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Laura Phillips

The Three Billy Goats Gruff – Dealing with Trolls on the Internet

10th Dec 2012 Brand, Reputation Management 13 minutes to read

Internet TrollDo you remember the Three Billy Goats Gruff?

Depending on which story you read, these intrepid explorers risked their lives crossing a bridge which happened to house a rather hungry troll. You can read the story here if you fancy, but the long and short of it is (spoiler alert) the troll gets owned by the largest billy goat, and the three brothers spend eternity chomping on sweet, green grass.

Sadly, in reality we’re not allowed to deal with trolls by throwing them from bridges into fast moving water (no matter how tempting that may be), but there are steps you can take to deal with these unpalatable characters. In this post we’ll explain what constitutes trolling, what does not, the types of troll you may encounter, and ideas of how to deal with them should you be unfortunate enough to get ‘trolled’ yourself.

What Is a Troll?

What you define as a troll is to some extent dependent on your personal views of freedom of speech and what formulates an acceptable response to anything posted on the internet. Wikipedia defines a troll as “…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.”

Essentially I would describe internet trolls as internet users who set out to invoke varying degrees of negative emotional reactions in others, through the most convenient digital platform available, while hiding behind a world wide web-wall of anonymity.

What is NOT a Troll?

Someone who disagrees with you…
Someone simply disagreeing with you does not constitute trolling. Anyone posting in an online community runs a high risk of receiving conflicting comments and counter arguments. If the subject is likely to provoke an emotional response you can almost guarantee it. But this is the art of discussion and debate. In most cases the ideal outcome is to discuss, learn, and grow from hearing the views, experiences, and opinions of others. Sadly we are human and the result is often not even close to this ideal. If somebody disagrees with you, or questions you in a sensible and respectful manner, they are not a troll.

Someone you don’t want to read your post…
If a commenter is not part of your target audience (or is indeed the complete opposite), this does not make them a troll. If someone you don’t like leaves a post, you cannot immediately say they have trolled you – dependent on the content of the post they leave. It may be a double edged sword, but the freedom of speech afforded to the masses through the internet means people you don’t like have the right to post their views too. Unless you moderate comments (which in some communities can be necessary) then anyone and everyone can add their two cents to your blog or other community platform.

If you’re unsure…
Then they’re probably are not a troll. If they are, they’re a really bad one and you shouldn’t worry about them.

Why Do People Troll?

I have no idea.

The Different Species of Troll

There are many, many different types of troll, the most common of which I will attempt to distinguish using my own names for them…

The Your Mum Troll
The Your Mum Troll will post what may be deemed as juvenile replies of usually less than three syllables to anything and everything where they believe it will infuriate/exasperate/aggravate the author and other commenters. I used to know a Your Mum Troll, except they did it verbally, and it IS very infuriating I can tell you. This troll simply finds it funny to wind people up. They are not out to hurt anyone or cause deep emotional pain, they just find it…funny.

The Grammar Nazi Troll
This troll is infuriating, and often rude through their frustration at you having a single ‘a’ in the wrong place. You could be in the final stages of formulating a plan to end poverty across the world, and Grammar Nazi Troll will still hunt you down if you don’t spell check thoroughly, completely ignoring the point and promise of your content. The Grammar Nazi Troll may be a bit OCD, or may just be bored.

The Angry Troll
This Angry Troll (commonly known as the Flamer, I believe) comes across as a bit of a loner, mad at the world and intent on causing grief and pain to people anywhere and everywhere they can. This breed of troll is not fussy; you might find him in any internet community. He doesn’t troll on the basis that your view angers him, or your actions are offensive. He could be lurking in the dark corners of any forum, chat room or discussion board in the world, just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting opinion holders.

The Screamer Troll
This troll is a bit like Angry Troll on steroids, and will scream profanities and death at you IN CAPITALS for so much as liking a kitten when they like puppies. I think this type of troll may have issues with anger management outside of the internet world. Screamer Troll is also prone to using bold, oversized fonts, and excessive punctuation marks. Screamer Troll may seem a bit scary.

