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What is an Internet Troll?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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An Internet troll is someone who posts offensive, controversial, or divisive material on an Internet community. Trolls are an unfortunately common occurrence on many communities across the Internet, and there are various steps which can be taken to combat them. If you are currently struggling with an Internet troll, the best thing to do is to walk away, since trolls feed on attention, and they will usually disappear if they are ignored.

The evolution of the Internet troll was a slow process which began as computer users started to more widely adopt the Internet. At first, the term referred merely to someone who was “trolling” for a response or opinion, in the same way that fishing boats cast out large nets to troll for a catch. Over time, trolls grew more aggressive, and the term began to be used specifically to refer to someone irritating or hurtful. In this sense, a troll could be compared to the nasty creatures of Scandinavian mythology which are also known as trolls.

There are a number of different types of trolls. In the most classic case, a troll harasses an Internet community for a few weeks, posting contradictory opinions or statements on bulletin boards in an attempt to stimulate a response. Internet trolls are differentiated from people who genuinely wish to present a different viewpoint by their attitudes and aggressiveness; their goal is not to discuss a situation, but to frustrate the members of a discussion board. They often use fallacious arguments or attack the users of a site when they attempt to defend themselves from the troll's activities.

In some cases, a troll becomes a recurring figure who is well known by long-term members of a bulletin board. The individuals often tell newcomers to the community to ignore the troll, who may use various tactics to get a rise from newbies. In more serious cases, an Internet troll may try to drive a wedge through a community, often with the assistance of sock puppet accounts. A sock puppet is a fake identity which is used by someone who does not want to post under his or her regular name; some trolls have multitudes of sock puppets to make their side of an argument look like it has a large number of supporters.

Trolls can be extremely frustrating. Especially when trolls use hate speech and stalkerlike tactics, they can cross the line to being dangerous in addition to being aggravating. If you are the administrator of a website, there are a number of ways to deal with trolls, from IP blocking to reporting them to the authorities if they threaten users of your site. As a site user, the best response to a troll is no response, which will ultimately drive the Internet troll into moving on in search of fresh prey.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1002851 — On Mar 03, 2020

I am not a troll just because you do not agree with my opinion. I have posted my alternate opinion on a lot of religious controlled forums, to give a contrasting viewpoint. Of course I am labeled a troll because of it. (or satan in the flesh). What I don't understand is why a difference of opinion is trolling. I am just as equally offended by the insistence that they are always right. Do they not realize that other people are entitled to have a contrasting grasp of reality than theirs? It just shows the inability for some to have a viewpoint they can logically defend. So if you post some religious opinion, and claim it as a fact, do not object to my counter opinion. Just saying.

By anon954146 — On May 30, 2014

I have a nut case cyber stalker, who said they used to know me, in Washington state, years ago, and they just won't leave me alone! From Elise, in Texas.

By anon945514 — On Apr 13, 2014

@anon310224: If you are banned and the troll is not, then that should tell you something about that site. It's a good possibility that the troll and the site admins are working together and there is a hidden agenda at work on that site. These types of sites are not places you want to be, anyway.

By anon943629 — On Apr 02, 2014

On some forums, I have noticed the presence of what I term "academic" or "educated" trolls. These trolls love to go on to opinion-based forums and ridicule people's skills at logic rather than contribute anything to the topic at hand. They will often post part of their message in Latin in order to assert a sense of superiority or dominance.

When translated, the Latin passage is generally found to be a condescending, elitist sneer or a veiled personal attack. Frequently they try to aggravate and upset people in order to entice them to post emotional responses. They can then continue to attack and ridicule the poster on the grounds of their poor logic and emotionalism.

Even if the person is highly educated and skilled at forming logical arguments and tries to counter the troll's logic with their own, it is too late. The troll will just keep pointing to a fallacy in your logic, or keep returning to preexisting fallacy. No argument can ever be 100 percent watertight and an academic troll is skilled at exploiting any weakness. They will find holes or exceptions to contradict the person and strive to highlight these. They will do everything they can to keep you wriggling on the hook.

This side-tracks the issue and so the troll is provided with a powerful ego trip and a sense of fulfillment through their success. The troll can come away seeming superior and intelligent without having contributed a single worthwhile comment towards the issue at hand.

Often, the same troll or a small group of trolls will all target the same forum topic simultaneously in this manner in order to sidetrack a topic. This kind of trolling is a common tactic used on political or media-oriented forums.

