Troll Definition

It's supposed to be troll in the sense of trawl. You just put out the bait and see who bites. IMO, it's not particularly vicious.
See for a portrait.... :-)
I think is the link you're looking for

I keep trying to insert the canonical definition of troll here, but folks keep changing it. It seems that someone has an interest in muddying these waters. Hmmmm. {damned trolls!}

Trolling is a type of fishing from a boat, where the bait (on a line) is dragged through the water in an area likely to contain the sought-after fish. The canonical internet troll is named because of the similarity to this fishing behavior - the troll is dragging the bait (argument) through the target area. The fact that trolls are also malignant faerie that live under bridges also plays into this name. [Trawling is net fishing by surrounding a school of fish with a large net - quite a dissimilar tactic]

Usage of the word is various. In some usage, a troll is a communication such as a usenet post, and a troller is the author of such communication. In media where communication isn't discrete, a troll is the creator of such communication.

A troll is deliberately crafted to provoke others with the intention of wasting their time and energy. A troll is a time thief. To troll is to steal from people. That is what makes trolling heinous.

Trolls can be identified by their disengagement from a conversation or argument. They do not believe what they say, but merely say it for effect.

Trolls are motivated by a desire for attention by people and can't or won't acquire it in a productive manner.

Someone may be insufferable, infuriating, fanatical, and an ignorant idiot to boot without being a troll.

Also note that a troll isn't necessarily insulting, snide, or even impolite. Only the crudest, most obvious, forms of trolling can be identified so easily.

If you find yourself patiently explaining, at length and in great detail, some obscure point to someone who isn't even being polite to you, then you are probably being trolled.

Baby drops its rattle. Mother picks it up and gives it back to the baby. Baby drops its rattle again... sometimes what is happening here is that the baby is learning about cause and effect and power. It has figured that it can make the mother do something: a trivial effort on its own part leads to a relatively large effort on the mother's. The baby no longer cares about the rattle for its own sake, only for the response dropping it provokes in the mother. This is the essence of troll behaviour.

Both sides often think the other is the baby.


If somebody was "addicted to negative attention", couldn't they achieve such by randomly deleting or changing content? How does a vandal's motivations differ from a troll's?

Vandals' motivations are destruction and recognition. Vandals will usually be quickly dismissed after being recognized. A troll doesn't seek either destruction or recognition. A troll seeks anonymity because he can't waste your time if you recognize what's happening. He can't get attention if he gets recognition.

I don't find that very clear. Further, people who have been labelled as "troll" multiple times have used real names.

Did the label stick?

What is the difference between a "troll" and a "stupid person"?

If stupidity is unwillingness to learn, that still leaves out the non-stupid malicious trollers. It also leaves out the stupid people who don't engage in trolling.

[EditHint: These definitions and objections overlap with definition lists already presented below. Some consolidation may be helpful.]

Noteworthy candidate definitions for Troll and their defects:

Someone who makes deliberately inflammatory remarks with the malicious aim of creating unconstructive argument.

Follows from definition above, but is less general.

Somebody who states their viewpoint over and over.

May follow from definition above, but isn't automatically a troll since it could merely be a very dominating personality.

Somebody looking to start an argument.

Follows from the FOLDOC definition. But isn't consistent with the consensus that trolling is bad since someone could be looking to start a productive argument.

One who deliberately seeks to denigrate, belittle, provoke, harass, or irritate. An instance of communication constructed to denigrate, belittle, provoke, harass or irritate.

Definitions by enumeration are notoriously bad, always being incomplete and overgeneral.

Person whose intention is (intentionally) not possible to conclude from their writings.

This is false as many trolls are very obvious to anyone wise about the subject. It could be rewritten to say:

Person who intends for their intention to not be conclusive from their writings.

The problem with it then is that it follows automatically from the definition above, but not vice versa. Besides, can't a person hide their intentions for other than trolling?

And, software engineering is a dark-grey art that often lacks anything conclusive.

Note: the sharp-eyed Wikizen may detect the sharp aroma of TopMind here; this is typical of the pseudo-trolling behavior top exhibits. Please disregard such attempts to soften what most professionals already acknowledge as hard science.

