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Internet Trolls

Troll - Angler or Underbridge Dweller?

Troll - Angler or Underbridge Dweller?
original photo: Robyn Michael, My JouRNEy Photography

The term 'Internet troll', originated in a comparison with the angler who 'trolled' a trailing bait to catch a fish. But for non-anglers, the mental image of a troll is the slabby, thick, moss-laded creature of Scandinavian folk lore, further popularised by Terry Pratchett in the Discworld novels, and J. K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books. This sad figure of fun lived under bridges and startles the unwary, but is easily outsmarted by anyone with any intelligence, or a small dog.

The truth is somewhere between the two.

Habitat

The Internet doesn't have ancient slimey stone bridges, but trolls lurk around in quiet corners of the internet; while they can pop up almost anywhere, they thrive in distant relatively uninhabited corners.

Social Interaction

Trolls don't have friends. On the internet, because they interact with human beings, they can convince themselves that they are important, the centre of the universe - that, to them, is better than any friendship. Don't forget, the troll thinks he is always right, and therefore better than other folk. In real life, exactly the opposite applies. the troll has no friends and virtually no interaction with other people.

If he's a teen (many are), then he lives in his bedroom, trolling, playing computer games with 'friends' (who he doesn't know at all), and joining roleplay sites, where - of course - he is a hero, or a powerful villain, who is respected in an inverse ratio to the respect he feels for himself.

If he's an adult, then he has serious social issues. He may work, where people think he's a weirdo, and avoid him, he may sponge off his parents or be 'looking for work', which means he blames everyone for his problems. Except himself.

Most people who are out of work are nothing like the stereotype; most want to work, and gain their self respect through work and being part of the world; but the troll IS the stereotype whining scrounger, to whom the world owes a living.

Sex Life

Almost every troll is male; I don't know why this is.

The troll has few social skills, and most have never had a girlfriend, many never will.

There's a clear pattern among trolls; they are much more likely to ignore posts known to be from women. And when they do respond to women, they are much more likely to be brief, abusive, condescending and patronising.

This is almost certainly more due to fear than misogyny - they just don't know any women. Except Mom. But their attitude rather reduces their chances of reproducing, which is probably a good thing.

Mental Health

It would be easy to dismiss trolls as mentally ill. Easy and wrong. Most would not score significantly on mental illness assessments. But most are simply immature. Fair enough in a teenager, and they have a chance of growing out of it (though the longer they leave it, the harder they may find it to break the habit). But in adults, it's simply sad.

Once upon a time, they would have been called 'inadequate psychopaths'; attention seeking loners, forever feeling sorry for themselves, but too bone idle to lift themselves out of their self-selected mire. Some live in a fantasy world, and find it hard to concentrate on real life; they can't make eye contact, and will say just about anything, frequently contradicting a previous statement.

Intelligence

Most trolls are pretty thick. Let's face it, it doesn't take much intelligence to sus out that the troll life is a pretty pathetic one, and given the choice, even a gerbil would choose a more rewarding lifestyle.

Technique

You don't have to be highly intelligent to be an angler, though some would say that it's difficult to be a successful angler without intelligence. Trolls have all the basic skills, and some are successful, though this is often due to negligence by their victims.

Bait

Trolls lay a variety of baits. The real idiots go for single lines, such as religious bigotry in religious groups, overt misogynism in nurses' groups, and mind blowing subtly, such as "BILL GATES SUCKS" in microsoft support groups. Darwin tells us that if they get a response at that level, then why would they bother to expend what little brain power they have on a better post?

If basic bait fails, then the troll may use a variety of techniques, from sheer twaddle to mild insults, from a controversial view to completely irrelevant questions. Anything to get a response. The human flaw in a troll is a failure to tell the difference between "any response" and "approval". So insulting them merely encourages them. Invariably.

Playing the Fish

The skilled troll will then focus on a key responder; possibly the rudest, possibly not - but the one the troll thinks is most likley to keep responding. At this stage, other responders may be ignored. But if the original target drops out, then troll may turn to others. Few trolls bother to play more than one sucker at a time. They can always come back later.

Tickling the Trout

Experienced trolls do not respond at random. Once they have a sucker in their sites, they control the conversation. One post may elicit a long, detailed and perfectly reasonable response, but that is not what the troll wants. So they'll often complete ignore the main argument (which they started!), and focus on one careless detail - a date wrong, a misspelling for their next attack. And then the same trick again. And again, so long as the sucker responds.

Explosives

When all else fails, the troll will do just what lazy anglers do: they'll drop explosives in the water, clean up and go home. The failed troll can be very abusive indeed.

Weaknesses

Trolls have no life, no power; but by manipulating others, even if for just a couple of exchanges, they have control.

If they can catch an acknowledged expert, so much the better for them.

There's no need ever to get caught by a troll, though it is amusing to see Mensa members frothing at the mouth.

Exploit their weaknesses, as they'd exploit yours.


Attention Need

Trolls are nothing without attention, just a monster under the bed. While the first post may be camoflaged, it really doesn't take rocket science to identify an active troll. The best response from fellow members of the group is simply to ignore it. And the best response from moderators is to delete their membership; quickly and cleanly, with no negotiation or second chance. The group is more important than one idiot.

Socially Inept

Trolls have no self respect and low self esteem, and cannot cope with normal human interaction; start with a bit of flattery, and they may be stuck for a response. Even if they recover, they will not able to react appropriately, which should convince everyone of their trollism.

Trolls focus on their target, not the issue; additonally, most trolls can only pick on one person at a time. This leaves them wide open to paralysis when you talk about them, but not to them.

Published September 2008


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