When is an internet troll not a troll? Here I outline why some of the most common scenarios for calling people a troll are simply wrong.

When Is A Troll No Longer A Troll?

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When is an internet troll not a troll? Here I outline why some of the most common scenarios for calling people a troll are simply wrong.

After being blocked by someone for criticising a concept that they had openly tweeted about, I asked myself the question “Am I a troll?”  I quickly answered that I was not.  She asked why I was trawling her timeline when I didn’t even follow her, and I was told to get a life.  The implication being that I had deliberately stalked the Twittersphere for key words that I could then attack her, a poor defenceless victim, and that I should in fact make better use of my time.  The truth is that I didn’t follow her, but someone who I did follow retweeted her onto my timeline.  As it was on my timeline, and it was a topic that I am quite passionate about, I felt inclined to comment on her point of view.  The fact that my comment was contrary to her own is what really irked her.  I wasn’t rude, I didn’t repeatedly harass her, I didn’t encourage others to do so.  I merely pointed out, with reasoned argument, why her outlook was flawed.  What I was hoping for, was a balanced debate where I could possibly have learned something too.  Instead she told me to get a life, stop stalking her (fine, I’m paraphrasing) and then she blocked me.

A friend of mine (OurRachBlogs) has quite recently become a bit of a celebrity on Twitter with her battle with Karen Danczuk.  Needless to say, Karen’s hypocrisy of calling Rach a ‘woman hater’ because of a perfectly innocent comment suggesting that her favourite bit of a hotel review had been the grammatical error of the author which completely contradicted their standpoint.  Being called a woman hater by KD is akin to being called a racist by a member of the KKK.  KD has repeatedly tweeted her followers to gang up and verbally abuse female owned accounts.  She consistently body shames other women and is derogatory to people she considers ‘ugly’ in appearance.  Her account was even suspended by Twitter for breaching its harassment policy.  Yet she had the audacity to throw trolling allegations at Rach, subsequently blocking her.

Rach then became the victim of a more sinister approach on Twitter.  A simple criticism of the Celebrity Big Brother line up led to a fan issuing death threats against her.  Her account of the incident is here.  Rach’s post was retweeted by a TV personality, and KD’s response was to point out the irony of a person that she had blocked for trolling activity, asking for a blog post on the dangers of trolling to be retweeted.  So I asked myself again, what exactly is a troll?

A Troll – Someone who leaves an intentionally annoying message on the internet, in order to get attention or cause trouble; a message that someone leaves on the internet that is intended to annoy people. The Cambridge English Dictionary.

A Troll – Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it’s the internet and, hey, you can. Urban Dictionary Highest Rated Definition.

A Troll – Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.  Wikipedia

So from these definitions, which one do you think most accurately describes your interpretation of an internet troll?  While some articles have gone as far as describing the 10 most frequently experienced type of troll, I will describe my interpretation of different internet users:

A troll.  A troll is an internet user that deliberately, and persistently, targets an individual or group in order to cause as much distress or anguish as possible.  This means repeated harassment of the target with no other intention than to ridicule or demean them.  This seems at odds with the majority of definitions that I have seen, as they elude to the notion that a single tweet that is designed to achieve the same aim or effect can be classified as being sent by a troll.

Not a troll.  Someone who simply opens a debate using logic, reason, or facts to call into question someone else’s point of view.  This is the very nature of social media.  If you pose something publicly, you may need to argue for or against it.  People will naturally question your thinking in order to understand why you believe what you believe.  Questioning your belief isn’t trolling, if you only want to surround yourself with sycophantic ‘yes men’ then the internet isn’t for you.  Be prepared to argue for what you believe in with cognitive reason.

Not a troll.  An activist who ties you up in conversation in order to prevent you from spreading your rhetoric isn’t trolling.  It’s activism.  We don’t call people who protest peacefully in ‘real life’ trolls, so why should they be so online.  Provided the methods they use to wrap you up in verbose numberwang isn’t causing distress, anguish, or harm, and they are not inciting others to deliberately harass another person, then they are just exercising their right to democratic protest, simply online.

Not a troll.  Now this one contradicts the widely held definitions of a troll, but someone who posts a single tweet, status, or photo that is deeply offensive, hurtful, or illegal, are just defined by whatever the nature of their post is.  This may be as simple as labelling them a c**t, racist, bully, etc but they’re not trolls in my mind.  They may have posted whatever it is they posted in order to get a reaction, but they are not in control of the subsequent actions taken by other people on that social media outlet.  The key thing for me is a deliberate and persistent attack on a group or individual.  The lack of persistence makes them nobs, not trolls.