I still say software is mostly for people (human readers/writers), not machines, and is thus not really a "hard" science. However, we have plenty of existing topics on that already and I suggest linking here rather than continue that age-old HolyWar here. --top

Trolls are a species of urban fauna we have only just identified, I'm starting to think. Look at the growth of the definition below. The word "trawl" got conflated with "troll" and rightly, I'd say. The internet experience only clarifies that we find these attention-demanding creeps throughout modern life. At a place our Silicon Valley readers will know, the Pacific Athletic Club, next to Oracle here in "Silicon Valley," (Redwood Shores) a troll has invaded the steam room/sauna/hot tub complex in the men's locker room! He's an amazingly ugly person in late midlife, a nude Buddy Hackett with hairy shoulders. He's there all afternoon. Like the many trolls who have camped in listserv mailing lists and Yahoo message boards and my evening classes, he had spotted an ecological niche where there was a captive audience, one forced to hear him, and a some complex behavior norms which prevent his ejection. The first time I met him, he seemed near fainting, sitting, and I asked if he was all right? This prompted an long, long speech about how he was undergoing a regiment to "purify" himself following an illness during which he drank only vegetable juice then sweated it out through his system for hours at a time. He's in the room for hours daily! I did everything I could to disengage from the conversation but-- as the troll knows-- how far can you get in that little closed space? As people enter the tub, he meets their eyes and tries to prompt an exchange. Then he digs in and starts the speech. Speaking as a public university college professor, unless you can stop similar trolls from derailing evening classes, people stop coming. They rarely finish courses, and never graduate, just drift on for years and years, sucking up attention through these ruses. The internet is the greatest thing that has ever happened to them.

That sounds mostly a problem of being off-topic or not taking turns. If I don't want to talk about religion, but the guy on the street corner does, their main sin is being off-topic. But being off-topic is not necessarily the sole characteristic of a "troll". Otherwise, we would have a simple definition.

Behaviourism is dead

I have a problem with any definition based on internal motivation assumptions. Behavioral rules should reflect external behavior, not perceived motivations. I would suggest you identify the behavior (output) that you wish to correct. Ask yourself why you view them as "inflammatory" or "unconstructive". As the CivilizedDiscussionGuidelines [now see DialoguePractices] describe, don't focus on perceived internal goals of the author as a point of criticism. In my experience, this is the number one cause for flame-wars.

This neglects the fact that any and all communication is solely about people's internal states. Communication is meant to affect things like "beliefs" and "knowledge". And people engaging in communication always have goals regarding that communication. Even if it is harmful to discuss or criticize these goals (going meta in a communication), this can never negate their existence.

That's why we have both "manslaughter" and "murder" on the books.

Behaviourism is dead, damnit.

Various people have been upset that a definition refers to untestable internal states or process. Balderdash. Since I can form a definition that does, there can be a word that does. What the untestable nature of the word implies is that it cannot be used by an impartial observer. To call someone a troll is not a factual logical statement, it is rather a statement of one's beliefs about the other's internal states and processes. I think all the loose discussion at the top of this "definition" needs to go.

If it is indeed "untestable", then it is not a very useful term. Accusing somebody of non-angelic motivations is a sure-fire path to a nasty flamewar. I think we should focus on the *signs* that move people to conclude there are evil motivations behind content. There must be a pattern(s) to content that gets labelled as troll content. Lets identify such patterns. This will make identifying "troll" content a bit more objective and/or testable. True, in crime trials motivations are estimated, but this here hopefully does not involve life or property so that we don't have to make horrid accusations about a person's internal motivations and risk triggering flamewars. In other words, accusing one of faulty motivations should be a last resort. Crime trials are rarely pleasant for any party involved (except maybe lawyers). I see motivation guessing serving no useful purpose here, especially when done repeatedly.

Related: AccusationThatAssumesKnowledgeOfInternalMotives

Is it useful to judge intention / apply the troll label?

While it is understood that only the psychics among us will know what is in the mind of any given author, it is possible to derive to an acceptable approximation what kind of intent is at work, given sufficient material and interaction. Eventually, the WalksLikeaDuck rule will apply.

Well, then we should identify those individual duck-like behaviors and deal with them one-by-one rather than calling somebody the rather broad label of "troll" expecting them to know which behavior we are talking about and stop. It will more than likely be interpreted as a personal insult and start a FlameWar. It is analogous to the difference between pointing out a specific incorrect fact and to calling the author "ignorant".

You're saying one should never make a value judgment unless one can fully verify the offender's intention? What about every criminal's plea of innocence? I'm pointing out that, yes, trolling is a judgment of a person's intention. Sometimes, this is clear from the person's behavior. -- BrentNewhall

I remember once when somebody posted a message that appeared to be an ad for their consulting services in disguise. I was tempted to call them a "spammer". However, I realized that would possibly create a diplomatic meltdown. I thus said something like, "You know, just as a warning, somebody else might mistake this as spam for your company. I would suggest leaving off references to your services next time."

