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Don't feed the Troll

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If you spend a great deal of your time pretending to be an asshole to get a reaction from people...you aren't pretending. You are an asshole.
Ed Brayton[1]

Although originally a non-offensive reference to fishing by trolling for comments or suggestions, the term in Internetspeak has evolved and now refers to someone who engages in discussions purely to provoke or annoy. Because trolls take away from productive work, the ideal response is to starve the troll of attention by ignoring it and going about your usual business. People being people, though, someone usually takes the bait, which is why trolls are so notorious.

Many presume that troll refers to the ugly monsters who eat people alive, but the term derives from the practice in fishing of dragging a baited hook or lure behind a moving boat (trolling).[2] In other words, trolls are looking for some sucker to bite.

Characteristics[edit]

A troll usually has little or no interest in contributing to the development of the site in question and is interested in some or all of the following:

  • Deliberately angering people.
  • Making people act or say things that are considered obvious causing the individual to appear stupid to others witnessing the discussion.
  • Breaking the normal flow of debate/discussion.
  • Disrupting the “smooth” operation of the site.
  • Deliberately being annoying for the sake of being obnoxious. For instance, using abusive names to refer to all the members on the site.
  • Pretending to be profoundly ignorant or stupid, gleaning some weird sense of having "won" when other users subsequently come to believe this.
  • Making itself the main topic of interest or discussion.[Note 1]

Motives[edit]

It is probable that, for the troll, the last point is the most important. To this end it will post deliberately inflammatory messages which generate inflammatory responses; complain about being the victim of the inflammatory responses; endeavor to obtain allies against the discrimination it feels; turn on those same allies, etc. The whole objective of the exercise is to disrupt or make someone do something you wanted them to do for laughs.

If a poster begins to post comments along the lines of, "Can’t you see how stupid you all are?" or "I keep laughing at all of you," there is high probability that the poster is a troll.

Treatment[edit]

Because the troll feeds on having its name mentioned or by generating debate or ill feeling, many internet users either ignore the troll completely or respond with the phrase, "Don’t Feed the Troll."

(Alternatively, on RationalWiki, users can enter {{DFTT}} bringing up this image: Don't feed the Troll — which means the same thing. For troll posts, they can use {{trollcollapse}}.)

Blocking is available on many social media sites and boards. This is useful when you find yourself easily triggered by trolls fishing.

Some users engage in "troll baiting." In this unkind sport, the objective is to turn the tables on the troll so that it becomes enraged. While mildly amusing in the short term, it is rarely successful in driving the troll away.

Most importantly, trolls take away from productive work. The only ethical way to avoid this is to stop feeding the troll and go about your usual work.

How to spot a troll[edit]

Usually it is very difficult to tell the difference between a troll and somebody who is simply an asshole. It is important to note that a troll doesn't always resort to insults. Some of them pretend to hold ideals that are unpopular on a particular website or forum. For example, if one signs up for a forum that is predominately pro-choice and pretends to be anti-abortion and makes posts in favour of that position, that alone could get the same result as just insulting everybody. The best way to spot a troll is to take into consideration how long its posts are. If its posts are short then it is more than likely you are dealing with a troll. A good troll also doesn't show any signs of anger in their posts, so it would be best to keep an eye out for that too.

On social networking sites it is much easier to spot trolls. The first way is to look at their profile: if the user has no picture of him/herself then it is most likely a troll. It's also useful to take a look at how old the user's account is: the newer the account, the more likely it is a troll. Also, if this user has contacted you directly on your own page (as opposed to a group you are a member of) then take that as a tell-tale sign.

Spotting a skilled troll can be quite difficult; one formulation of Poe's Law is that "any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook."

Recurrent troll infestations[edit]

Some trolls hunt in packs. Or at least, they seem to – for all we know, the entire pack could be sockpuppets of one very dedicated person. After a while the seasoned troll watcher can spot obvious patterns which are indicative of one of the well-known troll tribes. For example:

*chan[edit]

A subset of 4chan users (some of whom later relocated to 8chan) are edgelords who take delight in trolling liberals and those who they view as "SJWs" in various ways, often on Twitter. Indeed, the entirety of Gamergate may have started off this way. In one guise, they pose as extreme "SJWs", and in another, they "pose" as Nazis, or pose as far-right anti-semitic memes such as a gay, Jewish black person, complete with stereotypical anti-semitic avatar. In this respect they continue the infamous tradition of weev.Wikipedia's W.svg However, again because of Poe's law, it is difficult to tell the difference between an edgelord who is just pretending to have far-right views to troll people, and a person with actual far-right beliefs, especially online — and it is said that 4chan's /pol/ started off with "ironic" edgelords and then was completely taken over by actual Nazis.[3]

