Internet Trolling – What It Isn’t

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[1] or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.[2]

Wikipedia

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?

I see it as an intimidation tactic:

One person says something that someone else strongly disagrees with or cannot counter with a reasonable argument, so the former is declared a troll. Now the alleged troll has a choice: to defend against the accusation and try to explain, which carries the risk of “validating” the accusation, or to be silenced. It’s often a no-win situation for the accused.

The bullying doesn’t stop there. Members of online communities, especially those in cliques, usually will not risk losing allies by engaging the accused. “Feeding the trolls” can be an offense punishable by exclusion. So, one member of a clique cries “troll” and the others follow suit. The accused is either attacked from all sides for stating an unpopular, but on topic, relevant comment, or is completely ignored and ultimately ostracized.

This kind of bullying , ironically, amounts to little more than trolling on the part of the accuser. It derails he discussion, and often results in angry comments from other participants, sometimes to the point of having to close off comments altogether.

The worst part about it is that it suppresses open discussion. Preconceived ideas go unchallenged and critical thinking is impaired as a result. Some of life’s most valuable lessons are learned by discussing things that make us uncomfortable. Challenging ourselves to consider things from a different perspective lets us grow as individuals and gain greater understanding and compassion for our fellow humans.

Keep in mind that discomfort on your part does not constitute trolling on the part of another. By dismissing an idea out of hand because it makes you uncomfortable you could be cheating yourself and others out of an opportunity to learn something new which could very well have a positive and lasting impact on the lives of everyone involved.

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5 responses to “Internet Trolling – What It Isn’t

  • Mike

    Your post is full of win 😀

    Excellent stuff, Honey. Proud of you, as always 🙂

  • DAS

    Thank you for pointing this sort of thing out. As I often say “people think I’m a troll when I’m really just a Niebelung” 😉

  • Lottie

    I admit I had to Google that, and it gave me a chuckle.

    Yeah, I think it gets thrown around far too much just because one person doesn’t like what another person says. It basically amounts to bullying, in my opinion.

  • Daniel

    This happened to me recently. Oh. Great article, by the way. Finally, I feel like someone understands what I’ve been put through.

    I wont say the name of the forum where this happened or who the people involved were as I think that that would just be immature and an attempt to gain sympathy but, it was on a somewhat popular and even reputable video gaming forum.

    While I’ll admit that I can come across as a bit of an oddball at times, be sarcastic when taunted, (especially when I’m obviously being serious and trying to be helpful and someone tries to make me out to be honest to goodness funny farm material) and even a abrasive when I see that people are bound and determined to avoid looking at or looking up valid evidence on a subject/topic/matter but, I’m usually as polite as I can be and only joke around when I’m in a good mood and even engage in some playful jabbing with others when it looks like it’s okay.

    This is just my way of getting to know others and trying to break the ice.
    After I start to get a feel for the way a forum flows, I usually loosen up a bit more and settle into a relatively laid back or easy going, “go with the flow” state and everything is alright.
    Sure, there will be some who dislike me and some who think I’m alright if a bit weird at times but, I’m down with that (can’t have your cake and eat it too).

    But, this place that I went too last month… I’ve never seen so much lack of trust, paranoia, snobby and childish behavior and the kind of bullying you described in your article anywhere else on the web and it bothers me a lot.
    It was worse than yahoo answers.

    However, I inadvertently brought some of it on myself through some ignorance and presumptuousness which may have been my first mistake and it I guess it just sort of snowballed from there.

    I don’t want to go into too much detail (personal reasons) or drag this out so, I’ll try to wrap it up.

    It got real ugly real fast and once they’d had their way with me and brought me too my knees with their very much unexpected tactics and skills and I’d began to cower (humiliating) and more or less beg for mercy and plead for rational treatment, they just continued to torment and make fun of me with accusations of being a notorious troll in the gaming community until I became so desperate to prove myself innocent that I gave up my password to the ring leader/head instigator to view my PM’s and eventually my MAC address even though I sensed that they were lying about not being able to track my IP.

    It was very traumatic and very stressful and has left me with nightmares that I can’t seem to recall upon waking (a first for me with dreams of any kind), followed by feelings of nausea, anxiety, depression and a deep-seated hurt and anger that I can’t shake no matter how hard I try.

    Because of the anger, I have started to engauge in troll-like behaviour against these people on YT whenever I’m feeling worked up and vengeful which I know is wrong, foolish (the more you stir crap, the worse it stinks) and a waste of time but, these people showed me no remorse what so ever and even seemed to delight in what they’ed reduced me too and even after that it wasn’t enough for them. They seemed to want more.

    Reasearch on the subject has brought me to this article and I feel a little better now, after reading it and telling of my experience.

    What I went through has left me with a perminent emotional/psychological scar that I’m not sure that I can recover from.

    Nobody should have to go through this or anything even remotely like it.

    I’m going to try to find a way to peacefully, and hopefully strategically discourage this kind of behaviour on forums around the net by trying to set an example of what it means to be polite and respectful to others but, I’m going to have to do a lot more research first.

    Thank you so, much for this. God bless you.

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