What is the definition of a troll?
In my previous post The ultimate guide to troll control, I provided various infographics to show you how to recognise a troll and what you can do about them.
But I soon realised there was a gap. I hadn't actually given you a proper definition of a troll.
And during my research I also realised there were two camps: people affected by trolls and the actual trolls themselves.
Can a non-troll give a good definition of a troll?
Most of the posts flinging around the web are by people who aren't trolls.
Some experts may have scientifically assessed the situation, and fill their posts with various medical scenarios of what afflicts a troll.
Other people, who may have been persecuted by a troll, have their own theories. They cannot, of course, get inside the mind of a troll. All they can do is try and adjust their way of thinking, which is good, kind, pure and positive, to what they think is a troll's point of view: nasty, malicious, troubled and negative.
But doesn't this make these methods flawed from the start?
The infographic below provides a snapshot of what I gleaned from a Facebook commenting thread about what the definition of a troll is from their perceived psychological makeup:
Are trolls effectively online bullies?
Anyone who is nasty on the net is immediately termed a troll. Someone who writes horrible things which don't conform to the acceptable and kind way of communicating via comments is trolling.
I almost wrote: "thankfully there aren't too many horrible people on the Internet", but I stopped myself just in time. We all have the potential to troll or become a troll.
People aren't born as a troll. They become that way. Circumstances in their life, which is defined by how life is today, the expectations and perceptions people have, contribute towards their decision to start trolling.
It may have originated from a terrible childhood, a previous affliction in an earlier life, even a recent situation which could not be resolved. Life is never fair. We see so many examples of 'perfection' on social media, since people tend to post their successes, happy holidays, delightful children, etc, and this can be torture to someone who doesn't have this good fortune.
Difficulties in offline expression
A common definition of a troll is someone who is a misfit. A geeky, sweaty, spotty teenager sitting in his bedroom hunched over his laptop in the small wee hours.
But is this true? (Well, the small wee hours is most likely to be true!)
As I said earlier, anyone could become a troll. Everybody who is sufficiently technologically minded to socially comment online has the potential to troll. Especially if they are anonymous. There is a great comfort and confidence booster in being anonymous.
Another definition of a troll is someone who finds it difficult to communicate in the everyday world. Hey, not all of us are extroverts! Are you going to tar all introverts with the same brush as potential trolls? This seems a little unfair.
Certainly there are some people who find it much easier to communicate via the written word than vocally. I am one of those. But, hopefully, this doesn't determine me immediately as a troll (though I was once called a provocative troll in Quora!).
Hiding behind a computer keyboard does allow greater freedom of expression. You have more time to frame your point of view, and you aren't immediately put on the spot, with everybody glaring at you expecting a response. This anonymity allows you to play for time, or the confidence to immediately come up with a suitable answer.
And it is how you provide that answer which determines whether you are trolling or not.
Abandoned and neglected
Another definition of a troll is a loner, someone who thinks they have been wronged, or are undergoing some sort of hardship. These people are hidden away, bemoaning their misfortune, blaming the world, and causing this resentment to build up all out of proportion.
Perhaps this is the case. Not everybody's life is all happiness and light. If you go onto the web you get to see so many examples of what is. Some may not have the presence of mind to realise this is all smoke-screen and mirrors, a brave front to disguise what is really happening in real life.
But I think not all trolls come under this category, and this is why they principally troll. Sure, some may have had traumatic periods which have affected them, and this may cloud their judgement, but there are plenty of people who troll because it's fun and it gives them kicks.
They may or may not be seeking attention. Trolling isn't necessarily a cry for help. Trolls aren't always people who are invisible trying to get noticed by expressing in what they believe. There are plenty of online marketers who are extremely bad in their communication skills who are doing a good job at this already!
But people who don't troll, or have no intention of ever trolling, need to give themselves a reason for this vile behaviour which seems so alien to them.
A release valve?
There are some trolls who have an idealistic look on life. They are very much 'stuck in the mud', and probably are on the Autistic Syndrome register to anally consider their perfect world is the only way forward.
To them anything straying away from perfection is abominable. Other people's opinions rankle so much they have to express their disgust in vehement terms. And some really take this to heart.
Or are they really? Trolls are notorious for spreading trouble. They like to find chinks in people's armour. They're very good at sensing pride and admiration and like to tear these phenomena to shreds. It seems that anything positive should immediately be trashed as negatively as possible.
Many trolls troll because they are bored. They need to find some excitement in their otherwise humdrum lives. Finding others who are happy and content are perfect examples to destroy. They revel in taking these people down a peg or two.
