forcibly removing the cloak of anonymity. There’s the usual laments about the quality of debate and the taking over by the trolls.

Sadly the recurring ‘troll’ debate could be trolling itself.

Sadder still is the ludicrous notion that the so-called rise of the trolls (like some sort of zombie plague) is new.

The current debate and how repetitive it has become as different social and political commentators try to come up with new ways of legitimising online censorship and forced disclosure to justify mowing down the troll plague.

I’m a little sick of it to be honest. So I decided to add my two cents worth on the troll plague.

Here’s some truths about trolls from someone who has been online for 20 years. And that’s not even a dinosaur’s time online.

Truth One: Trolls have always existed

The truth is trolls have always existed.

Many, many years when I joined my first discussion board and began really participating in different threads, I was harassed for being a n00b and that I had a small d!ck or was fat or that my mum was a street walker etc. At first I took it to heart and furiously bashed away at the keyboard but then one day I realised another thread. The thread was about what to do with the trolls. It was quite a long thread with a lot of commentary about the evils of trolls and how much worse they had become.

This obsession about the trolls seems to come up from time to time; particularly as changes to technologies and new online applications allow easier access to mass broadcast platforms eg Twitter and Facebook.

The bottom line is there’s nothing new about trolls. Get over it.

Truth Two: Don’t feed the trolls

Seriously don’t feed the trolls. This is a fundamental truth for dealing with trolls.

If the trolling isn’t from a drone account, then all you are doing is validating the trolls comments, statements, attacks, slurs, abuse and harassment. If you ignore them they very quickly give up.

There’s nothing worse for a troll than to be ignored. They may carry on for a little while but they do give up.

You’ll have to exercise some discipline with this truth. It means you don’t retweet or repost what trolls say. It means not making snide remarks about your trolls. It means carrying on as if they don’t exist.

Online it is much easier to live by the well worn mantra told to kids being called names – sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.

Truth Three: See Truth Two

By this stage you might think there’s a new thing called trolls rising like zombie hordes. So remember to see Truth One.

Truth Four: Block and Report

There are reasons that every reputable social network, discussion board, online forum, blogs etc have flag, report and block options for users being harassed. These aren’t new options either.

If you don’t like what the trolls are saying to you then block them and report them.

Truth Five: Trolls = Trolls

Trolls are trolls. They are not interested in a meaningful debate and an exchange of ideas. They are not interested in understanding your point of view or the reasons why you hold a particular point of view or opinion.

They are only interested in one thing; saying and behaving in ways that maliciously distract, disrupt and distort.

It would be great if commentators gained a bit of perspective about trolls instead of mindlessly declaring that anonymity on the Internet is evil. It’s time to mount the mantra – Don’t Feed The Trolls.

102 comments on “Some Truths about Trolls

  1. Well said Alex – something we should all remember (and I’m as guilty as most for not practicing what I preach).

  2. Alex, I echo 2353’s praise and guilt.

    I particularly like your line “they’re not interested in meaningful debate”. Gosh, I see that behaviour from them everywhere (where they are allowed to comment).

    I simply ban them and let them go elsewhere to complain about it.

  3. I’m a bit busy tied up at work at the moment but I will attempt to chase up an interesting article that made some valid points about not feeding the trolls may be not an effective way of dealing with them.

  4. As to feeding trolls, most that I have come in contact don’t need feeding. They will just keep blabbering regardless.

  5. Another technique is to edit (for Admins) – where the language descends to personal abuse. This mostly happens with those who as you say Alex, are not interested in “meaningful debate”. When the factual evidence refutes what they say, Stage Next is to attack the person, the tactic being to intimidate.

  6. What I do not understand, is why are trolls tolerated on the net, when they would be given short shift in real life.

    If they were visitors, they would not be invited back again. They would not get their letters printed in real media. In the pub, well one can imagine what would happen there. It the workplace, they would be shunned.

    No one would raise the proposition, it is denying them their right to free speech in any of the above situations.

    Come to the blogs, it is claimed one has a right to let them be heard, because of free speech.

    Does not manners and rudeness count on blogs.

    Why is it dictated that they have the right to be heard.

    They do have the right, to create their own space. I just cannot see why we have to allow them to invade ours.

    They have one aim, that is to disrupt, wherever they turn up. Sadly they succeed more often than not at this.

