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They hide under the bridges of online anonymity, ready to pounce on unsuspecting forums, chat rooms, news sites and blogs. They can ruin a lively debate with one well-placed comment. They do not care about contributing. Often they don’t even believe what they type. Their only desire is to provoke you – they are the internet trolls.
What is a troll?
The term originated from “trolling”, a method of fishing where bait or a lure is dragged behind a boat. This was reappropriated into the online world as “trolling for newbies”, where experienced chat room users would “catch” and reveal new users by posting obvious topics.
Of course, a troll is also a mythological creature that causes chaos and terrorises innocent travellers. Either way, the name fits.
We’ve all come across a troll at some time. They post obviously incorrect information (“Next time I go to Africa I’m visiting our troops in Afghanistan”), or are completely off-topic (“Does anyone support the Sharks?” “No, this is a movie forum.”) Unfortunately, trolls also use bigotry, racism and misogyny to elicit a response.
An article or discussion on the best family car in the market suddenly has hundreds of comments. Why? Because BeAMan22 has posted, “Family cars are for faggots! You people make me sick!”
What began as an innocent comparison of seat-belt tensioners and airbag deployment devolves into a slanging match on the subject of gay marriage. It’s usually just a matter of time before the troll is blocked by community moderators, but the damage has been done.
The psychology of trolls
Trolls can be incredibly abusive and will personally attack a certain individual again and again. But why?
Web encyclopedia Citizendium describes trolls as tending to be narcissists with sociopathic, even sadistic, tendencies. They suppress these characteristics in real life due to societal norms and the threat of physical consequences (insulting a 120kg rugby player to his face is not a good idea), but the anonymity of the internet acts as a shield.
People feel less inhibited and more able to express their aggression online because they are in a protective bubble. It’s similar to road rage or being drunk.
A troll may suffer from social anxiety and insecurity, but on the internet they can be all-powerful. They can cause pain instead of feeling it. In a Barbelith Underground forum, Etruscan, explains why he enjoys trolling:
“First off, getting a rise out of people is priceless. There is a distinct exhilarating (sic) rush knowing that you’ve really twisted the knife, gotten the goat. There is probably some amount of sadism to this. Hurting other people for fun.”
It should be noted that not all trolls are desperate and destructive. Some are just highly amusing. Bloodninja enticed people into sex chats via IRC channels and then wrote ridiculous suggestions.
Bloodninja: Wanna cyber?
MommyMelissa: Sure, you into vegetables?
Bloodninja: What like gardening an s**t?
MommyMelissa: Yeah, something like that.
Bloodninja: Nuthin turns me on more, check this out
Bloodninja: You bend over to harvest your radishes.
MommyMelissa: is that it?
Bloodninja: You water your tomato patch.
Bloodninja: Are you ready for my fresh produce?
How to decapitate a troll
Sadly most trolls are hostile, not funny. When dealing with these ugly beasts, the most important thing to remember is: DO NOT ENGAGE.
Like the Emperor Palpatine, a troll gains power every time you express anger or hatred. No matter how offensive they become, don’t give trolls the attention they are craving. If you studiously ignore them they will soon move on.
If the troll persists, report them to the community moderators or website administrators. There’s usually a handy “Report Abuse” button on most sites. Their IP address can also be tracked if they move beyond mere slander and start to pose a serious stalking threat.
It may be tempting to play along and mock them, but then they’ll hang around even longer. Rather take away their ability to wreak havoc – it’s the sharpest axe for a troll head.