We all know what an internet troll looks like, right? He’s that unshaven, smelly creep who lives in his parent’s basement and wastes away hours needling people under the guise of a pseudonym. Trolls hide behind anonymity. Report one and they’ll just crop up under a new username. A troll uses incomplete sentences to hurl insults and his words of vitriol are littered with misspellings. We can all spot a troll a mile away.
If only spotting a troll were that simple. You see, I’ve been a troll and I expect you have too. We don’t generally set out to be trolls, but sometimes the beast inside sneaks out. We wrap our trolling in polite words, undeniable “facts,” subtle criticisms, and well-meaning concerns. It’s especially difficult to tame our trolls during times of political unrest, violence, and turmoil. Our inner trolls are often well disguised, but their only goal is to derail, distract, and discredit.
Are you a Troll? You might be trolling if:
- You begin your comment with, “I hate to break it to you” or you announce your intention to play “devil’s advocate.”
- You are worried over the language, grammar, or attitudes of others, rather than the content of their posts.
- You begin conversations by listing your credentials or your comment is longer than the original post.
- You only interact with someone online is to disagree with them. You prioritize being right over all else.
- You criticize under the guise of concern. You tell someone “Your message might be more effective if you…” (were nicer, more succinct, less passionate, knew the facts). Your post appeals to someone’s fear of authority, as in “You should be careful about what you write.”
- You rely on inappropriate humor or shock value. You introduce outrageous comparisons, such as likening someone to Hitler.
- You interrogate or pick at someone else with the intent of making them angry or shutting them down. You might tag someone in a post with the expectation that an argument will ensue.
- You resort to gaslighting by saying “That couldn’t have really happened” or require statistics, even when evidence is difficult to obtain.
- You begin with a compliment, then proceed to tear apart the writer.
- You contact a “friend” out of concern and proceed to question their morals, life direction, spirituality, or personal decisions. Trolls love to give unsolicited advice and warnings, especially to people they haven’t talked to in a long time.
Perhaps you’re reading this and feeling defensive. Maybe this sounds like more of that politically correct nonsense. In truth, trolling achieves our goals sometimes – to put people on the defensive, undermine them, or shut them down. Trolling is also often well-meaning and unintentional. We become frustrated when what we see as positive efforts have a negative effect.
Our inner trolls often come out when we’re passionate and care deeply about an issue, but effective advocacy requires us to tame the beast. If our real goal is to foster discussion, educate, and learn, then we have to keep our trolls caged.