What’s the Definition of Trolling, and How Do You Fight It?

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The internet played a significant role in every aspect of our daily lives in the past decade, from interacting with family and friends to getting information about products or services. The pandemic highlighted its significance after the authorities recommended limitations on social contact with people who are not a part of the household.

The situation compelled many people to rely on the internet to stay connected with their loved ones. About 81 percent of Americans stayed in touch via video calls during the pandemic.

However, one downside of this technological advancement was trolling, where someone posts inflammatory comments on websites or social media platforms to provoke an adverse reaction in someone else. It’s essential to understand trolling in the internet culture to allow you to know what online trolls can do.

What are Online or Internet Trolls?

An online or internet troll intentionally tries to start arguments or disrupt an otherwise civil discussion in an online community. They often use inflammatory messages to provoke emotional responses in people and try to disrupt the overall flow of communication in a group. Trolling can occur anywhere that has an open area where people can freely post their thoughts and opinions, such as comment sections on YouTube or forums.

Trolling Behavior

While not all internet trolls are necessarily malicious, their online behavior is still disruptive and has the potential to lead to other forms of online harassment. It has become a part of mainstream culture that sometimes it’s hard to know who is trolling and why they’re engaging in such behavior.

Online forums and message boards are notorious for attracting trolls, who often post inflammatory messages designed to elicit a strong emotional response from others in the online community.

These internet trolls may claim that they’re just joking or simply trying to be funny, but their primary goal is usually to create conflict or disrupt discussion with as little effort as possible. Online trolls often bait people by deliberately saying things they don’t believe.

For example, an internet troll might post an inflammatory comment that says, “Everyone knows smoking does not kill you.” At this point, the troll knows that many people will respond with outrage or anger because of their experiences with cigarettes’ health risks and dangers. A troll may also say something inflammatory to get a rise out of someone, knowing that their comment may offend or anger the other person.

Although trolling is common on many online forums and websites, it’s important to remember that not everyone participating in these discussions is a troll. However, you should always be wary when reading any comments posted by internet users who seem to be trying too hard to draw attention to themselves.

Some troll activities border on potential criminal activity, such as what happened in 2012. Following the launch of a Kickstarter campaign aimed at funding YouTube videos chronicling misogyny, Anita Sarkeesian received bomb threats during her speaking engagements. She also received rape threats and doxxing threats. Anita also had an unwanted starring role in a video game created by trolls.

Types of Online Trolls

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The term trolling can describe many different types of people who engage in online activities that are considered disruptive or offensive. 

Most trolls aim to provoke a reaction from other users by posting inflammatory content or playing devil’s advocate and arguing against some controversial position. Trolls feed on these reactions, which are a form of attention for them, and they continue to post inflammatory comments to keep the discussion going.

Although most trolls do not break any laws, their behavior is still disruptive, and their anonymity often makes it difficult to track down the perpetrators.

There are several kinds of online trolls, each with its behaviors. Some of the most common include:

Insult Troll

An insult troll frequently posts hateful or aggressive comments directed at a particular person or group. These insults can be specific to that user’s beliefs, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, etc., and are often intended to evoke an emotional reaction from the target. Insult trolling is a common form of cyberbullying and can lead to online harassment.

Grammar Troll

A grammar troll frequently points out spelling and grammar mistakes in other people’s posts. These trolls are often motivated by a desire to seem superior, either because of poor English skills or because they believe that educated people cannot possibly disagree with them on other points. Grammar trolling is more common on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter than on news sites or online internet forums.

Devil’s Advocate Troll

A devil’s advocate troll argues against a particular position even when they believe it to be true to elicit more discussion. Unlike insult trolls, they are not directly critical of other users and do not post inflammatory content. However, their behavior can still lead to arguments and hostility between users.

Persistent Debate Troll

A persistent debate troll believes their position on a topic or issue is the only valid one and will continue to argue regardless of what other users say. While some people may enjoy debating with these types of trolls, they can often become disruptive if they refuse to stop arguing, even when losing an argument. This troll’s goal is usually to get a rise out of others to feel better about themselves.

Off-Topic Troll

An off-topic troll posts content that has nothing to do with the original topic of a discussion. They often post off-topic messages such as jokes, links to random articles and websites, or completely unrelated images to interrupt the conversation and change its direction. Off-topic remarks can easily derail a good discussion and confuse other users.

Know-It-All Troll

A know-it-all troll is someone who repeatedly posts their own opinions regardless of what other users say. They tend to post long, detailed arguments that often include personal anecdotes and information they have found on the internet. 

