What’s a Troll?

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What’s a Troll? a reader asks…

Can you tell me, what’s an internet troll? I heard this on social media.

Wikipedia defines a troll as “a person who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement.” Of course, this definition is wholly subjective, and what may look like trolling to one person may look to another like legitimate contributions to a discussion, like playing ‘devil’s advocate’.

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I sometimes get comments on my website from people who disagree with me and write nasty things. Sometimes I send such comments to the trashcan, and sometimes I allow them and respond, depending on the situation. I moderate every single comment on this website and try very hard to weed out the trolls, never giving them any satisfaction or even visibility. Many online journalists are either spending inordinate amounts of time moderating their reader comments, or in some cases they simply don’t allow comments. The sad fact is that people who might be very nice to you in person can be exceedingly nasty when they are anonymously posting on the internet.

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What trolls will often do is conflate different issues, cite fake information or made-up statistics, and often use invective and inject vitriol in their words. It’s usually easy to spot a troll online, and the best way to deal with them is to ignore them. Responding to trolls simply eggs them on, so don’t – please!

There are currently 674 reader comments on my articles, care to join in? Use the Leave a Comment form below/at the bottom of any existing comments. This is a good place to ask follow-on questions on this subject.

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