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Trolling, A discussion

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Trolling, How can we recognize it, How can we deal with it.


As a newcomer to GEI I have been pleasantly surprised by the absence of trolling on the forum, however as the forum grows and attracts new members, there is always the risk that at some point it may attract a species know commonly as the Internet troll.


I hope to start this discussion about the general behavior and tactics of trolls, so that we are better able to spot and deal with them should the problem arise. It is a shame to see many good forums suffer from trolling without having an effective policy of recognizing and dealing with the problem. Its also equally upsetting to see a poster be labeled a troll just because they have an alternate view on a subject or topic that they are discussing I am sure that if we combine our collective online forum experience we could come up with an effective method of identifying and dealing with the problem should it arise.


The general rule when dealing with trolls is to use the Internet troll protocol do not feed the trolls but this approach is difficult to adhere to as it can mean that uninformed opinions and blatant false statements can go unchallenged.


First of all I think that it is necessary to define trolling in a general way before getting into specifics so here is the most basic definition from the Wiki on the subject.

"An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and usually irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, with the intention of baiting other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion."




So what is meant by "controversial and usually irrelevant or off topic messages in an online community" could this be characterized as a contrariness in a forum with an established view of the world? An example would be on a Christian church forum, somebody arguing that god does not exist could be considered a troll, though I think it would depend more on the way the poster interacts rather than the opinion they hold. A poster could have a discussion about the existence or non existence of god respectfully without offending other posters and ridiculing their beliefs if they chose to discuss the subject using non-inflammatory language.


Perhaps with this distinction we can better define trolling as the way a posters chooses to interact with an online forum, are they deliberately trying to provoke a response or is the response they have provoked unintended possibly due to lack of familiarity with the forum or knowing how to express themselves in a controversial subject area?. If there isn't an intent to troll, is the effect of that persons posting style on the forum really any different from someone with specific intent to troll?


Should trolling be defined objectively or subjectively or is it a combination of both, could describing somebody as a troll be similar to how we define a weed or pest as something existing in an area where it is simply not wanted?


So a posters style of interaction could be given the label of trolling regardless of intent, we could perhaps judge whether something is trolling or not by the effects of an individuals posting style on an online community?


I think that it is more than possible that an individuals posting style can simulate malicious trolling without the individual actually realizing it.Though this may not always be due to intent perhaps it is due to an individuals communication skills or lack of.


There is another possibility that the posters ideology or world view /reality tunnel is being attempted in a online space where that ideology is completely contrarian to the accepted wisdom or the conventional truths in that online space. If a poster is making controversial challenging statements in a forum, or topic area then I would say that the onus is on the person challenging the forum/thread world view to use non-inflammatory language to attempt to get across their points as they run the risk of being perceived as a troll even though they are engaging with the discussion.


I feel that overriding the effect of someone who's posting style could be described as trollish regardless of intent, is the more important issue of whether or not they are actually engaging with the discussion. Are they actually taking the time to read and understand other posters points of view and seeing this interaction as an opportunity and a two way learning process where information and ideas are exchanged and thought about leading to a better understanding. Or are they simply ignoring any issues raised that question their own ideology/position and cherry picking individual points that support inflexible ideas about the issues to push an agenda or cause disruption.


Is this inflexibility on issue something that they intentionally project or can it be seen as a flaw in their interaction skills?


I have taken some comments from another forum which had suffered from the effects of trolls. The discussion they started gave me the idea to start this thread about the motivations and behaviors pattens of trolls, most of which I have plagiarized to construct this thread.



My own theory is that persistent trolls are the online equivalent of people who do not (or cannot) distinguish between positive attention (praise, approval) and negative attention (criticism, disapproval), but simply perceive attention = good. I think this is to do with early development/parenting: I suspect they've either come from large families where every child had to fight for parental attention; or one or other parent has been emotionally distant/disengaged (through depression, perhaps, or drug use) and our troll has learned that only the most extreme behavior is sufficient to win him any attention at all. For whatever reason, any attention is welcome, with the board becoming a parent-substitute in the troll's 'look at me' reenactment of old patterns.


The question then being, why do trolls repeatedly (and many have a history of the same modus operandi across successive message boards) feel the need to position themselves as 'lighteners-up' or 'straight-talkers' in the face of considerable opposition? What is it about these roles that appeals, particularly, to trolls? I suspect it relates, again, to early experiences of relating to one's peers and, as you suggest, putting an ego-protective gloss on what might otherwise be regarded as social failure. More positive to tell oneself 'people are too po-faced/pretentious to handle my edgy humour/no-bullshit approach' than 'people avoid me because I'm irritating'.




I would say that trolling is not limited to people with intent to troll, sometime a poster could make a trollish comment that is inflammatory without actually realizing it. There are probably a sizable percentage of people labeled as Internet trolls who have no idea that their method of interaction is coming across as trolling.




However, playing devil's advocate is not the same as trolling. As mentioned above, trolling is a metaphor taken from fishing, and one of the characteristic elements of it is that the attention received from whatever the troll is posting is more important than the relationship of what the troll is posting to the rest of the thread. You do also get what I tend to call "de facto trolls" - that is, people who are probably as eager as the next man to discuss the issues in the thread, but for some reason are unable to do so, or unable to do so in a way that does not derail the thread. This is often due to passionately-held beliefs about the topic, or about a different topic that they are sidetracked onto talking about within a thread unrelated to it, or simple difficulties with reading or writing. These are characterized often by being focused on certain specific areas, and on occasion to susceptibility to reasoning.