Although arguing against another user’s position can sometimes lead to a more in-depth discussion, these trolls rarely change their minds about their positions and often ignore the opinions of others.

Reasons for Internet Trolling

There are many reasons someone may choose to troll online. Some do it for the laughs, while others may be motivated by a desire to cause harm or get a reaction. Whatever the reason, trolling can have serious consequences for the victims – online and offline. 

Here are some of the most common motivations behind internet trolling:

  • Boredom or anger – Some trolls find it amusing to upset people or get a reaction from them. Others may be angry about something and take it out on others online. Provoking readers with off-putting remarks to the troll’s amusement is the goal.
  • Attention-seeking – Some people troll since they crave attention and will do anything to get it, even if that means causing harm to others.
  • Power trip/sense of superiority – For some trolls, taunting and humiliating others provide a sense of power and control they may not feel in their everyday lives. They may enjoy seeing other people in distress or feeling above the rules.
  • Social networking sites/anonymity – Social networking sites make it easy for trolls to remain anonymous, making them feel more powerful and less accountable for their actions. Additionally, the lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to more abusive trolling behavior, as people think they can say whatever they want without consequences.
  • Mob mentality – In some cases, trolls may be encouraged to bully or harass others by a group of people (either in person or online) who are all on the same page about what should happen to the victim. This is known as mob mentality, which can quickly become dangerous for the target.

How to Know You’re Being Trolled

Participating in online discussions of online communities can be rewarding, and it can also be frustrating when you encounter trolls. You may wonder how to identify a troll or whether you’re the one doing the trolling.

There are some general indicators that a person is trolling online. For example, if someone insults your tastes or preferences or is generally negative about a certain topic, they are likely to be a troll.

Trolls also attack something that people like about you, or they may attack your reputation directly. If you see these signs in a post or the comment section, it is likely a troll who is being mean on purpose.

Another sign that someone is trolling is if they are making outlandish claims. While some people may genuinely hold these beliefs, a troll is more likely to exaggerate or make things up to get a response from you and other community members.

Trolls are also persistent. Even if you ignore them or respond negatively, they won’t stop until you get an emotional response.

If you find yourself communicating with a troll online, it is often best to ignore and block their comments. This can keep the discussion on topic and prevent any further escalation.

How to Deal with Trolls Online

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Despite their negative connotation, there is no way to eradicate online trolling. While some strategies may help mitigate the issue, moderators or admins can’t catch all of them. However, there are several things you can do as a regular internet user to protect yourself from trolls.

Ignore the Trolls

One of the most important things to do when encountering a troll online is to ignore them and not engage with their comments. This might seem counterintuitive since engaging with them can feel like standing up for yourself or others being attacked. However, by responding, you give the troll more power and attention–and they will continue to troll you to get a reaction.

Block the Trolls

Another essential strategy is blocking or ignoring users attacking you or others online. Many social media sites and platforms allow you to do this easily, so take advantage of these tools whenever possible. Additionally, if an offensive comment is left on your blog or website, you can remove it completely.

Report the Trolls

If the trolls are persistent and continue to harass you or others online, report them to the site administrators. This is particularly important if their comments contain threats of violence or other criminal behavior. When you report trolls, often their user’s account will be suspended, or they will be banned after repeated abuse.

Create a Friends-Only Profile

A friends-only social media profile is a great way to prevent trolls from attacking you. By limiting your friend list, you can better control who can see or comment on your posts. If you want to make certain posts public, run them through a troll filter first and remove any offensive comments before posting them elsewhere.

Legal Remedies to Deal with Trolling

Many online trolls are unaware of the real consequences of their actions. They may not understand that they are breaking the law and can be sued for defamation, harassment, or stalking when they deliberately use malicious tactics to harm others online. Some trolls are even criminals who engage in fraud or identity theft.

If you find yourself being targeted by a troll online, you should consult a lawyer to explore your legal options for pursuing legal action.

  1. Civil Laws – If a troll targets you with disparaging language in a chat room, you can explore the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the troll for defamation. This tort occurs when someone knowingly and maliciously harms your reputation. Additionally, if a troll’s actions cause you significant emotional distress, you may be able to file a civil suit against them for infliction of emotional distress.
  2. Criminal Law – Trolling may not be considered a crime under the law, but some states have laws against online harassment, bullying, and stalking. You can consult with a lawyer to understand your local laws and determine if the troll’s actions fall into these categories.

Ultimately, as the victim of trolling, it is up to you to decide how to best fight back against these malicious attacks. You can defend yourself through legal action or block and ignore the trolls. 

With determination and advice from a legal professional, you can overcome this online harassment and reclaim your digital space.

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