Some say a definition of a troll is someone who is jealous. Maybe, because the way they attack certainly gives that impression. Successful celebrities tend to be troll targets, especially if they sense a lack of self-esteem or have an emotional trigger which can be homed in on.
You are taking your life into your hands if you use social media nowadays. Anything controversial, inadequate, ridiculous, abnormal or unusual can become food for a troll. If the subject manages to flip their switch, you know you're in for a hard time.
High, mighty and unknown
Many will say a definition of a troll is someone who likes to feel superior over others. This is because of the troll's assertive manner. They frame their outlandish statements in such a way to give the impression they know exactly what they're talking about.
Half the time they don't. If the person being trolled happens to be an expert, the troll will end up getting short shrift. One method to deflate a troll is to bombard them with the facts and figures they don't have to back up their argument. I've done this and it can be very effective.
The reason for the troll's confidence is to get the other person riled up. Their unrelenting persistence in contradicting and counteracting the subject will eventually cause upset and anger. This is exactly what the troll is trying to achieve.
And, of course, this is all possible through the troll's anonymity. If your victim doesn't know who you are, you can be as horrible as you like, knowing there will be little repercussion from these actions. It's very difficult to persecute someone who is fluid and without a proper identity.
As I mentioned before, there's a sense of security from being a faceless troublemaker out to cause havoc. This gives trolls a feeling of power, superiority if you like, having the upper hand. They are in a position to call the shots, they don't have a reputation to defend, and it is unlikely anyone will come back at them.
The more the victim hurls abuse at them, the more this delights the troll. They are winning. They are meeting their objectives. To see the other person losing their cool while they appear to sail through unscathed is like milk and honey to them.
How does a troll give a definition of a troll?
Now we're coming, in my eyes, to the exciting part of this post.
I was researching through Quora and I came across a question regarding the definition of a troll which was answered by a number of trolls. What extreme luck! It was incredibly interesting and a real eye-opener.
Of course the trolls didn't see anything wrong in what they were doing. To them their victims were asking for their abuse. Only a few said they felt any guilt afterwards, but that didn't last long.
And what is really terrible is that I began to see their point of view.
Here is an infographic outlining what they said:
There are a lot of idiots out there
And I'm not talking about the trolls! These 'idiots' are ordinary people who sprout any kind of rubbish, either for the sake of it, or because they are genuinely stupid.
I receive and see many ridiculous questions on Quora. The majority of them I delete without any thought. But just a few catch my attention for their absurdness and I often wonder how that person could even think of submitting such a question. Now I don't troll them (though I have been tempted!) as this is not who I am.
Not all of us are geniuses (far from it), but I wonder how much content is published without any thought, consideration or even any form of checking behind it. Once a troll gets wind of this, it is like a gourmet meal to them.
Many trolls admitted targeting people they think are gullible. People with extreme faiths, outlandish ideas, religiously following a concept or just not very bright are easy meat to a troll. All that is needed is to say a few controversial opposing thoughts and POW! the other person is suitably upset in the most gratifying way!
There are many unsuspecting unfortunates who can be taken for a sucker. To survive in the social world you need to be able to see the situation from all sides. Nobody's interpretation is that sacred. Even a troll can be seen as gullible if you play your cards right.
Hunting for defects
Trolls are continuously seeking out flaws in people's ideas or faults in arguments which they think need to be addressed. Once they mange to gain entry, opposition within the discussion will soon be blown all out of proportion.
They search for any gaps in their victim's defences. If you leave anything exposed, it will be gobbled up, spat out and displayed for all to see. Very little is safe from a troll once they get their teeth into it.
They prey on the unsuspecting, those who appear to be sure of themselves, whoever can be easily put down. Nothing is impenetrable; if there is a chink in the armour which suggests a weak point, a troll will expertly sniff this out.
All this activity is designed to undermine the other. Weaken them until they start to doubt themselves. Put outrageous ideas into their heads to confuse them. Only those who really secure can survive such an attack from a clever troll. This may be an enjoyable game for the troll, but for the victim it can be devastating.
Having a sure footing
A successful troll will always be one step ahead. They appear to be always ready with an answer, as if they have a selection to draw upon. Unfortunately this comes from practice and experience, which an expert troll will have striven to achieve.
There is delight in undermining another. Spreading confusion whilst having the upper hand. Asking questions the other cannot answer, or if they do so, will show their lack of knowledge or understanding. I admit I did this once on Twitter many years ago to a competitor. At the time I saw it as research, but now I realise how cruel I was being.
Even today I trolled a young digital marketer without realising it. (Bad girl, Alice!) He sent me the usual copy and paste job email asking for a guest posting opportunity. You know, the one without your name, the name of your blog, recognition of your blog's subject or even suggestions of posting ideas. I'm afraid I highlighted his mistake, gave him short shrift and sent him packing with a flea in his ear.
