Troll (Internet)

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In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response[1] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[2]



File:Trolling for bluefish2.jpg
"Trolling for blue fish" lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1866.

The contemporary use of the term is alleged to have first appeared on the Internet in the late 1980s,[3] but the earliest known example is from 1991.[4] It is thought to be a truncation of the phrase trolling for suckers. That phrase is itself derived from the fishing technique of slowly dragging a lure or baited hook from a moving boat, waiting for fish to strike, a technique known as trolling.[5] The word also evokes the trolls portrayed in Scandinavian folklore and children's tales, as they are often creatures bent on mischief and wickedness. The verb "troll" originates from Old French "troller", a hunting term. The noun "troll", however, comes from the Old Norse word for a mythological monster.[6]

Early history

The most likely derivation of the word troll can be found in the phrase "trolling for newbies," popularized in the early 1990s in the Usenet group, alt.folklore.urban (AFU).[7][8] Commonly, what is meant is a relatively gentle inside joke by veteran users, presenting questions or topics that had been so overdone that only a new user would respond to them earnestly. For example, a veteran of the group might make a post on the common misconception that glass flows over time. Long-time readers would both recognize the poster's name and know that the topic had been done to death already, but new subscribers to the group would not realize, and would thus respond. These types of trolls served as a Shibboleth to identify group insiders. This definition of trolling, considerably narrower than the modern understanding of the term, was considered a positive contribution.[7][9] One of the most notorious AFU trollers, Snopes,[7] went on to create his eponymous urban folklore website.

By the late 1990s, alt.folklore.urban had such heavy traffic and participation that trolling of this sort was frowned upon. Others expanded the term to include the practice of playing a seriously misinformed or deluded user, even in newsgroups where one was not a regular; these were often attempts at humor rather than provocation. In such contexts, the noun troll usually referred to an act of trolling, rather than to the author.

In other languages

Most languages[specify] have adopted the English word "troll" to refer to Internet trolls.[citation needed] In Japanese, arashi (あらし, 荒らし) means "laying waste" and can also be used to refer to simple spamming[citation needed]. In Korean, nak-si (낚시) means "fishing", and is used to refer to Internet trolling attempts, as well as purposefully misleading post titles. A person who recognizes the troll after having responded (or, in case of a post title nak-si, having read the actual post) would often refer to himself as a caught fish. In Thai, the term "krean" (เกรียน) has been adopted to address internet trolls. The term literally refers to a closely cropped hairstyle worn by most school boys in Thailand, thus equating the emotional and egoistic immaturity of internet trolls to that of a school boy. The term "tob krean" (ตบเกรียน), or slapping a cropped head, refers to the act of posting intellectual replies to refute and make stupid the messages of internet trolls.

Published research on trolling

In academic literature, the practice was first documented by Judith Donath (1999), who used several anecdotal examples from various[vague] Usenet newsgroups in her discussion. Donath's paper outlines the ambiguity of identity in a disembodied "virtual community":

In the physical world there is an inherent unity to the self, for the body provides a compelling and convenient definition of identity. The norm is: one body, one identity ... The virtual world is different. It is composed of information rather than matter.[10]

Donath provides a concise overview of identity deception games which trade on the confusion between physical and epistemic community:

Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group's common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they — and the troll — understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll's enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group.

Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling — where the rate of deception is high — many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one's online reputation.[10]

Susan Herring et al. in "Searching for Safety Online: Managing 'Trolling' in a Feminist Forum" point out the difficulty inherent in monitoring trolling and maintaining freedom of speech in online communities: "harassment often arises in spaces known for their freedom, lack of censure, and experimental nature."[11] The broadly accepted ethic of free speech may lead to tolerance of trolling behavior, further complicating the members' efforts to maintain an open yet supportive discussion area, especially for sensitive topics such as race, gender, sexuality, etc.[11]

Concern troll

A concern troll is a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the user's sockpuppet claims to hold. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed "concerns". The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group.[12]

For example, in 2006 Tad Furtado, a top staffer for then-Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH), was caught posing as a "concerned" supporter of Bass's opponent, Democrat Paul Hodes, on several liberal New Hampshire blogs, using the pseudonyms "IndieNH" or "IndyNH." "IndyNH" expressed concern that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was unbeatable.[13]

Although the term "concern troll" originated in discussions of online behavior, it now sees increasing use to describe similar behaviors that take place offline.