We can't nuke everybody that we don't like, so we must find ways to live with them. I have never seen name-calling fix sources of bad content or "fix" people who just bother me for some reason. I suggest either identify specific problems with their content, or just ignore them. When was the last time you ever saw somebody say, "Oh! You are right! I am bad and wrong. I guess I will go away and stop stating my opinions." If they truly wanted to do evil for evil's sake, they would vandalize content. In that case they graduate to WikiVandal, not a "troll" (if definable). If they are not a vandal, then their motives or intent is probably far more complicated than a mere desire to be annoying.

In keeping with the goal of detecting Troll-like behavior, a post from a Troll may:

It may also be a strong Troll indicator when a post: -- ChrisFay

Many of these border on "Flamer", not a troll (see below). I generally consider a troll as somebody perceived to be trying to start an argument about their favorite topic perhaps because they like that topic, not necessarily to call people outright names. In fact, calling somebody a troll is being a flamer yourself, because it is name calling.

As far as false information or repetition, see TrollPatternFixes. If they keep doing it, then point out what they keep doing and state that it bothers you because you have to fix it. Focus on what bothers you about the content, not about labelling motivations. I know this has been stated before, but Dammit, it is an important principle.

This doesn't work because it 'rewards' the negative behaviour with attention.

You don't know until you try it. If it results in new ideas being expressed, who cares whether it rewards or not? If it is not resulting in new ideas being expressed, then it probably is poor factoring or off-topic. If you want to get "tough", then enforce OnceAndOnlyOnce and keeping on topic.

"Provokes, attacks, wants to hurt" are not very useful for reasons described in FixContentNotMotivation.

Purported objective cases of trolls

A specific example which does not rely on guessing motivation is at RefactoringIsNotRelational. The page started with a comment on RefactoringImprovingTheDesignOfExistingCode:

I browsed through some of the examples in this book and was a bit bothered by some. The author seems to fall into the classic RW complaint of ReinventingTheDatabaseInApplication. One example physically split accounting transactions into separate "finished" and "unfinished" collections, moving records/objects from one side to the other as processed. IMO, it is better to set a status code attribute/column of some sort so that you can view all transactions by other criteria besides finished status without having to "glue" or link both collections back together. It is IS-A partitioning where it should be HAS-A. (Sorry, I don't have a page number.)"

It became clear that there is no such example in the book, and there was nothing concrete to discuss. The remainder of the page delves briefly into various possible but vague interpretations of the original question, but then veers into a straightforward (and not particularly informative) exchange attempting to compare relational and object-oriented approaches.

It is not necessary to ascribe motivation to the original questioner to realize that the effect of the critical comment about the book did not readily lead to any new understanding of refactoring. From that realization it is possible to see what kinds of things can fall under the definition of trolling even without knowing intent.

On the contrary, it is necessary to ascribe malicious motivation to judge the author a troll. Since when has faulty memory, poor research, or veering wildly off topic been redefined as trolling?

Yes, but there's such a thing as gross negligence, too, which can be as bad as a direct malicious intent. If someone is both polite and has common sense, they will recognize any glaring problems with their own memory/research/topic (e.g. people frequently do say "sorry to be off topic, but blah blah"). If they are oblivious of glaring faults in those areas, and/or project such faults onto other people while denying their own role, etc, then that is a kind of gross negligence, at best, that translates into indirect malicious intent.

If it is "gross" (extreme), it probably falls under another category, such as flamer or vandal.

What bothers me is that sometimes I state a controversial opinion, and it ends up generating heated arguments and shoutfests. Just because a topic generates heated discussion does not necessarily make a person a "troll". It is the nature of the content, not necessarily the intent of the person.

You weren't a troll if you just unwittingly touched on a hot button.

BenTremblay asked, "If someone thinks me a troll, does that make me one?" In their minds, yes. But then people can think you're a moron or an alien from Saturn. The word "troll" is a label, and thus can be mis-applied. So what? -- BrentNewhall

"A troll is someone with whom I don't agree but with whom I can't be bothered to have a reasoned argument". Calling someone a troll is ProofByIntimidation. Maybe there are a few malicious trolls out there; the majority of those who are accused of trolling are not trolling at all. McCarthyism? rears its ugly head.