  7. Trolls exist because a small percentage of the population is sociopathic, and most of them tend to be attracted to right-wing politics. They were targeted by Karl Rove and the right-wing think tanks in the Bush years to goad and fight the Left on the Internet, because progressive activists were more effective at exploiting the net, but that was a decade ago. In more recent years right-wing trolls have become active in the climate change debate, where they channel their inner anti-intellectual. In this regard they have a lot in common with the creationists and christian fundies, copying many of their debating techniques, including such ridiculous tactics as making out that climate change science is a “green religion.” This is especially evident in the US where the trolls are mostly Tea Party supporters.

    Tea Party types are usually in cognitive dissonance, and this dissonance comes from the fusion of libertarianism and Christian fundamentalism, which has been rebranded as “conservatism.”

  8. Silkworm, well said.

    However, their nastiest aspect is their employment of personal attacks. Sure, we can do it too, but in most cases it has been provoked.

    I should learn to ignore them.

  9. It’s my personal approach to:

    – Never read the comments posted by trolls (“Scroll the trolls.”)
    – Never address the trolls personally
    – If you must discuss them, talk about them in the third-person, preferably in a mocking, ridiculing tone

    The downside of this approach is that, if no one responds the trolls’ lies are allowed to go unchallenged / uncorrected.

    Giving legs to lies is the aim of the game for RWFs. {sigh}

  10. Yes, well…guilty as charged! I do confess a mea culpa in baiting trolls….They are mostly of the right-wing and as stupid as F**K! If I’m caught for debate on a lazy Sundy afternoon and one appears on the horizon, the vicious bastard in me hones in on themwith a verbal exocet.
    I know I shouldn’t, as they seem to enjoy a good flogging (must be tories!) but hey!? who else can you legitimately vent your spleen on?…..They MUST be sent by “God” for our amusement!

  11. Silkworm
    don’t kid yourself that trolls are by definition of the right. I suspect that you may have got that impression because you hang out on lefty websites which naturally attract the right leaning troll. However as someone who has had more than his fair share of attention from “Tollus lefticus” I can assure you that the left produces trolls just as nasty as the right.
    That said I think that a distinction should be drawn between those of us from one side of politics who like to take “the fight” to the blogs and websites of our political opposites and those who just like to cause pain and misery. I would argue that the former do not meet any reasonable definition of a troll where as the latter certainly does.

  12. “They are only interested in one thing; saying and behaving in ways that maliciously distract, disrupt and distort.”

    =Tony A

    @Media. Don’t Feed The Trolls.

  13. Jaycee I am totally with you. Nothing like seeing crap being thrown back at those who chuck it in the first place. Repeating bullshit doesn’t make it the truth as these Trolls seem to think it does.

  14. i’ve never encountered a troll who wasn’t espousing right wing views, and i agree broadly with the thrust of this post (hat tip to Alex).

    commonly i scroll straight past their utterances, although if i scan a particularly egregious lie, i do like to see it exposed as such, and will do so, as a public service 🙂

    that way the incoherence of their inane “reasoning”, as they attempt to justify, or deny their serial dishonesty and complete lack of credibility is placed on the record for all to see. 😆

    in general terms, i see trolls as the vanguards of the war against reason and reality being waged by the extremists of the right, with the help of the msm in order to further the interests of the “1%”.

    as such i see trolls as enemies of our civilisation, and of humanity.

  15. Iain, there’s a bit of difference in the way trolls act. To me a troll is someone who habitually and continually partakes in personal abuse. Their argument that they are providing an alternative opinion is a load of crap at times, given their fondness of attacking people over trivialities. Such people have been banned at CW.

    They then generally race off to cry on someone else’s shoulder lamenting they’ve been denied their freedom of speech. Which is sort of wrong. They’ve really been denied their sniping behavior and their penchant to abuse people.

    I’m sure that you’ve also been attacked by lefties. I can’t comment. I just take your word.

    What do you think would happen to me if I went to a right-wing blog and peacefully promoted my opinion? I’m guessing I’d cop a fair amount of abuse.

  16. I reckon he has too Migs

    Nasty lefties.

    Amazing the sort of rubbish that gets put out there on those internets 😆

    Tom, I’ve removed the link upon request.

  17. Patricia, I’m inclined to think that the individual should do what suits themselves best. If a person feels like doing so, then respond..if not, then don’t. It gets difficult at times to allow blatant falsehoods to go unanswered, however by the time that they’ve been answered for the umpteenth millionth time..then it’s time to follow the golden rule and Don’t Feed The Trolls.

