ONLINE SAFETY HOW TO DEAL WITH INTERNET TROLLS

Updated: 05/07/2009 14:00
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How to call a person who provokes and pulling people into flaming discussion, spins conflicting information, argues repeatedly, asks questions in an insincere manner, insults and harasses online community members and ignores warnings from moderators? There's a name for this kind of person: Internet troll.

Internet is an amazing innovation that allows users to meet and communicate with people from all over the world. But this advantage can be a double-edged sword. You can interact with people you like and respect as well as with people who delights in causing emotional abuse to the participants of online discussions.

What is an Internet troll?
An Internet troll is a person who constructs an online identity and uses it to post controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or insulting messages in an online community. His aim is to abuse the members psychologically and provoke negative responses for his own amusement.

The widely accepted ethic of free speech can lead to tolerance of Internet trolling and make it difficult to maintain an open but friendly discussion area, especially for sensitive topics such as race or gender.

At first, the term “Internet troll” referred merely to people who were trolling for a response or opinion, in the same way as fishermen pull a fishing line behind a moving boat in hopes of coaxing a fish to take the bait.

Over time, trolling became more aggressive, and the term began to be used specifically to describe an irritating or hurtful person. In this meaning, an Internet troll could be compared to the nasty creatures from Scandinavian myths which are also called trolls.

Any bulletin board, newsgroup, forum, chat room, blog or other online community can attract trolls. However, they don’t have enough knowledge to attack specialized communities of nuclear physicists or otolaryngologists. Trolls prefer topics where they can get fast responses - sex, religion, gender, race, politics, etc.

Typically, a troll harasses an online community for a few weeks, posting contradictory opinions or statements in attempts to ‘push the buttons’ of members for his amusement. Internet trolls differ from users who just have another point of view by their attitudes and aggressiveness. Their aim is not to discuss a situation, but to frustrate the members of a discussion board.

Some trolls take their activity to a very bad place. Between attacking people, harassing, cyber-stalking, outing and hacking they can really ruin a person's day. Moreover, the negative emotions stirred up by Internet trolls leak over into other discussions.

Types of Internet trolls
There are several different kinds of trolls you can encounter on the Internet:

  • Newbies - trolls who pose as new members of Internet communities. They ask stupid questions to wind up another people and provoke negative reactions out of them. "How can I make a nice webpage?" Then the troll accuses other members of being unfair while playing the role of innocent victim.
  • Attackers - trolls who go straight for insults. They can be easy to spot because they start their messages with inflammatory language. For example, a troll visiting a message board of vegetarians can start a thread saying "Meat is tasty!" His main aim is to encourage vegetarians to lose their tempers and generate angry responses.
  • Sneaky trolls pose as people who are very interested in the topic before posting a message that covers controversial events. It often occurs in political forums - a troll with opposing views pretends to be sympathetic to other community members while simultaneously posting the message like "I like President Obama, but do you think that he is against open dialogues via the Internet?" The main aim of this tactics is to discourage members from supporting a specific political figure.
  • Colluding trolls are a group of people who work together to cause problems. One member might use manipulative tricks while the others pose as normal members of the online community. These trolls can defend the obvious troll and claim that he or she is really trying to contribute to the discussion. Another tactic is to cause an online war between two communities. Internet trolls do this by posting messages within one online community while posing as members of the other one and vice versa.
  • Griefers - trolls who log into online games and ruin the experience of other gamers. They can use various strategies to achieve this aim: insults, team killing and cheating. Griefers care about being a nuisance than playing the game.

Why do trolls do it? The very nature of the Internet is contributing to troll behavior. The World Wide Web gives people the opportunity to stay anonymous. To trolls, other Internet users are not quite human but are a kind of digital abstraction.

That means that a troll can easily forget (or ignore) the fact there is a real person with real feelings on the other end of the connection. It is like playing an amazing computer game. As a result, trolls feel no sorrow for the suffering they cause.

Some trolls want to promote their own ideas and thoughts by undermining an Internet community. The most obvious example of this is on a political forum. A person might use manipulative tactics to sabotage a legitimate discussion or to foment doubt within the community.

Many trolls say that they harass people just because it is funny. Imagine that you are sitting at your computer, completely bored and looking for something to amuse yourself with. You can check out your favorite porn websites (again?), or you can have a little fun by trolling chat rooms, message boards, and forums.

While some trolls find it amusing to create chaos online, others may not even realize that their behavior is offensive. Disrupting a stable newsgroup gives them the illusion of power. They think that they are strong when they frustrate the members of online community.

Internet trolls are seeking for attention. Any response to their messages is ‘recognition.’ Their ego grows directly in proportion to the response, no matter what exactly is written. Indeed, the greater the pain they inflict, the greater their ‘victory.’

Please do not feed the trolls
Unfortunately, trolls are a common occurrence on many online communities. The relative anonymity of the Internet allows them to flourish. There are several steps which can be taken to combat trolls:

  • The most effective way to discourage a troll is to ignore them. Trolls feed on attention so responding to their messages will just make them continue disruptive posts. Please, do not feed the trolls.
  • If you reply to a troll-post, you are breaking rule number one, so be careful. In many cases, the best way to interact is to ask questions. It can exploit the troll’s lack of knowledge on the posted topic.
  • Trolls can make all messages personal - you need to make them impersonal. Minimize any private response you make and maximize public response.
  • Let the world see how ridiculous trolls are. Every time you mock them, you gain, and they lose. • Be consistent - once you have identified their weaknesses, use the information against them in every response.
  • Remain calm and civil. If you lose your temper, the troll wins.

Some people, particularly those who have been online for several years, are not upset by trolls. They say that if it is not possible to avoid this occurrence, it should be considered as an inevitable disadvantage of using the Internet. As the saying goes, "You can't have a picnic without ants." You can follow the same rule, but remember – don’t talk with trolls!

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About the author

Nicole Berger has over seven years experience writing and editing for online and print media. She has held various editor and associate editor positions in some of forefront independent media publications. A consistently dependable team player, I thrive in a high-pressure environment, enjoy the challenges of meeting deadlines and managing a team, and am comfortable researching, writing and editing on a wide range of topics.
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