Calling someone a troll is not merely ProofByIntimidation; it can be, but is more often (in my experience) an attempt to accurately label a behavior. Yes, the application of the term "troll" can be subjective. That does not invalidate it or make it useless. -- BrentNewhall

I suggest we evaluate people as seen from a community perspective, seen as malevolent or not and use the following categories:

And most of all: like in law a person must have a criminal intention to be convicted, the main, the guiding principle here is a person must be acting, must have a malevolent intention in order to be considered a vandal or a flamer.

And it turns law into a messy, expensive vote-based art that the logical engineering mind should be ashamed of. "You have bad intentions! No I don't. Yes you do. No I don't. Yes you do......"

-- AnonymousDonors

How can troll be distinguished from DevilsAdvocate?

DevilsAdvocate is never a HostileStudent, but an Earnest Student. A troll is intent on wasting your time, not their own, so they usually fall back on the HostileStudent role ASAP.

Can we find a better definition/distinction than one that depends on determining "intent". Mind-reading definitions are messy IMO

I'd guess not. It's sometimes useful to speak about people's intentions, difficult as they may be to determine in practice, and so we have words to describe them. It really looks like this is one of them.

Well, I consider it a human failing of a sort. It is like the "have you stopped beating your wife" accusation. Accusing someone of evil intent is the biggest cause of discussions degenerating, and probably world wars.

But at the same time, sometimes people do have evil intentions. Enforcing politeness by slashing vocabulary is a very bad idea.

Until software design is turned into a more precise science instead of having DisciplineEnvy, it will be hard to distinquish/define "troll" outside of obvious violations. If somebody is obviously wrong, it is easy to expose them. If they carry enough truth to get some acceptance or at least an interested audience, then it just turns into a philosophical holy-war. Thus, the "best" trolls either have some good but unpopular points, or twist one's logic in ways that the victim cannot articulate their way out of, making the troll's points more tolerated, the victim more frustrated and retaliatory, and giving him/her somewhat of a fan-base. The trolls gets credit in the "community" for being able to mentally kick people around even if those who enjoy the game don't fully agree with troll. They still like to watch a good chess match. It is similar to watching champion chess-players get beat by an amature who discovered a one-trick-pony set of moves. After a while the troll runs out of tricks as they become more well-known and is easily beaten. The Harlem Globe-Trotters can beat the best teams once or twice until the champs figure out their tricks.

Somebody who is blatantly wrong most of the time does not last very long as a troll. The best trolls are almost right. After a while those who he/she irritates simply creates a file of standard responses to the errors and pastes them in every time the same wrong argument set is used over again. If the refutations are poor and/or long, then the troll attacks them until the refutations are concise. In the end perhaps the total knowledge base is improved because good points get simplified. It is good to exercise your defenses. Two things that will not work on a troll is authoritative evidence and personal attacks. The first will fail because authoritative evidence alone is just bad science. Personal attacks fail because they just motivate the troll even more. Plus, it may create sympathy for the troll that did not exist before. If you enjoy the "game", then sit back with a lemonade and watch it play out. If you don't, then just ignore the players.

Once again, the TopMind scent is strong here. The complaints about "precise science" are, of course, complete hogwash. This argument is only spouted by those who refuse to even acknowledge the lifetime work of giants that have come before most of us. Take this component of the discussion as the fringe analysis it is.

Question. If a given person, Bob, sticks to OnceAndOnlyOnce content (within reason), stays on topic (computer related) and does not personally insult others, can Bob still be a "troll"? What would be an example of satisfying these conditions yet still being a "troll"?

Now I am confused. I thought Trolls were good? They certainly seem to be around Wikipedia? AndrewCates

Perhaps you are confusing Trolls with WikiGnomes?

Somebody deleted this proposed definition:

"EVERYONE who does not kiss moderator[s] ass is branded as a Troll..."

It does bring up the issue of whether trolling is something absolute or relative to the "culture" of an organization.

Confessions of a convicted Troll - Just-A-Pats-Fan

I was banned for three days for being a Troll. When in my opinion all I did was present views from the eye of a long-term Pats fan. In fact my commentary would be the norm on the Pats site or would be tolerated if it came from an irate Jets fan.

What is wrong with a different point of view. One of the main reasons I come to the site is to hear opinions that are different. Imagine if the Jets could consistently win, what would you guys talk about? You would probably go to the Pats site for some negative dialogue.

After reading the definitions I feel that I should be labeled a Devils Advocate and should never be banned for doing the devil's work.

Did you simply defend an unpopular viewpoint, or did it turn into a flame-war with name-calling, etc?

Troll needs to be defined specifically for this Wiki. Over the many years that I have been involved here, troll is only and always used by an individual who is pissed because not everyone agrees with them. It much reminds me of being on a kindergarten playground the way that those who use this word behave on this Wiki. And, yes, I do mean extreme immaturity.