For example, James Wolcott of Vanity Fair accused a conservative New York Daily News columnist of "concern troll" behavior in his efforts to downplay the Mark Foley scandal. Wolcott links what he calls concern trolls to Saul Alinsky's "Do-Nothings," giving a long quote from Alinsky on the Do-Nothing's method and effects:

These Do-Nothings profess a commitment to social change for ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity, and then abstain from and discourage all effective action for change. They are known by their brand, 'I agree with your ends but not your means.'[14]

In a more recent example, The Hill published an op-ed piece by Markos Moulitsas of the liberal blog Daily Kos titled "Dems: Ignore 'Concern Trolls'." Again, the concern trolls in question were not Internet participants; they were Republicans offering public advice and warnings to the Democrats. The author defines "concern trolling" as "offering a poisoned apple in the form of advice to political opponents that, if taken, would harm the recipient." [15]

Troll sites

While some webmasters and forum administrators consider trolls to be a scourge on their sites, some websites welcome them. For example, a New York Times article discussed troll activity at the /b/ board on 4chan and at Encyclopedia Dramatica, which it described as "an online compendium of troll humor and troll lore."[3] This site and others such as The Bad Webcomics Wiki are often used as a base to troll against sites that they can not normally post on. These trolls feed off of the reactions of their victims because 'their agenda is to take delight in causing trouble.'[16]


Application of the term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used as an ad hominem strategy to discredit an opposing position by attacking its proponent.

Often, calling someone a troll makes assumptions about a writer's motives. Regardless of the circumstances, controversial posts may attract a particularly strong response from those unfamiliar with the robust dialogue found in some online, rather than physical, communities. Experienced participants in online forums know that the most effective way to discourage a troll is usually to ignore him or her, because responding tends to encourage trolls to continue disruptive posts — hence the often-seen warning: "Please do not feed the trolls".

See also


  1. "Definition of: trolling". PCMAG.COM. Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc. 2009.,2542,t=trolling&i=53181,00.asp#. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  2. Indiana University: University Information Technology Services (2008-05-05). "What is a troll?". Indiana University Knowledge Base. The Trustees of Indiana University. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Schwartz, Mattathias (2008-08-03). "The Trolls Among Us". The New York Times: pp. MM24. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  4. Oxford English Dictionary Online s.v. TROLL n.(1) and TROLL v., both added in June 2006
  5. "troll". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2010. 
  6. Harper, Douglas. "troll". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Tepper, Michele (1997). "Usenet Communities and the Cultural Politics of Information". in Porter, David. Internet culture. New York, New York, United States: Routledge Inc. p. 48. ISBN 9780415916837. Retrieved 2009-03-24. "...the two most notorious trollers in AFU, Ted Frank and snopes, are also two of the most consistent posters of serious research." 
  8. Miller, Mark S. (1990-02-08). "FOADTAD". alt.flame. (Web link). Retrieved on 2009-06-02. "Just go die in your sleep you mindless flatulent troll."
  9. Zotti, Ed; et al. (2000-04-14). "What is a troll?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2009-03-24. "To be fair, not all trolls are slimeballs. On some message boards, veteran posters with a mischievous bent occasionally go 'newbie trolling.'" 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Donath, Judith S. (1999). "Identity and deception in the virtual community". in Smith, Marc A.; Kollock, Peter. Communities in Cyberspace (illustrated, reprint ed.). Routledge. pp. 29–59. ISBN 9780415191401. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Herring, Susan; Job-Sluder, Kirk; Scheckler, Rebecca; Barab, Sasha (2002). "Searching for Safety Online: Managing "Trolling" in a Feminist Forum". Center for Social Informatics - Indiana University. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  12. Cox, Ana Marie (2006-12-16). "Making Mischief on the Web". TIME.,9171,1570701,00.html. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  13. Saunders, Anne (2006-09-26). "House Aide Resigns Over Fake Blog Posts". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-03-25. 
  14. Wolcott, James (2006-10-06). "Political Pieties from a Post-Natal Drip". James Wolcott's Blog - Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Retrieved 2009-03-25. 
  15. Moulitsas, Markos (2008-01-09). "Dems: Ignore 'concern trolls'". Capitol Hill Publishing Corp. Retrieved 2009-03-25. 
  16. "How to be a Great Internet Troll". Fox Sports. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 

External links

Troll FAQs

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