If a troll has managed to gain the high ground, it's time to admit defeat. Very rarely will you manage to destroy him without any casualties. You will need severe backup from a loyal army at your disposal if you attempt to take him on, and even then you cannot guarantee any success.
I have been called a provocative troll by a troll on Quora. I knew he was a troll because his answer was all about slagging me off without mentioning anything to do with the post in question. A lot of words with very little content, just maliciousness and undermining. I was most amused!
I don't think he was a very good troll. An expert troll would not have been so obvious. They would surreptitiously skirt around the subject whilst undermining everything which had been said. You would have had to read the comment several times to fully get its impact.
There are mainly two types of troll, grey hat and black hat. Grey hat trolls revel in distorting the subject through clever language. They aren't out to cause real damage, and prefer to have fun by dominating the situation as much as they can.
Black hat trolls, however, are mean and offensive. These are the ones that manipulate whatever you say, twist everything around to their point of view, and are sufficiently clever enough to never give up. They revel in destroying their victims, bringing them down and, in severe cases, suggesting what their victims should do to hurt themselves.
The more sadistic the troll, the more they enjoy the impact they are causing. Many are unaware or just don't care of the distress they cause. This may even delight them even more. These trolls have mental deficiencies which can make them highly dangerous.
Get noticed to get your point across
Trolling can be a lonely pursuit. One definition of a troll is the sad, lonely person who wants to pass the time in order to (occasionally) get their kicks. It must be desponding work trawling the web looking for likely victims. And when you find one – that's when the fun begins!
Being a troll, even though you are anonymous and faceless, is better than being an ordinary commenter. Suddenly you are noticed, and what you say comes to life. OK it may not get accepted, but you have made an impact. The author has seen it, and now you wait to see if they respond.
If you get the chance, your replies produce crazier assumptions which stand out above the rest. Never mind if this offends, you have revealed yourself in all your glory. Now it's up to the cleverness of your communication to break the barriers of moderation. You can start the discussion you crave which allows you to manipulate the subject to your own ends.
Here's when you can change how the others think. Correct their silly mistakes and show them an alternative way of thinking. Destroy their motives and steer the conversation around to your point of view. You have the stage, so now it's up to you to succeed upon it!
It's all a bit of fun anyway
Why does everybody take trolling so seriously? Some people get upset so easily. They are so precious of their ideas and concepts, it's pathetic really. Trolling is only a bit of a jolly, a means to while away the small wee hours, to practice commenting skills and allow the brain to respond quickly and effectively.
Not everybody agrees with how a grey troll thinks. For many these pursuits are unnecessary, destructive, negative and worthless. What do trolls gain by being so nasty? Why can't we all get on in this world? It would be such a nicer place if everybody was kind and positive.
Unfortunately trolls know exactly what buttons to push to get the reactions they crave. This process can become totally addictive, like endlessly pushing in quarters into a slot machine. Eventually you'll hit the jackpot and you can collect your reward.
It will only stop once they fail to reap the benefits they lust after, similar to spammers. Whilst there are returns, they will continue. There will have to be the most massive uprising, with everybody working together, to have any chance to eradicate trolls and trolling.
So what sets a troll trolling?
As I said earlier, anybody could become a troll. Even people who wouldn't consider themselves the definition of a troll may troll even without realising it!
Trolling is writing anything unpleasant on the web which upsets someone. It could be directed at an individual, or it could be said to the general public who take an adverse reaction to it.
I myself have admitted to trolling, though I didn't realise I was doing it at the time. Perhaps trolling, in its minor format (light grey trolling?), is more prevalent than people think. This could be quite a worrying state of affairs.
If we are going to have to put up with 50 shades of grey trolling, it may be necessary to find out why this happens – see the infographic below:
State of mind
There are plenty of times when we are a in bad mood. We could either take it out on a family member (most unfair), shout at yourself in the mirror (running the risk of the men in white coats lurking in the shadows) or vent our frustrations online.
The majority of people in a bad mood do the last option. Hopefully how they would do this is to express themselves in their blog (published or not) or post a statement in their social media profiles.
Usually this statement light heartedly points out your grievance to the wider world and expects similarly styled affirming responses from your followers. The process of highlighting your injustice is designed to defuse the situation, as the process of 'getting it off your chest' is stress-busting and therapeutic, and generally people know it's to make you feel better.
But when this frustration is vented anonymously, at length and in an environment which bears no relation to the problem, then it becomes trolling.