The Spoiler Troll
This troll spends their free time looking for ways to lower the entertainment value of that film you just spent £35 on for your new Blu-Ray, or trying to make sure you hear the sports results before you see the re-run of the race/match/game. The Spoiler Troll looks for those of you screaming ‘don’t tell me, I haven’t seen it yet!’ and tries to ensure you find out everything you never wanted to know.

The Superman Troll
Whatever you have done, Superman Troll has done it better. Wherever you have been, Superman Troll was there before you, stayed longer, and saw more. Whatever skills you may think you possess, Superman Trolls are greater and more powerful. You should cower in the shadow of Superman Troll’s awesomeness. Except you won’t. Because he probably hasn’t done that thing or been to that place, and no one likes a show-off anyway.

The Dark Troll
The Dark Troll has many sub-species, including Mourning Troll, Homophobic Troll, Sexist Troll, Racist Troll, and many others. All of these types of troll share a common theme – they aim to inflict emotional pain and anguish on other users, often those who are already suffering. The Dark Troll can do untold damage to grieving families and emotionally compromised individuals, and their actions can have terrible consequences.

There are many other breeds of troll out there, including Narcissistic Troll (a close relative of Superman Troll), Religious Troll (who will lobby you with extreme religious points of view on completely unrelated subjects), Fishing Troll (who is just out for links through cheap shock tactics), and Emo Troll (whatever has happened to you, happened to them worse so you should be thankful and you will never understand how they feel).

Public Examples of Trolling

You can find examples of trolling all over the internet, and many have been highly publicised.

A recent example that springs to mind is that of the horde of Dark Trolls that stalked the singer Adele after she gave birth in October of this year. These callous bullies targeted the new mum mainly via Twitter from the minute the birth of her son was publicly announced.

According to this Daily Mail article users even went as far as to tweet: “Aw Adele gave birth to a baby. Is it fat and handicapped lol? Just murder it already lol” and in another instance “I’ll go see her in the UK and kill her” which was quickly followed up by another user re-tweeting and adding “And kill her baby.”

A like-minded troll went after Tom Daley after he narrowly missed out on a medal at the Olympics this summer. The young diver’s father died last year from cancer, and the troll jumped at the opportunity to remind him of this shortly after his performance. The Telegraph reported the arrest of this troll in late July after he tweeted Tom directly, saying “You let your dad down I hope you know that.”

But it is not only the rich and famous who are dogged by Dark Trolls, they could potentially target anyone. Often in the world of ‘ordinary’ people it is the sensitive and fragile who are targeted, the same way as a school bully goes for the smallest, weakest target.

A prolific troll by the name of Sean Duffy was jailed in 2011 under the Malicious Communications Act (1988) for ‘sending indecent or offensive communications’ to a number of pages on social networking sites; all pages memorialising teenagers who had died.

These included the Facebook memorial site of Charlotte Porter, a 17 year old who died of Deep Vein Thrombosis in 2010. He also targeted the memorial page of Natasha MacBryde, who committed suicide in February, Lauren Drew who died of a suspected epileptic seizure, murdered teenager Jordan Cooper, and car crash victim Hayley Bates.

He had never met of these individuals, or their families, and had no pre-defined issue with them. Yet he posted a series of malicious messages to the sites targeting their family and friends with the single aim of causing extreme distress.

How Should You Deal With Trolls?

That depends on a lot of factors including which type of troll you have, how many monkeys you actually give about being trolled in the first place, and what the law is like at the time of your trolling.

Do you give a monkey’s?
First things first…do you really care? If someone you have never met starts writing expletives on your post in capitals, picking up on grammatical errors, pushing a completely off subject topic, showing off, or writing juvenile insults…what of it? Are you likely to lose sleep over it?

Do NOT engage!
In most cases the best thing you can do with a troll is ignore them.
This is especially good practice when dealing with Superman Troll. As the Kryptonite of your nonchalance drains away Superman Troll’s powers, his interest in your blog or post should shrivel up and die like weed in winter.