  18. “…..given their fondness of attacking people over trivialities. Such people have been banned at CW. “……… Ive been banned 119 times… (give or take ) 😀

  19. Migs, the mantra freedom of speech from troll types always reminds me of Hexx who said in response, You mean the freedom to be an a*sehole.

  20. “I’m guessing I’d cop a fair amount of abuse.”

    Miglo, I would be surprise if your comment was posted. Remember, in the deep past, one would keep putting up comments, and when one got through, come back here to celebrate.

    Pyne getting a hard time. All slogans, no meat.

  21. I think I know why there’s no meat, Cu. Abbott went on and on and on prior to July 1 that the ‘carbon tax’ would kill off the butchering industry. :mrgreen:

  22. Migs

    Iain, there’s a bit of difference in the way trolls act. To me a troll is someone who habitually and continually partakes in personal abuse. Their argument that they are providing an alternative opinion is a load of crap at times, given their fondness of attacking people over trivialities. Such people have been banned at CW.

    Yes I totally agree with that and I also think that the tribalism of the bloggersphere and twitterverse is a contributing factor as well. Because it makes it hard to have true diversity of opinion in a comment thread when the less able in debate too easily slip into abuse which is often endorsed by the tribe and it then seems that if mild abuse is acceptable then why not go one better? Then the person who is being abused hits back in kind and before you know it you have a total shit fight.

    They then generally race off to cry on someone else’s shoulder lamenting they’ve been denied their freedom of speech. Which is sort of wrong. They’ve really been denied their sniping behavior and their penchant to abuse people.

    Oh I’ve had that line used when I have had to make a tough moderation decision at my own blog which is why my comment rules point out that my decisions are final and if they don’t like it then they can start their own blog where they can have the rules of their choice.

    I’m sure that you’ve also been attacked by lefties. I can’t comment. I just take your word.

    What do you think would happen to me if I went to a right-wing blog and peacefully promoted my opinion? I’m guessing I’d cop a fair amount of abuse.

    Well if you come to my blog you will be well treated because I like having contrary viewpoints there 😀

  23. A troll is someone who habitually and continually partakes in personal abuse. Their argument that they are providing an alternative opinion is a load of crap at times, given their fondness of attacking people over trivialities. Such people have been created, fed and endorsed by the embedded media, particularly Limited News.

    They then generally race off to cry on someone else’s shoulder lamenting they’ve been denied their freedom of speech. Which is sort of wrong. They’ve really been denied their sniping behavior and their penchant to abuse `white` aboriginals, climate scientists, Robert Manne, Tim Flannery, Stephen Mayne and a truck-load of other citizens. I suspect you know who I mean.

  24. I believe a troll is one that has not the brains to work out they are not welcome. Whether in my home or on blogs.

    Watching Abbott with his concise 3 word sentences. A little annoying.

    Little more to say about schools. cannot trust and usual slogans. It is annoying, now we have moved on to borders.

  25. Trolls

    Trolls are a pesky obnoxious sort.
    They grunt and growl and drool and snort.
    They constantely look for a place to play,
    while sitting their sights on their very next prey.

    Trolls will sing and dance and prance,
    when causing a forum avalanche.
    They yell and squak and talk bass-ackwards,
    hoping to score your favorite passwords.

    Trolls don’t care about your feelings.
    They want your heart and head a’ realing.
    They will say most anything,
    A quick wit howl, does joy it bring.

    Most trolls are usually just a jerk.
    Around the forums they watch and lurk.
    They come to know every member,
    and pick out the ones to closely remember.

    The troll will invest every attentive ounce,
    to plan the perfect time to pounce.
    They will reek havoc when they attack.
    While hoping someone will try to swing back.

    So protect your account, secure and lock it,
    or a troll will have it in his pocket.
    I’m sure you know, it’s needless to say,
    A troll will be here everyday.

    – Uncle Spluge

  26. All feathers, no meat Met with as they say, nitpicking. Wonder if they eat them.

    ………The Prime Minister said we should aim to make $6.5 billion available annually for this task.
    That seemed a step short of a commitment; and nit-pickers descended from everywhere.
    Most interest groups in education welcomed the first steps in the government’s response to the Gonski review.
    The Coalition said not enough detail, (all feathers, no meat) don’t fix what ain’t broke, and you can’t believe a word this Prime Minister says. No, not a word. And education won’t be front and centre in the next election anyway….