Interestingly while I was thinking about this post, I was fortunate enough to be in conversation with a self styled troll who I feel simply fits into the activist role.  He refused to ridicule people’s appearance, focussing more on their hypocrisy and position of thought.  He openly admitted that some distress is required in order to get someone to readdress their thinking and forces them to review their premises in the light of new information.  I don’t find this approach to be trolling; in my world we call it red teaming.  A group of people offering alternative points of view in order to make sure we don’t fall victim to group think or any other biases.

I saw another tweet while considering what to put in this post and it sums up the precious nature of some internet users and I think the basis of why I was called a troll.  Some people are just too precious and being a troll is the new age way of sticking your tongue out and shouting “I know you are, I said you are, so what am I?”

This lady’s allegation of being a troll came about because a tweet concerning the death of a whale called Tilikum being tragic, received the following response, “How did you know he was suffering in captivity?  Did tilikum tell you this himself?”  Yes the second part of that question is flippant, yes it is rhetorical, but it is not designed to cause distress or anguish, it is merely calling into question the original premise that Tilikum was “suffering” in captivity.  Maybe a call for evidence rather than a notional belief based on conjecture.  The response?  To call her a troll and issue a photoshopped picture of a troll with the commenter’s face on it, solely in order to cause embarrassment and distress.  Seems slightly out of balance and somewhat hypocritical.

This post is slowly going nowhere; it’s merely designed to get you thinking about what an internet troll actually is.  Please don’t throw the word around unnecessarily, and please do not use it as a defensive tool because you have no basis behind your argument or opinion.  If someone comments on your post and they don’t follow you, consider that your post may have been retweeted onto their timeline, which gives them the opportunity – and dare I say it, right – to offer back an opinion of their own.   This YouTube video is actually quite useful.  Yes it doesn’t agree with everything I’ve said here, but I don’t expect it to.  There are some thought provoking and salient points that will add to your thought process, and can either confirm or deny your outlook.  Embrace them, embrace ideas that don’t match your own, don’t just surround yourself by like minded individuals, because you will just suffer from confirmation bias and you’ll be the poorer for it.  And finally, just because someone disagrees with you, it does not make them a troll.



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13 thoughts on “When Is A Troll No Longer A Troll?

  1. Great stuff Tony, totally agree.

    I sometimes leave comments that may ‘go against the grain’ of the article/tweet/blog I’ve just read but I don’t consider myself a troll.

    I also agree that the word is used far too often these days.

  2. It’s like in the old days when a conversation turned into an argument and sooner or later someone would bring Hitler into it.

    Nowadays, if you don’t like someone’s opinion you call them a troll or whatever will appeal to the emotion of the surrounding community in order to ‘win’ and shut them down.

    I’ve seen extreme feminists attack a man by calling him a misogynist because he said that saying ‘ALL men are sex offenders just waiting to be caught’ is offensive. They then reported him for sexist abuse.

    I’ve seen a mental health campaigner report a friend of mine for offensive language because he said something was crazy in a totally unrelated manner regarding a self wiping toilet.

    In all of these cases and the ones you mentioned above, the person crying wolf and screaming troll is the actual troll, but once they are confronted rationally or don’t get the reaction they are wanting, they can’t handle it and throw out the strongest accusation they can think of in order to ellicit sympathy, deflect attention and kill the debate I.e. ‘win’.

  3. Great post as always my dear. I think as with everything else these days, the word troll gets bandied around out of context. Also to shut people down when they openly voice a difference in opinion. The Urban Dictionary definition is probably the best I’d say, as it gets straight to the point…

  4. Fab post and I’d be most inclined to go with the urban dictionary definition of a prick! I agree it’s not hurling one word of abuse at someone but the repeated, vicious attack on someone like what Rach encountered all over a bloody shit TV show lineup!!

    1. Very welcome. I love this subject. Out of curiosity, which of three definitions did you prefer: Cambridge, Urban, Wiki?

  5. I agree with virtually everything you have put here, but would ask the question, is a person who regularly trawls the internet for tweets/posts etc and drops a single inflamatory comment aimed at causing upset or inciting other people to respond in a certain way a troll or just an a-hole? (I’m not actually sure myself)

    1. For me, just an asshole. My definition is persistent. They would need to repeatedly harass someone to be a troll. A single throw away tweet is not trolling (even if that single tweet gets retweeted a thousand times, it is out of the control of the original poster what happens) If however, that person encourages others then they are guilty of breaching Twitter’s harassment policy.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, let me know what you think