Another tactic I have been noticing more and more is the use of an existing user name by a troll, who then varies the name slightly by altering a letter or reversing a character. They will often take the name of someone who has been contributing for a long time and who normally makes sensible or reasonable comments. For example, an existing name like Fried_Rice22 may be changed to Fried_Bice22. The deception sometimes works for the troll, who begins to engage in irrelevant or antagonizing discussion with other members. The troll's deceit is eventually discovered, but not before causing considerable chaos, especially on a close-knit forum.

By anon332854 — On May 01, 2013

I have problems with trolls and have reported them to the moderator of the site and they will do nothing about it. These trolls have personal off topic conversations and like they are on facebook or in a chat. There are plenty of people who want to comment online and be polite and respectful and the trolls create a "hostile" environment.

By anon310224 — On Dec 20, 2012

I only wish some boards did not defend trolls. There is a troll on one specific board who 85 percent of the time posts off-topic comments and opinions not relevant to the topic, then later tries to backpedal and claim they never meant to cause any trouble.

I had a problem with this person and tried to report him. I also exposed him on the message board unsuccessfully. The troll also reported me, and the admins, rather than look into the situation, chose to ban me and let the troll continue to post.

No matter how I tried to explain the problem or the troll to admins, they dismissed it, saying they were too busy to investigate. This is a shame and is, in my opinion, an example of a poorly managed forum.

By anon259518 — On Apr 06, 2012

Sometimes I like to read articles and post my opinion. When I post my comment, I just want to put my two cents in, even if it's not worth two cents. I'm not looking for a discussion and I'm really not interested in what other people think about what I think.

For someone to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to my comment is fine, but I do not like it when people reply to my comment. It seems as if people are only looking for comments that they disagree with and proceed to attack that person because of what they believe.

I wish that sites would give you the option whether you want to receive replies to your comment. The ugly people who reply to what I post have somewhat deterred me from even commenting, and I think it's ugly and frustrating.

The people who disagree with me are no more right about anything than I am. I never reply to anyone else's comments. I will give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

People who try to reprimand or change someone's mind because of what they believe are just dumb and quite frankly, a waste of internet data usage.

By anon150125 — On Feb 07, 2011

very good post, but why do some trolls never leave?

By anon146624 — On Jan 26, 2011

@anon122907 ~ Not all i-net trolls are those who go off-topic just to talk about something. there are trolls who are against a certain topic and debate about it logically; a logical trolling way to provoke hate and get attention/reactions.

By anon127108 — On Nov 15, 2010

Well, I think you're all absolutely wrong. Trolls are a wonderful addition to the internet community and their somewhat offbeat but important opinions should be respected. Without trolls there would be no social order on bulletin boards.

By anon123127 — On Oct 31, 2010

I've been oppressed by trolls online due to me being a furry and they're telling lies about us to other people to damage our reputations.

By anon122907 — On Oct 30, 2010

@Anon35429: You can't believe that bulletin boards can't survive trolls. There's no need for trolls because all they do is cause harm on purpose. Imagine if you go through so much harm that it could. Would you want to continue living?

@Anon79429: Well typed, fellow troll hater (if that's what you are). Trolling's never important on bulletin boards. The only things that trolls do on them is make chaos. And that has no place on those kinds of boards.

By anon79429 — On Apr 22, 2010

There is no need for trolls in the internet world. and yes anon35429, bulletin boards can survive without trolls.

By anon72580 — On Mar 23, 2010

What is the correct name for 'regular' posters who turn out to be sock puppets too?

By anon45583 — On Sep 18, 2009

Thank you for this useful information. I have the same problem as Steven and glad to have found this post. Emma Yodsamut

By anon35429 — On Jul 05, 2009

Bulletin boards can't survive without trolls.

By anon16633 — On Aug 10, 2008

I am a regular user of the internet and often sell things online. Lately there has been a lot of trouble with trolls and I had no clue as to what a troll was or how to eliminate one. I came here because when I questioned what a troll was on one site I got bombarded with a ton of troll crap which flabbergasted me. I really appreciate the plain and easy-to-understand way in which you described what a troll is and how to handle such an individual. I will practice this ignoring technique and be more aware of these trolls and sock puppets in the future. Thank you again for your excellent information. Sincerely, Steven, Northglenn, CO.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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