A third theory is that internet Nazi edgelords exaggerate their racism for the purposes of black humour,Wikipedia's W.svg but are in fact racist, just not that racist. This distinction is not necessarily terribly meaningful to the people who are the butt of, e.g., their Holocaust "jokes", however. If a Jewish or black person encounters such hate speech online, they are probably not going to spend a great deal of time thinking about whether the person behind the troll account really wants to kill people like them, or whether the troll is just exaggerating and just really don't like people of their race — they are just going to be upset, angry or afraid.

Their repeated use of Twitter may have come about for historical reasons — for years, Twitter took an insanely cheapskate pro-free-speech view of abuse, only offering the ability to report spam, which made Twitter a haven for misogynist and racist harassers. (Years later, the Twitter CEO acknowledged that Twitter had screwed up badly by not taking abuse seriously enough.[4]) Another appealing aspect for such trolls is that it may be easier to trick unwitting/lazy journalists into writing about them without realising that they are trolls — or realising it, but not acknowledging it, for the sake of clickbait.[5]

"Reddit armie" (parody of redditors)[edit]

A slightly sillier example is the group of trolls who pose as exaggerated, satirical stereotypes of Reddit users (redditors), on Youtube videos which have been linked from Reddit — these days fooling no-one as they are usually immediately rumbled. A Chrome extension exists to filter out these jokers.[6]

Wikipedia[edit]

As explained in Wikipedia's own policy, true vandals and trolls, as distinguished from users who dabble in minor vandalism, usually suffer from chronic alienation and real or perceived powerlessness and seek recognition and infamy by interrupting and frustrating the Wikipedia project and community. Such users experience exceptional attention as empowerment, reward, and encouragement. This is particularly true for those prolific vandals who have been immortalized on Wikipedia pages, meticulously catalogued by category pages, targeted by dedicated templates, and thereby become a notable part of wiki culture.[7]

Russian troll factory[edit]

It has been well-documented that Russia has paid for hundreds of trolls to operate out of a single building formerly at 55 Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg since at least 2015.[8][9] The troll factory targeted both Russians and foreigners, and tried to influence opinion on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as well as the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of Trump.[8][10] One of the former paid trolls described the atmosphere of work as follows:

I arrived there, and I immediately felt like a character in the book "1984" by George Orwell — a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white. Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line. The volumes were colossal — there were huge numbers of people, 300 to 400, and they were all writing absolute untruths. It was like being in Orwell’s world.
—Marat Mindiyarov[10]

The owner of the troll factory (Yevgeny Prigozhin,Wikipedia's W.svg Евгений Пригожин), the C.E.O. of the factory (Mikhail BystrovWikipedia's W.svg), the troll company itself (Internet Research Agency LLC, IRA), and 11 other Russians were indicted by the United States Justice Department on February 16, 2018 on charges of "Conspiracy to Defraud the United States", "Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud and Bank Fraud", and "Aggravated Identity Theft".[11] Prigozhin is a close associate of Vladimir Putin, who became a billionaire due to this connection.[9][12] Other indictees and their activities at IRA include:[11][13]

  • Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, a.k.a. Mikhail Abramov — the second-highest director
  • Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova — the third-highest ranking employee
  • Pavlovich Polozov — purchased computer servers in the US to mask IRA's activities
  • Anna Bogacheva — translator, collected intelligence in the US
  • Maria Anatolyevna Bovda — translator and other positions
  • Robert Sergeyevich Bovda — translator, attempted to collect intelligence in the US
  • Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov — served as a director of the translation project, supervised the attempt to interfere with the 2016 elections
  • Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev — monitoring of US politics and reviewing social media content
  • Gleb Igorevitch Vasilchenko — published content on social media while posing as a US citizen
  • Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina — translator, posed as a US citizen on social media. She wrote in an email, "We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with colleagues. … I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people."
  • Vladimir Venkov — translator, posed as a US citizen on social media

Alternative ways to deal with trolls[edit]

If you feel exceptionally compelled to respond to a troll, don't post long comments. Try to make any responses as short and concise as possible; it's often best to use exceptionally bland statements such as "Thank you for your comments, which we shall give due consideration." Your main objective is to disarm the troll's chances of getting an emotional response from other users, which in turn will hopefully demotivate it until it gives up its attempts. This method is not fool-proof: it can at times achieve the exact opposite results depending on the troll and how you go about doing this.

