Online trolling has been around for as long as the internet has existed. It has even become part of internet culture and for many has ended freedom of speech. What are the signs that you have been trolled and how to handle them?

Trolling is distinct from other forms of cyberbullying or harassment as it is normally not targeted towards a specific person and relies on other people paying attention and becoming provoked. How often do you notice a troll entering a discussion and posting a purposely inflammatory comment to provoke outrage or uproar from the online community?

Trolling has its roots in deliberately provoking angry or distressed reactions, but what we often call trolling today goes much further, causing very real damage to individual targets and our public freedom and democracy.

Since the word “trolling” was originally associated with online arguments and discord, vicious online abusers have been allowed to hide behind the image of a trickster troll. While even the earliest forms of trolling weren’t harmless, it has evolved into a weapon used by governments and political parties to influence the public, abuse and silence people as we have already explained in Understanding Russia’s Political Trolling Approach.

It’s often not easy to tell the difference between a troll and someone who just genuinely wants to argue about a topic. The EU versus Disinformation and the NATO Strategic Communications Centre launched an initiative on educating the public on how to identify trolls. The followings are some signs to help you spot a troll:

  • Off-topic remarks: Completely going off-topic from the subject at hand. This is done to annoy and disrupt other posters.
  • Refusal to acknowledge evidence: Even when presented with hard, cold facts, they ignore this and pretend like they never saw it.
  • Dismissive, condescending tone: An early indicator of a troll was that they would ask an angry responder, “Why you mad, bro?” This is a method done to provoke someone even more, as a way of dismissing their argument altogether.
  • Use of unrelated images or memes: They reply to others with memes, images, and gifs. This is especially true if done in response to a very long text post.
  • Seeming obliviousness: They seem oblivious that most people are in disagreement with them. Also, trolls rarely get mad or provoked.

Pro-Russian trolls, on the other hand, have a common technique which is to always steer comments toward other subjects. For example, if someone criticises the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the discussion is diverted to the United States policy in Iraq or the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization NATO, or to reverse the facts as in the following examples:

“The Western countries are fascist and the leaders of the Western countries are Nazis.”

“Russia has not broken international law by annexing Crimea.”

“Putin wants peace and negotiations but the President of Ukraine is a crazy militarist.”

HOW TO HANDLE A TROLL?

Trolls seek out emotional responses and find provocation amusing, so replying to them or attempting to debate them will only make them troll more. Seasoned internet users know that the best strategy is to ignore trolls, that is, to consciously refuse to be ‘neutralized’ by resisting the constant stream of innuendo and negative messages propagated by trolls. This is the educational function of anti-trolling campaigns. If a reaction is necessary, it should be as laconic and unemotional as possible to minimize the risk of ‘feeding the troll’ and engendering further provocations.

If a troll becomes spammy or begins to clog up a thread, you can also opt to report them to the site’s moderation team. Depending on the website, there’s a chance nothing happens, but you should do your part to actively dissuade them from trolling on that platform. If your report is successful, the troll may be temporarily suspended or their account might be banned entirely.

Photo credit: karen roach/Shutterstock.com


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