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/blogs/the-pulse/gonski-wrap-september-3-2012-20120903-2594u.html#ixzz25O7hSBQy

  27. Pyne sounds confused, is not the PM saying that. It is for many more elections,

    Education is very important, but it’s not the only issue for the next election, Mr Pyne says.

    3.00pm: Mr Pyne is getting some heat from reporters about having a closed mind on the funding model. Haven’t independent schools broadly welcomed the Gonski model (albeit been concerned about a lack of detail).
    Mr Pyne’s response is essentially talk to the hand.
    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The SES model is working.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/blogs/the-pulse/gonski-wrap-september-3-2012-20120903-2594u.html#ixzz25O9JFjZ7

  28. 2.39pm: The lobby group representing Australian universities ain’t nit-picking.
    Just in. Universities Australia applauds the elevation of a well-resourced, high performing education system outlined in Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s response to the Gonski Report.
    Chief executive Belinda Robinson:
    An effective education system is the well spring of future economic growth and productivity. It will prepare our next generation to take on the challenges of an ever changing global economy, society and environment.
    In particular, we welcome the government’s commitment to ensure that by 2025 Australia is ranked as a global top 5 country for student performance in reading, science and mathematics, as well as for a high-quality and high-equity education system.
    Higher quality school leavers will support higher quality university graduates, which will mean increased skills, greater innovation and most importantly, a boost to national productivity. Science and mathematics in particular is crucial in driving the advanced research and innovation Australia needs to remain internationally competitive.
    The government’s singling out of these areas deserves particular praise.

    2.18pm: Here is the Australian Education Union boss Angelo Gavrielatos, with his thoughts post Press Club.
    Mr Gavrielatos is saying the Prime Minister’s speech is an important milestone. It’s setting directions for future education reform. Improvement frameworks aren’t new for teachers and principals. What’s new is the funding to allow positive change to occur.
    It’s time for all politicians, all state leaders, to invest in the future education of this country, he says.
    But he says the Commonwealth must stump up the lions share of additional funding proposed by Gonsk

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/blogs/the-pulse/gonski-wrap-september-3-2012-20120903-2594u.html#ixzz25OA9Ir00

  29. As I believe many parents find what the PM has done.

    .55pm: While you think about what you think, here’s what I think.
    Broad. Aspirational. Hard to argue with the sentiment. And my view is the Gillard Government has achieved practical improvements in school education. I don’t know about your personal experience at your children’s schools, but the publication of the NAPLAN material has been genuinely transformative at my local school, and I don’t say that lightly.
    So that’s all for the good.
    Values are good. Crusades are good. Moral imperatives are good.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/blogs/the-pulse/gonski-wrap-september-3-2012-20120903-2594u.html#ixzz25OATqLyz

  30. Independent Rob Oakeshott welcomed the reforms as a regional MP in an area with high numbers of poorer and Aboriginal students.
    “The disadvantage is real, and Australia’s current funding formula entrenches this disadvantage,” Mr Oakeshott said in a statement.
    “I urge Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne to rethink their love affair with the current unfair funding formula. The Coalition must make decisions based on the data which shows a 30 per cent gap in outcomes.”
    Independent Schools Council executive director Bill Daniels said his organisation had concerns about the lack of detail in the proposed new arrangements but said Ms Gillard’s speech today was a positive start.
    He also said that the long timeframe for implementation was understandable.
    “You can’t just switch funding off and on,” Mr Daniels told Sky News.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/gillard-calls-on-states-to-join-national-crusade-on-school-funding-20120903-259of.html#ixzz25OD17hvG

    The truths all appear to be on the side of the PM.

  31. The Coalition’s increasingly hysterical attempts to derail the Gillard Government is not just political showmanship, it’s a desperate race against time.
    There are still 23 parliamentary sitting days left this year, more than enough time for the Government to pass its carbon tax legislation through the House of Representatives, and Tony Abbott knows that as soon as that happens the most effective weapon he has against the Government is gone – and there is no way to get it back.

    http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2855568.html

    The smell of desperation is strong in the air.

  32. Can you imaging using this on some of the more lengthy comments made here…

    Disenvoweling:
    This is a bit of code that will suck all of the vowels out of a targeted post, so that this:
    “What an unfunny piece of shit. Somebody should be fired for letting this guy write for the site.”
    Becomes:
    “Wht n nfnny pc f sht. Smbdy shld b frd fr lttng ths gy wrt fr th st.”