I think that a lot of stuff said about trolls on the first page is very on the nose. Impact plays a big part, of course, but I think attention is also a huge factor. A troll most definitely craves attention, be it positive or negative, and they'll almost always try to steer the conversation of the thread towards themselves instead of discussing the topic at hand.




So this was my point - some 'trolls' on some sites are simply users with divergent political positions who are shouted out of the space, but really the definition of trolls has always been people who go into spaces in order to cause arguments and wind people up and bring things to a shuddering halt rather than to talk about the subjects at all.




Blatant Trolling


So in summary I think some elements of deliberate trolling could be described as:

  • Attention seeking
  • Arguing the person rather than the point
  • Inability to stay on one topic
  • Defacto trolling/ limited communication skills
  • Steering to the conversation away from the subject and towards themselves and what they understand
  • Intent to troll
  • Not engaging with the discussion and points made, Cherry picking, Communicating by use of ambiguous statements.
  • Using offensive language and inflammatory comments
  • Negative proof, or repeated use of any fallacies
  • Deliberately attempting to 'bait' other posters with inflammatory posts




Arguing the person rather than the point, a trolls may attempt to swing the discussion away from the topic and make it personal by labeling other posters. Repeatedly falling back on self validating statements such as 'its my opinion'


Switching to different topics within the same thread when the discussion it not going their way and then diverting back to the old topic when the new topic becomes uncomfortable for them, In this way things are never fully discussed and the thread or topic goes round in circles, a bit like a game of 'wack a mole'


Lying and rewriting of past events, this is extremely damaging to forum and takes time for other posters to check back to see what was actually written by the troll, the troll will lie in the hope that people will not take the time to check what they actually said so taking advantage of our human inability to recall memories perfectly.


Setting oneself up as the interlocutor through which the world may be revealed, This position in a debate can be a very important one and if done correctly will add and guide the discussion however it is also open to abuse that can quickly become trolling if it is not done in an impartial way. This usually comes across as making it other posters job to convince the troll that their opinion is wrong, if the troll cannot be convinced then the troll believes that its opinion is correct. Like saying that my opinion is a valid one because I hold it, and until you can convince me that my opinion is invalid I remain in the right. If I cannot be made to understand why I am wrong then its your job to explain to me why I am wrong before I can accept that I am wrong. If I cannot understand or accept your explanation of why I am wrong I am therefore right. This can takes the form of the logical fallacy 'negative proof'




So, does anyone else have any theories or stories about trolling? have you trolled in the past? Have you ever been unfairly labeled a troll?


I seem to remember DrBubb spent time trying to warn people on Singing Pig about the dangers of the housing bubble, I am guessing that given the pro-BTL mindset on Singing Pig some members of that site may have unfairly interpreted DrBubb's educational efforts as trolling.

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So, does anyone else have any theories or stories about trolling? have you trolled in the past? Have you ever been unfairly labeled a troll?


I seem to remember DrBubb spent time trying to warn people on Singing Pig about the dangers of the housing bubble, I am guessing that given the pro-BTL mindset on Singing Pig some members of that site may have unfairly interpreted DrBubb's educational efforts as trolling.


If I criticise people for being one-eyed or specifically antiscientific, it is for a purpose.


It isn't to change their minds, but to be a voice of moderation.


There seem to be a few people on here that get caught up in the "end of the world is nigh", and while that's a view, it may not be a wholy evidence-based one.


The level of fervour on here sometimes reaches fever pitch, and that has the hallmarks of religion or faith-based investing rather than dispassionate rationalism.


I would like to think of rationalism combining the heretical outside mainstream which includes commentaries on the nature of money supply, convertability, the business cycle, along with prudence.


Someone for instance saying "the dollar is crashing" in regards a short term movement where it has just in fact strengthened in all currencies bar yen, and strengthened against gold and all other asset prices - it's not illuminating, it's not factually based, and it is a commentary that presupposes some view of reality.


Some people on here post links to real cranks and it is disappointing that people do not fact-check or research, relatively inexpensively with google, the credibility of their sources. Some people seem happy enough to grab a snippet if it supports their world view, even if the person speaking totally lacks credibility.


Is it trolling to provide critique and discussion? Surely the truth lies closer if people can be free to disagree, and even criticise the establishment.


It makes an ironic symmetry - if you engage in critical debate over the price of gold on here, you are an outsider and heretic and anti-establishment.



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WHY the general absence of TROLLING on GEI?



It is an interesting question. Trolling just seems boring somehow.


The people who come here are genuinely interested in debate, I think.

And they do little to "feed the trolls". So the trolls just do not bother, I suppose.


There are enough people here with strong views, that they tend to respect the views of others.

That helps too

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Trolling, How can we recognize it, How can we deal with it.


As a newcomer to GEI I have been pleasantly surprised by the absence of trolling on the forum,


Good points


But i note that you joined: 3-August 07 and are a "centurian" in site speak


Sooo you are hardly a newbie ?


Unless you have been having fun in the credit crunch over the last year and a bit that is :rolleyes:

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