The term “troll” gets thrown around quite a lot, especially on high-traffic blogs and discussion forums. At least half the time, in my experience, it’s not even accurate. So what is an internet troll anyway?
An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and usually irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the intention of baiting other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.
Notice this does not define trolling as posting something controversial which happens to provoke an emotional response. The difference is intent.
All too often, participants in online discussions carelessly accuse others of trolling when it is clearly not the case. Many times, the accusation is in response to something which is clearly on topic that simply makes the accuser uncomfortable or angry. That is not trolling. Having an emotional response does not mean you were baited into one, and disagreeing with someone, however strongly, does not make that person a troll.
But why does this even matter? Well, for someone who genuinely attempts to make meaningful points only to be dismissed as a troll, it can matter a lot. On high-traffic discussion forums where there is often an cliquish atmosphere, accusations of trolling can be particularly damaging to the credibility of newcomers. And when administrators jump on the name-calling bandwagon, it only compounds the problem.
So why do people do it? Why do some people cry “troll” at the drop of a hat?