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trolling

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Trolling, in the context of the web, is the act of responding to online content or comments in a purposely disruptive fashion. The name arose as a reference to the way that online trolls try to lure victims with comments in the same way that fishers use bait and specially crafted lures to catch fish. Another reference is to the mythological troll, a hideous creature that lurks in dark places waiting for prey.

Online, a troll is someone who enters a communication channel, such as a comment thread, solely to cause trouble. Trolls often use comment threads to cyberbully other users, discredit valid content or comments and/ or spread disinformation. In many cases, trolls are sock puppets – fake accounts created so the users can promote their agendas anonymously.

Trolls tend to specialize. Some just want to stir things up (See: flamebait). During political campaigns, paid and unpaid trolls abound on discussion threads in social media and elsewhere online, boosting their candidates and/or denigrating the competition. Grammar trolls often enter a comment thread to insult the poster or other commenters on their use of language or punctuation. Typically, the grammar troll has nothing to say that’s actually related to the post or comment they’re responding to.

Engaging with trolls is generally considered futile at best and harmful to your mental state at worst. Reported psychological effects on victims include increased social anxiety and depression and decreased self-esteem.

The most effective defense against trolls is simply ignoring them. The target’s reaction is often the payoff they’re looking for, and if they don’t get it they will most likely go away. DNFT (Do not feed the troll) is a commonly seen warning in comment threads. Another tactic is to identify trolls as such so that others don’t take them seriously and then move on without giving them any further attention.

Trolls are so prevalent and noxious in some channels, such as YouTube comments, that a more stringent approach may be recommended. For situations where trolls tend to be especially pervasive, a newer abbreviation has arisen: DRTC (Don’t read the comments).

This was last updated in June 2018

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