What Is an Internet Forum 'Troll' and How Should I Deal With Them?

Child reading messages from internet trolls

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An internet 'troll' is an abusive or obnoxious person who purposely seeks to get a rise out of others, either online or in real life.

A troll will use shock value to promote arguments in conversations, commonly in Facebook threads and in public online discussions. Named after the wicked troll creatures of children's tales, an internet troll is someone who stirs up drama and abuses their online anonymity by purposely sowing hatred, bigotry, racism, misogyny, or just simple bickering between others. Trolls like a big audience, so they frequent blog sites, news sites, discussion forums, and game chat. Trolls thrive in environments where they are allowed to make public comments.

At the lighter end of the troll spectrum, trolls can be personal friends who like to goad and joke with their buddies online. In this benign case, 'stop trolling me' will mean 'stop hassling me, or I won't invite you to my birthday party'. At the harsher end of the troll spectrum, trolls are cruel and malicious users who want to set an online community on fire with hate and discord.

The Sad Truths of Internet Trolls

  • Serious trolls are immune to criticism and logical arguments. True trolls cannot be reasoned with, regardless of how sound your logical argument is.
  • Serious trolls do not feel remorse like you and me. They have sociopathic tendencies, and accordingly, they delight in other people having hurt feelings.
  • Trolls, in general, consider themselves separate from the social order.
  • Trolls do not abide by etiquette or the rules of common courtesy.
  • Trolls consider themselves above social responsibility.
  • Trolls gain energy by you insulting them.
  • Trolls gain energy when you get angry.
  • The only way to deal with an online troll is to ignore him or take away his ability to post online.

How Should I Deal With Them?

You cannot win with a troll. Publicly retaliating against them just fuels their childish need for attention. There are only 3 reliable ways to deal with trolls, all of which focus on removing their audience, removing their power, and depriving them of the attention they seek.

  • For a casual or emergent online troll: completely ignore the person's postings — While it is difficult for most users to let a troll have the last word, this tactic successfully takes the wind out of a casual troll's sails.
  • For repeating troll offenders report them to the moderators of the system. If enough people report the toll, this will often prompt the moderators to take action.
  • Have the moderators take away the troll's ability to post online — This will commonly mean that the troll is kicked from the system, or blocked by IP address. Even better is when the troll is allowed to continue posting, but unbeknownst to him: all of his postings are deleted from everyone else's view. This will lure the troll into wasting his efforts while still feeling proud of his childish antics. This moderator move is sometimes called 'muting' or 'bonzo-ing' the offender.


A troll named 'Nimrod Severn' trolls Facebook and spreads hateful messages on memorial pages.

Where Do You Find Them?

Internet trolls are sadly common. They can be found wherever online users interact with each other. Trolls will abuse others in news blogs, political discussion forums, hobbyist communities online, Facebook pages, torrent search engine conversations, and online game chats. Trolls have become very common on news sites. Many online news sources now avoid using open comment features because so many internet trolls will use this venue to post abusive comments as responses to news articles.

How Exactly Do They Abuse Others?

Internet trolls seek to be disruptive and hurtful by using any of the following techniques:

  • Trolls will post abusive and hurtful comments directed at a specific person (aka "flaming" another person).
  • Trolls will incite broad arguments and provoke angry responses by making controversial statements (e.g. racism, religious intolerance, bigoted or elitist views, misogyny, extreme political views).
  • Trolls will narcissistically dominate conversations, trying to make themselves the center of attention (e.g. nonstop comments about themselves and their accomplishments; repeated self-centered statements and bragging).
  • Trolls will start many off-topic threads, seeking to derail users from the focus of an online community.

Why Do People Enjoy Trolling?

It is a kind of power rush or an ego trip to be a troll. Being online is a place that is largely free of perceived consequences... an insecure person can get a sense of power online, without ever having to face someone directly. With the Internet being a world of fantasy for some, cowardly users can forge an alter ego for themselves, and act out their feelings of anger and inadequacy. It's sad and unfortunate that our advanced communications also brings out the darker side of many people.