In most heated debates, both sides are usually pretty ticked at each other. Maybe such debates are really just Troll A versus Troll B?

Trolling is all about deceiving and manipulating your target. Its the internet equivalent of prank phone calls. Hell, if you're not squeamish, just look up "Troll" on Encyclopedia Dramatica, the wiki of trolling.

I'm not sure this fits the common definition. For example, if somebody said "Page 123 of Book Foo has proof that birds can't see color", but no such page actually exists and the claimer knows that, then it's a "prank". Most people labelled as trolls have an annoying HobbyHorse(s) in my observation, but do not otherwise generate obviously false information. You describe what would be better labeled as a "prankster".

The term "troll" as used on the internet is all, and only, about the troll's internal motivation.

The internal motivation that defines a troll is quite narrow and specific: A troll is a person who is amused by the spectacle of people appearing to be made miserable by their perceived inability to convince the troll of the correctness of their positions. The troll does not care about the positions being taken or the opinions being expressed. The troll does not seek attention or recognition. The troll merely wishes to laugh at the apparent discomfort of others whom, the troll believes, s/he has "hooked" into arguing with them.

It therefore may not be "useful" with reference to the purpose of a wiki that exists to encourage mutual understanding and an increase in knowledge, to define the troll in terms of his/her internal motivations. From my point of view, though, definitions do not exist to be useful in terms of things outside that which is being defined. Definitions exist to accurately describe that which is being defined, regardless of external consequences.

It can be outwardly difficult to distinguish attention-seeking behavior from trolling, since a troll, to achieve his/her aims, must continue to receive responses to his/her statements. However, pure attention-seeking behavior derives from an internal state of insecurity about one's efffectiveness in the world. The troll has no emotional need for affirmation as a person worthy of attention.

This is not to say that the troll is a balanced person. Rather, the troll affirms his/her belief that s/he is superior to others, and obtains pure pleasureable gratification, by maintaining amused detachment while inflicting suffering on others. The troll does not feel anxiety while doing this, nor does s/he feel pity or remorse. The troll is a sadistic psychopath.

Therefore, the following people are not trolls: Stupid people, people who desire notoriety, people who wish to promote understanding through discussion or even argument, people who are angry, people who wish to proselytize, people who need to preserve a fragile ego, people who want to win an argument. However, trolls will simulate any or all of the above types of people if it produces amusing results for them.

This simulation can mislead people into believing that trolls can, even if only accidentally, add value to a discussion. Trolls seek only the discomfort of people involved in a discussion; if the participants appear to be benefiting from what the troll says, the troll will say something different.

Trolls cannot be dissuaded from their behavior by any form of interaction with them on equal terms. All such forms of interaction simply increase their amusement and gratification. A person whose behavior changes over time from apparent trolling to making genuine contributions to a conversation is not, and never was, a troll.

The behavior of trolls can only be extinguished by two strategies:

1. Positively identify the troll and use some means to prevent him/her from communicating at all.

This ranges from extraordinarily difficult to impossible on the internet, since even if one succeeds in uniquely identifying a troll by, perhaps, a static IP address, and banning transmissions from that address, the troll can, and if the intensity of his/her psychopathology is sufficiently high, will, find a way to obtain another venue from which to re-enter the conversation.

2. Ignore the troll utterly and completely. Behave as though the troll does not exist. This requires not only not responding with words to what the troll says, but also not deleting what the troll says. This works not because the troll does not receive attention, it works because the troll experiences no amusement.

This, unfortunately, appears to be much more difficult for some people than it should be. To defeat trolls, it is necessary to eschew any belief that one must always defend against disrespectful treatment directed toward oneself or others. It is also necessary to have patience and to be completely consistent, as trolls recognize this defense and will attempt to wait you out. They will assess the personalities of those involved in the conversation and will tailor remarks to different individuals, aiming outrageousness at some, while attempting subtle inveiglements with others, in order to generate a response. However, if all present consistently and completely ignore the troll for a long enough period of time, the troll will eventually decide that the situation is not worth his/her time, and will leave to seek more profitable hunting grounds.

See: HowToReactToaFlame, PseudoTroll, TrollPatternFixes, DialoguePractices, HolyWar, CivilizedDiscussionGuidelines, FixContentNotMotivation, DevelopingIdeasUsingCommunityDialogue, PositiveDialogueCommunity, TrollColoredGlasses, AssumeStupidityNotMalice


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