The Angry Troll may use offensive language, threaten you with violence, wish death upon you; but they would probably find they are indifferent to your views and opinions if they really sat down and thought about it. The Angry Troll is liable to calm himself and find temporary peace (or boredom) when swathed in the sound of silence, so give it to him.

The Your Mum Troll will probably be oblivious to your lack of engagement and just keep typing away, well, until he finds a more interesting target; then lollop off after them like an over-excited spaniel. However if you engage him and catch his attention, his spaniel-like behaviour will really kick in, and you’ll have a friend for life.

With any breed or sub-species of troll DO NOT engage or try to reason with them. This is the kiss of death; give them what they want and they’re liable to stick to you like glue. The internet-spawned saying ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’ is a good one to live by. NB: Deleting their comment IS engaging them.

What if I suspect a troll?
If you’ve been lured in by a higher quality troll who starts off by imitating a nice, normal internet user then starts turn all bridge-dwelling on you later, cut contact to an absolute minimum. If you suspect the person is actually a troll, your reduced communication is likely to bring out their true colours pretty quickly.

Kill them with kindness…
Trolls are used to being insulted; they seem to thrive on it. If you have already engaged someone who turns out to be troll, you may want to experiment with being overly nice to them; they won’t know what to do with that! (They’ll probably just keep trolling but you’ve lost nothing and it might be fun to try!)

Give yourself the means to deal with them.
Ask for verification details such as an email address, and create a list of blocked IPs for repeat offenders. Make it easy for other users to report trolls, and create a good back end structure for moderators to make each other aware of and discuss any trolls you may suffer. Keep your rulebook updated; make sure trolling behaviour is covered from every angle. Don’t automatically ban your trolls; while they are on your site you have an element of control over them. Once they start trolling from outside of your site you lose that control.

Help your users to help you!
As well as making reporting easy, a strong community where your users all feel part of something together is a great defence against trolls and other bad behaviours. If they won’t tolerate trolls or respond to them, you are less likely to have a problem. Write a page on how to deal with trolls, showing your users the best way to deal with trolls. This way they will do the work for you and moderate the site without you having to do anything. Prevention is better than cure and all that.

Dealing with Dark Trolls…
These guys are the even murkier side of an already very murky hobby. If you see a Dark Troll operating anywhere online, report them immediately. These are the faceless bullies of the internet, often intent on causing distress, fear, and pain to their target. You can report to a moderator, site owner, site operator, or speak to a cyber-bullying charity such as CyberSmile. Trolling and cyber-bullying is not always the same thing; however Dark Trolls are bullies, and should be treated as such.

Cyber Bullying & Trolls

According to CyberSmile 1 in 3 children in the UK have suffered cyber-bullying and threats, and the problem appears to be prevalent in adulthood too, affecting the work and personal relationships of internet users across the UK and beyond.

The Law and Trolls

This is a relatively new area for law to deal with, specifically for the internet, and it’s quite a tricky one. At present the operator of a site is responsible for all content on their site, including the content spewed by trolls. This, of course, can be a bit silly. It means, for example, that if the troll were to say something disparaging on a forum about a celebrity, the celebrity could sue the site for that content. The person who wrote it goes unscathed and remains anonymous to troll another day.

New laws being considered include a Defamation Bill, through which the celebrity in the example about would be allowed to request the name of the individual who posted the defamatory comment from the website owner. This way the celebrity can take the troll themselves to court, and the website owner can breathe a sigh of relief.

In June Facebook was taken to court by a woman who had been abused via the site after supporting an X Factor contestant (help us all, but apparently that was reason enough to publicly accuse her of being a paedophile and drug user in this instance). Facebook willingly gave up the IP addresses of those who had accused Nicola Brookes so that she could prosecute them directly.

This of course opens up privacy issues, and the definition of what actually would constitute defamatory behaviour is hazy at best. I think it’s safe to say that if an individual’s details are requested then most companies will be inclined to hand them over rather than face a law suit themselves. So where is the line between lawful and unlawful expression of opinion and freedom of speech?

Image Credits: Cyber Bully and Laptop Troll images courtesy of BigStock Photo

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