Please Don’t Feed the Trolls.

I’m not usually a person to back down in an argument. If I think I’m right about something I’ll usually fight tooth and nail until I’m unequivocally proven to be wrong, at which point I’ll concede. I think this is my folly when it comes to debating arguing with people on the Internet, since the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory dictates that the people on the other end of the connection are more than likely not trying to inspire an intellectual debate. They’re probably just fishing for a reaction from someone in front of their audience of choice.

This behaviour is commonly referred to as trolling and is most present in online mediums. Take away the innate sense of identity from someone and it appears that a lot of them take it upon themselves to incite emotional reactions in people rather than attempt intellectual debate. Whilst I can consider the possibility that some trolls may just be people purporting an controversial viewpoint and thus receive the label incorrectly there is a distinct difference in behaviour between the two. Your typical troll will use such devices as ad hominem attacks which serve nothing for the argument but will invoke an emotional reaction.

With the population at large becoming more aware of these types of individuals the typical troll is usually spotted and shut out long before they have a chance to cause any damage. Like any organism who is trying to survive they have then evolved into what I referred to as Intellectual Trolls. Unlike their ancestors they will engage in the discussion or debate and instead of going for an immediate reaction they will attempt to get others frustrated with them by using deliberately ambiguous arguments and other oratory devices which would make them out to be the one who is being trolled. It’s these kinds of trolls I have a lot of problems with, since I don’t stop arguing until they’ve come around to my point of view.

There’s also a strange kind of situation where some people become accidental trolls. I usually see this happen when someone has a strong point of view that  hits on a nerve of someone on the other side of the argument. A great example of this was on the weekend when I was discussing Australian taxation with one of my friends. In essence I agreed with what he was saying but he used one example (contractors vs permanent employees in the public service) which hit on one of my bug bears (people thinking contractors have it much better than permanent employees). It trigger a primarily emotional response from me and distracted from the argument completely, in essence he trolled without even thinking about it. To be honest though the fault lies completely with me, but it’s interesting to see how someone could accidentally fall under the troll label.

For the most part though the online communities that I frequent are troll free and the only time I get caught out is when I’m actually in the wrong. Probably the biggest walls I face is when I end up against the groupthink of the discussion or community and I end up getting shouted down by several other parties. It’s at times like this I just leave it be as there’s not usually a lot of benefit in when they don’t want to listen. It’s a little hard to give an opposing viewpoint when they figuratively have their fingers in their ears.

I’m getting better at identifying these trolls and leaving them be once I’ve said my peace but they still manage to get my guard up at one time or another. Maybe I just need stop defending my viewpoints so fervently, I can be a little stubborn sometimes 🙂

4 Comments

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  1. I really wonder how the expression “troll” in the use you talk about above came about. I grew up with trolls, but a whole different kind. They were a huge part of Norwegian fairytales and folklore, i.e. if there was a huge rock in an odd place (which occurs quite often in the Norwegian terrain), then “the trolls threw it there”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll is what trolls are like to me. I’m guessing the expression might come from the fact that the trolls was rather mean, they ate little children for breakfast and so forth. And always if we misbehaved a common expression was to say we were “trollete” or “troll’y” directly translated.

  2. wait.. He put forth an intelligent argument derive using an example that conjured an emotional response from you, and you responded with and emotional response, and he’s the troll? I thought you would be a more likely candidate for the troll title

  3. The etymology of the word is pretty interesting, and (as always :D) available from Wikipedia:
    “The contemporary use of the term is alleged to have first appeared on the internet in the late 1980s,[3] but the earliest known example is from 1991.[4] It is thought to be a truncation of the phrase trolling for suckers, itself derived from the fishing technique of slowly dragging a bait through water, known as trolling.[citation needed] The word also evokes the trolls portrayed in Scandinavian folklore and children’s tales as they are often obnoxious creatures bent on mischief and wickedness. The verb “troll” originates from Old French “troller”, a hunting term. The noun “troll”, however, is an unrelated Old Norse word for a giant or demon.[5]”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29

    I completely agree with the origin of it coming from “trolling for suckers” as that’s the exact behaviour people exhbit. As with everything on the Internet the saying eventually got reduced down to its most basic form, and now troll is the commonly used term.

    It’s one of those interesting and slightly sad evolutions of language that the Internet brings about. Although in this sense it’s probably a little closer to the actual meaning of the world when compared to some of the other bastardisations that are so common.

  4. stabby :

    wait.. He put forth an intelligent argument derive using an example that conjured an emotional response from you, and you responded with and emotional response, and he’s the troll? I thought you would be a more likely candidate for the troll title

    I guess I deliberately didn’t continue the example (you caught me!) but yes the continuing conversation after that point would class me as the troll since I began to seek the same reaction from him. He had no idea that saying what he said would trigger an emotional response, hence the term accidental. My definition starts to get a bit fuzzy after this point because technically the other side doesn’t realise they’ve triggered such a response and as such if the person who initially had the response keeps the conversation going along the same lines they are technically, trolling themselves.

    I think I just realised why that conversation went no where for 15 minutes….

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