Remember the good old days when the word troll brought only the image of a half-nude, gem-bellied, triangle-haired, wrinkle-faced collectible?
Or a lovable ginger creature in Central Park? Or even a slobbering, big-headed brute with a club?
Those days are long gone; now, association with the word is far worse than any mythical creatures of olden: the Internet has created a new type of monster. Here are 8 things to know about trolls.
1. Internet trolls have been around since 1992
The term Internet “troll,” defined as “One(s) who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument” by Urban Dictionary, came into use in 1992, according to Know Your Meme.
Google Trends shows the term first became widely searched in February, 2004. It’s lingered steadily in search, forums and comment threads ever since.
2. The image called “trollface” originated from Deviantart in 2008, as a portrayal of the face trolls make whilst being mischievous.
The face has been repurposed since then as a troll-marker in pictures, illustrations, and gifs.
3. There are many types of trolling… perhaps too many
Online trolls come in all shapes and sizes, as does the online activity they engage in. Here are the different types:
- Griefing: Intentionally distressing players in online games.
- Flaming: A more hostile and profanity-ridden type of trolling.
- Raiding: Teaming up with other trolls for maximum bother.
- Shock trolling: Tricking victims into viewing disturbing content.
- Bait-and-switching: Falsely labeling hyperlinks that lead to undesirable content; misleading readers into thinking one thing then switching the story into, for example, the theme song for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
- Concern trolling: Initiating false debate by expressing the exact opposite opinion of victim.
- Advice trolling: Offering dubious or malicious advice to gullible web users.
4. A successful online troll is a master of disguise.
The earliest research on trolling, written by media scholar Judith Donath in 1999, described trolling as a game of deception which only one player, the troll, consents to. Their purpose is to pass as a legitimate commenter, while still inspiring outrage.
Why the disguise? Online identity, composed of information rather than matter, is an attractive and fluid state of being that motivates physical separation, deception, and escapism.
5. Online trolls have been found to fall under the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits, and may be Internet sadists.
A 2014 Psychology paper by University of Manatoba’s Erin Buckels and two colleagues found a strong correlation between self-identified trolls and these four traits:
- Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others)
- Narcissism (egotism and self-obsession)
- Psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy)
- Sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others)
Direct sadism was only displayed prominently by trolling behavior, as opposed to regular debating and chatting, leading researchers to believe that Internet trolls are the online manifestation of modern sadists.
6. By this logic, an online troll is likely a troll in real life, too — just less obnoxious.
Personality traits might be enhanced by the conditions of the Internet, but they aren’t pants you can take off and put back on.
Buckels’ study implies some people with this traits are directing their sadistic and psychopathic behavior toward the Internet, because they’re less likely to adhere to social norms with reduced senses of identity.
Basically, when you see a troll, just be glad they’re bugging you and not engaging in IRL physical torture instead.
7. Some people think the term troll should just die already.
Because the terms troll and trolling are popular Internet nomenclature nowadays, some have grown weary of its use, like writer Damon Linker, who calls it intellectually lazy and unhelpful.
This may be a valid point when taking into account that by definition, anyone who acts provocatively on the web can be labelled as an online troll regardless of their intentions — and that dismissing anything inflammatory as trolling could stifle real conversation.
8. The only way to stop a troll is to starve it, counter-troll, or punish them with tech.
Even if the term were somehow obliterated, trolls would still exist. They always have, and always will – just look at this guy that built a bunch of fake animals just to mess with people in the early 1800’s.
The willingness of victims to be hurt and deceived by trolls makes them complicit, some say, and trolling will only stop when online users refuse to play into their games. In short: identify the troll, don’t feed it, and if you’re clever enough, you may even counter-troll the troll and get even.
There’s also some anti-troll technology solutions:
- StupidFilter: a software that claims to recognize and filter stupidity in a comment right as it’s posted
- Audio Preview: a tool that makes commenters have to read their own comment out loud before posting
- Disenvoweling: code that sucks the vowels out of targeted posts, making them hard to read and less likely to be taken seriously
- Karma: letting the community or moderators decide by downvoting or flagging the trolls’ posts, Reddit-style