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15 truths about online trolls

Check out these 15 things you must know and understand about trolls.
By John Rampton |


As long as there have been online communities, beginning with bulletin board systems, there have been trolls. According to Whitney Phillips, a New York University lecturer, Usenet users first used “the word ‘troll’ to describe someone who deliberately disrupted online discussions in order to stir up controversy.”


Since then, Internet users have had to deal with trolls in a number of ways, in nearly every corner of the Internet. What have we learned from these experiences over the years? Here are 15 of these lessons.




1. There are many types of trolls.

If you’ve ever dealt with an online troll, and chances are you have, then you may have noticed there are many different types of trolls. For example, there are the trolls who just like to cause mischief online. However, there are the trolls who are hateful, correct grammar, or spam a forum/social media account. We can’t forget about the know-it-alls, the stalkers, and the ones who are just genuinely funny. Finally, there are trolls looking to make a quick buck, such as patent trolls.


The point here is that there are many different types of trolls. Knowing which kind of troll you are dealing with can help you plan your defense against them.


Related: Fighting trolls, spammers, and troublemakers online




2. They have “Dark Tetrad” personality traits.

According to a 2014 study entitled “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun” from psychologists Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Paulhus, “trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism,” which are a part of the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits. According to Time, “Sadism means delighting in the harm of others, psychopathy is an antisocial personality disorder, and Machiavellianism means a person’s tendency to be unemotional and deceitful.”


In a previous study, Buckels stated, "These people aren't necessarily serial killers or sexual deviants but they gain some emotional benefit in causing or simply observing others' suffering."



3. There are more trolls online than you think.

According to a recent study of 1,125 adults conducted by YouGov, “28% of Americans admitted (to) malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn’t know.” That means more than one-quarter of Americans could be classified as Internet trolls.


The survey also discovered that “(23%) admit to having maliciously argued over an opinion with a stranger, while 23% have maliciously argued over facts and 12% admit to making deliberately controversial statements.”




4. Not all trolls are really trolls.

Are you really dealing with a troll? Or, are you just being overly sensitive to someone who is either just mean or offering constructive criticism. This is something that you’ll have to decipher and learn to deal with when dealing with an online community. As Whitson Gordon notes on Lifehacker, "Being mean isn't the same as being a troll, and sometimes it's okay to give someone the benefit of the doubt before ignoring them altogether.”



5. You should focus your energy elsewhere.

While trolls can be detrimental for your brand and online community, you shouldn’t devote too much time in dealing with them. Instead, continue to offer the best product/service available and build a strong online community. Even if trolls come around and stir up trouble, they can never take away everything you’ve accomplished. If you have an army of loyal supporters, not only will your troll likely be ignored and will go away, your audience will support your brand no matter what.




6. Reserve special treatment for supporters.

Here’s some great advice from Tera Kristen, “Special treatment is reserved for the people who truly support you and share your vision.” Tera recalls the time she gave a troll a second chance after they were banned from posting on a Facebook page. The troll apologized and went right back to spamming the community. Instead of giving this individual special treatment, Tera should have been giving her supporters this type of extra attention.



Related: A rant, and some suggestions what to do, about patent trolls



7. Trolls can influence credibility.

Expect a fair of amount of bashing or debate from people whenever you discuss a controversial or unfamiliar topics. While some members of the online community can harm your credibility, that shouldn’t influence your standing in your industry.



8. Young adults are being harassed.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, “60% of Internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names.” Furthermore, “27% of Internet users have been called offensive names.” But, who exactly is being harassed? The study states the 18-29 age demographic experiences the highest level of online harassment. In fact, 65% have been called an offensive name, been purposefully embarrassed, physically threatened, stalked, or sexually harassed.


The study also found that young women experience severe forms of online harassment more than men, such as being stalked or sexually harassed.




9. Harassment occurs mainly on social networks and apps.

That same study from the Pew Research Center found “66% of Internet users who have experienced online harassment said their most recent incident occurred on a social networking site or app.” Other percentages of harassment on online environments include:


22% mentioned the comments section of a website.


16% said online gaming.

16% said in a personal email account.

10% mentioned a discussion site such as Reddit.

6% said on an online dating website or app.



10. The question of anonymity.

The Pew Research Center discovered that “92% of Internet users agreed the online environment allows people to be more critical of one another, compared with their offline experiences.” This question of anonymity is one of the biggest debates surrounding trolls. Are trolls so outspoken because they remain anonymous and do they have the right to remain so?  In fact, that’s why Anne Applebaum suggests on Slate “we may also be forced to end Internet anonymity, or at least to ensure that every online persona is linked back to a real person.”



11. The law is trying to catch up.

Danielle Keats Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland, states in the New York Times, “Hateful, offensive, and distasteful ideas enjoy constitutional protection.” While online perpetrators can be criminally investigated or sued, it takes significant resources for lawsuits to happen.




12. Not all online systems deal with trolls appropriately.

Unless you monitor your blog, social media accounts, etc., there may be no system in place to effectively deal with trolls. This becomes an issue for large platforms like Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, which are pretty solid at blocking trolls. Last year, Twitter experienced some much deserved backlash after failing to take any action on a number of cases where women were sexually harassed and threatened. That’s to say Twitter hasn’t handled situations in the past, it is just that not all reports were considered a violation of it’s abuse and harassment policy.



13. Do your diligence.

We’ve also learned over the years that one of the best ways to deal with trolls is having a system in place to prevent them from taking over your online community. While there are some precautions, such as posting guidelines or using anti-trolling software, you also need to do your due diligence. If you’re a blogger or author, then make sure that you know about copyright.



By doing your due diligence, you have an advantage over trolls since they won’t have evidence you infringed on their work.



14. Trolls are humans, too.

As I mentioned earlier, trolls may have “Dark Tetrad” personality traits, but you have to remember that they’re still human. You have to remember that we’re all human and can sometimes let our emotions take over. Heckling someone online isn’t the answer to making people feel better about themselves, but it does show that not all trolls are terrible all the time.




15. Trolls can be costly.

Whether it’s hiring moderators or purchasing software to block trolls, it takes money to defend yourself against online trolls. While these costs may not be that substantial, there are times when trolls can cost you or your business thousands of pesos.


Trolls are not likely to go away anytime soon. As long as we have an Internet where people can be anonymous, we will likely have to deal with trolls. Using the tactics above can help you stay focused on your goals instead of the trolls.


Related: Are online comment trolls actually 'psychopathic sadists'?



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This article also appeared on Minor edits have been done by the editor.

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