There are also a few recorded instances of trolls and humans co-succumbing to this troll disease called friendship. These are extraordinarily rare, difficult, and fraught with the perils of awkward hate-flirting, universe-cancer, and time shenanigans; experts recommend such methods as closed causal loops of money-wiring, owning omnipotent dogs, and baking goods empire-acquired exclusive ICP previews when attempting to so befriend these strange beings.

Caveat[edit]

It is, of course, an improper argumentum ad hominem (personal attack) when you accuse a user of being a troll just because you don't like what they are saying or the way they are saying it. Don't accuse someone of being a troll just to dismiss their argument. Just because you disagree doesn't necessarily mean the user is trying to be disruptive, so it is necessary to measure the suspected troll against the description given above.

In real life[edit]

Trolling has also recently been used to refer to real life activities. In some ways this resembles internet trolling:

  • Deliberately annoying people.
  • Breaking the normal flow of debate/discussion.
  • Disrupting the smooth operation an activity.

Due to the non-anonymous nature of most real life activities, this type of trolling usually has a political or social point, and can resemble some types of pranking (e.g., Dick TuckWikipedia's W.svg). Examples include the following:

  • Handing out Russian flags with "Trump" on them at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) Annual Conference.[14][15]
  • State legislatures mocking, challenging and repudiating Trump.[16]
  • Inviting victims of Trump's nationalist ideology to his speech before Congress.[17]

Banning trolls in real life[edit]

Britain may very well be banning internet trolls from running for political office very soon.[18]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Rarely a troll may do small amounts of productive work to disguise its true intentions.

References[edit]

  1. Ooh, Pat Replies To Us Again, ScienceBlogs
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Internet troll § Origin and etymology.
  3. A quick history of 4chan and the rightists who killed it (possible unreliable source)
  4. Twitter CEO admits: we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls
  5. For example, see #NRORevolt, explained on vox.com.
  6. Hide Fedora
  7. Wikipedia:Deny recognition
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Russian troll factory at the heart of the meddling allegations: Former workers tell how hundreds of bloggers are paid to flood forums and social networks at home and abroad with anti-western and pro-Kremlin comments by Shaun Walker (2 Apr 2015 04.59 EDT) The Guardian.
  9. 9.0 9.1 The Troll Farm: What We Know About 13 Russians Indicted by the U.S. by Ivan Nechepurenko & Michael Schwirtz (Feb. 17, 20180 The New York Times.
  10. 10.0 10.1 A former Russian troll speaks: 'It was like being in Orwell's world' by Anton Troianovski (February 17, 2018 at 7:10 PM) The Washington Post.
  11. 11.0 11.1 United States of America v Internet Research Agency LLC… Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF (02/16/18) Department of Justice
  12. Russian trolls: Yevgeniy Prigozhin, 'Putin's chef' accused of manipulating U.S. election by Marwa Eltagouri (February 17, 2018 at 7:48 AM) The Washington Post.
  13. Who are the Russians indicted for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election? — Meduza (18:17, 18 February 2018) Meduza.
  14. Brilliant troll hands out tiny Trump Russian flags right before Trump's CPAC speech by wagatwe 2017/02/24 · 09:58) The Daily Kos.
  15. The CPAC Crowd Unwittingly Took Part In A Prank And Waved Russian Flags At Trump by Julia Reinstein & Blake Montgomery (Feb. 24, 2017, at 8:12 a.m. Updated on Feb. 24, 2017, at 10:35 a.m.) Buzzfeed.
  16. States find new ways to troll Trump: Lawmakers are getting creative in their attempts to mock, challenge and repudiate the president by Natasha Korecki (02/11/17 07:30 AM EST) Politico.
  17. House Democrats plan to troll Trump at big speech: Lawmakers are inviting 'Dreamers,' Muslim-Americans and others to his joint address before Congress on Tuesday by Heather Caygle (02/25/17 07:32 AM EST) Politico.
  18. "Online trolls who intimidate election candidates or campaigners could be barred from public office under government proposals being considered", BBC News, 29 july 2018