    Read more: 5 Ways to Stop Trolls From Killing the Internet | Cracked.com http://www.cracked.com/article_16765_5-ways-to-stop-trolls-from-killing-internet.html#ixzz25ORMO2KUhttp://www.cracked.com/article_16765_5-ways-to-stop-trolls-from-killing-internet.html

  33. ’twasn’t me that wrote that verse,
    so be terse, do your worst,
    the verse was written by – Uncle Spluge,
    and thoughts of poetry and me you can expunge…. ay !!

  34. I’ve been in forums where if it wasn’t for the trolls there would be no action. I think that’s a truth some refuse to admit, and why the trolls do get ‘fed’ … it can be fun.

    Some forums, groups, etc have their own pet troll or trolls, which provide/s much entertainment for members and encourages other trolls.

    This isn’t intended to excuse the behaviour of trolls, but it’s something I’ve noticed over the last decade or so in various online fora.

  35. Did you folks notice on QandaLand tonight, Tony Jones had the panel discussing `Trolls`, but didn`t have the courage to mention Limited News? Only the citizen was a Troll. Spineless.

  36. Hi Christine. Once you realise the idiocy of some trolls there behaviour can be quite amusing. In the past we’ve let some of them post here so the world can see how stupid they are. I’ve drawn the line though at those who resort to personal abuse. Your hair would turn white if you ever read what they say, but fortunately their comments don’t make it to these pages.

  37. Or iview, or ABC1 again today around midday

    One thing ABC has done well is digital, they replay everything plenty of times, and also make it available for viewers

    I read something yesterday about them releasing the new Dr Who on iview a week before they plan to run it on tele. And apparently, got a record number of viewers

  38. This from KHTAGH at TPS gave me a 😆

    September 4. 2012 08:14 PM

    I love my little scroll wheel so good at passing the Trolls by.
    A troll is the internet equivalent of a floater, you know the turd that you flush & flush & they just sit there floating & looking at you.

    So you walk away & when you come back they are still looking at you bobbing along in their personal swimming pool wondering why they are alone, so you ignore them & eventually they sink out of view.

    So in short they are just internet turds of non-consequence kept afloat by their own importance & nothing more substantial than internal pent up gas.

    KHTAGH

  39. That was brilliant, Bacchus, and I tips me lid to KHTAGH.

    I wonder what inspired him/her to write that little gem. Has there been a troll at TPS, perhaps? 😯

  40. A couple of unsavoury characters annoying them Migs.

    This is my first post from a mobile device – hope this works…

  41. Bacchus, you have now entered the twilight world of never being able to escape from blogging (Min plays suitably doom-like music).

  42. And I see that our innocent comments over at TPS have attracted condemnation from one of their finer contributors.

    I wouldn`t worry too much there Migs. They either ignore him or treat him as their pet troll. He is ridiculed and treated with derision there, as is appropriate. 😆

  43. Bacchus, you have now entered the twilight world of never being able to escape from blogging 

    Not looking likely Min. It takes too long to compose a reply…

  44. I’m very happy to be recited on your informative site, I have visited many times through Lyn’s Links on TPS & find it a good addition to informed opinion.

    Following your comments I’m wondering if it might just be a more apt description & hence tag for said individuals,

    I notice that you do have the good taste to exclude said “floater” & most of their friends.

  45. lol khtagh. You should have seen the apoplexy the last time Migs suggested said troll was “as welcome as a turd in a swimming pool.” 😆

  46. I see all becomes very clear now, hence the instance response by the sensitive soul on TPS when I posted it, that really does seem to hit a nerve doesn’t it. more food for thought maybe HAHAHAHA

  47. Bacchus @ 7:30.

    The reaction to that comment was a bit over the top, wasn’t it? It was quite hilarious, actually.

  48. As usual Migs – no comprehension of what was actually being said. Seems to be an endemic problem in some quarters…

    I echo Migs’ comment there khtagh. I always enjoy your posts at TPS (along with most of the others…) AA always provides good food for thought, well supported by Lyn & the other commenters.

  49. Just did a Google of our resident troll and found some interesting links, maybe some other here should do the same, makes for some interesting reading on what he is like, been banned from several sites because of death threats and have found that he has created about 40 blogs.

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