A troll is more likely to troll if they are in a bad mood. This may be mistaken for boredom or even being tired or hungry. A bad mood doesn't have to arise from a horrible event. It could merely be an uncomfortable state of mind, feeling a bit under the weather or generally out of sorts.
The adverse presence of mind to stimulate a spate of trolling could be triggered by the environment. A semi-dark and lonely bedroom? The small wee hours when nobody else is around? Sunday evening when you know you've got to work tomorrow morning?
These depressing situations can easily tip someone over the edge. You can't sleep, so you need to blame someone for this. You hate your job or your line manager, so someone else should suffer. Your personal relationships aren't going very well, so let's make another person's life more miserable than your own.
Deferring your sufferings elsewhere via trolling could be seen as therapeutically cleansing yourself. If trolling is done at unsociable times, you are unleashing your frustrations when you feel at your worst. The darkness of your surroundings heightens your mood, but trolling is like releasing that pressure valve, purging away those emotions that make you feel so bad.
By the next day, you've forgotten all about it. A troll will hardly ever stop to think of the repercussions they have caused. They feel better and that's what counts.
There will be plenty of people who will immediately offer a scientific condition or reason to define a troll and what they do. Sadism, Machiavellianism, even just being Autistic will prevent a troll from understanding that they have done.
You can use this either as an excuse or for condemnation. Whatever your response, these reactions are starting to become more prevalent in not just 'misfits', but ordinary people who let down their guard.
Following the others
The environment plays an important part in trolling. If someone finds themselves amidst a sea of negative comments, it would take a very strong personality to offer a positive alternative.
It is normal for people to follow the trend. There's safety in numbers, and if everybody seems to be doing it, then it must be OK. Some may understand what's going on, but for the uninitiated, this may seem like fun.
Trolls thrive in a negative space, either created by them or by others. There is this desire to join in being horrible if everybody else is. Collective followings seem exciting, a party-like atmosphere, and nobody likes anyone who tries to break away.
This may seem like the opposite of most commenting arenas. And it would be for 'nice' blogs or people who aren't blessed with a lot of followers. Not everybody is troll fodder (thank goodness). A troll venturing into this habitat would soon feel uncomfortable (especially if loyal supporters help police his efforts) and he would be more likely to be deleted anyway.
But a troll is in his element if he knows he has succeeded in this blog in the past, or he knows he has 'friends' waiting in the shadows for a 'strike'. Once a blog or platform is 'tainted', negativity will breed more negativity, resulting in a cascade of more bad behaviour.
Waiting for prompts
Generally we can say what we want on the web. However, freedom of speech does have its consequences. It does provide carte blanche opportunities for trolls and other undesirable people to steal the show and ruin everything with their despicable statements.
Many social platforms are unwittingly open to trolling. They think what they are saying is good, kind and desirable. But if their subject is a trigger to a troll, they will worm their way in and start causing havoc.
People who dare to express extreme points of view, belong to a particular society, be a member of a race, cult, celebrity, disability or some other 'unacceptable' format to a troll, are more likely to be trolled. If the troll doesn't like who you are and what you stand for, there will be trouble.
This seems so unfair. It makes people afraid to say what they want online. A 'good deed' could be crushed, a worthy organisation smothered, a popular personality destroyed. If a troll manages to excite hatred towards this individual or group, it would take extreme positive measures by the huge majority to eradicate the maliciousness caused.
Enjoying the chase
Trolls thoroughly enjoy retaliation. This is usually the purpose of their trolling, to initiate a response. If this results in anger and upset, they have won. It is most enjoyable to see the distress in their victim, especially if it combined with a meltdown. The victim comes off worse, and the troll can ride supreme.
It takes a clever and brave person to confront a troll. They have to be as quick-witted, street-wise and slick as the troll. They almost need the same tendencies, but this time for positivity, good and kindness. Almost like a poacher turned gamekeeper, the definition of a troll opposite.
But what really upsets a troll is running out of fuel. The other person has more facts and figures. They have evidence which quashes their argument. Their returns are continuously outwitting his. In this situation any troll worth his salt 'should' see sense and know when he's beaten.
What is your definition of a troll?
Would your definition of a troll include me? I have admitted to trolling in this post, mostly because I haven't realised what I've been doing. However, unlike a troll, at least eventually I realised and felt sufficiently guilty.
Is there anyone else out there who is willing to admit to a spot of trolling? Come on, you all can't be 'holier than thou'? Let me know (if you dare) in the comments below!
And if anyone is willing to share their opinion about their definition of a troll, the commenting area is the perfect medium to do this. We would love to hear from you, especially if you are a troll yourself. Why not get the best from the horse's mouth!