Thursday, October 12, 2006

Trolling: a Tutorial

According to this Wikipedia article, trolling is
In Internet terminology, a troll is usually someone who enters an established community such as an online discussion forum, and posts inflammatory, rude, repetitive, offensive, off-topic or otherwise disruptive messages designed intentionally to annoy or antagonize the existing members or alter the flow of discussion, including the personal attack of calling others trolls. Often, trolls assume multiple aliases, or sock puppets.
Sounds like fun, right?

So, if you want to be a troll too, read on. I'll limit this discussion to blog trolls, because blogging is so popular now that there's no need to troll in any other forum.

First, you've got to find the right blog to troll. The ideal target is one that has a few dedicated participants. Between 3 and 25 regular commenters on the site is ideal. If there are too many, you can easily be ignored, and if there are too few, it won't be very rewarding. Then, you have to decide where the buttons are, and push them.

If the blog is personal, insult the blogger. If they talk about something sad in their life, tell them to stop whining. If they talk about something good, tell them how pathetic it is, and so on. But these are too easy, because going against the grain in a personal blog is easy and the people are usually thin-skinned.

For a real rewarding challenge, you need to go to an intellectual blog. Simply disagreeing with the people will not be enough. Now, you could just be obtuse and announce a contrary opinion, and they will find this annoying, but to take it one step further, you need to pretend to make an argument. Make purportedly factual statements with no factual basis, use spurious reasoning, and dismiss other people's arguments out of hand. And when they try to change the topic, don't let them get away with it.

A few other tips:
# Off topic messages: Those that are irrelevant to the focus of the forum. This can also be done in the middle of an existing thread to attempt to hijack the thread, or otherwise change the topic at hand. Off topic messages usually occur when a member has been completely disproved in a serious debate, thus causing that member to use his or her other multiple pseudonyms for the purposes of changing the subject matter. These disruptions may result in the degeneration of a well informed thread into a heated juvenile exchange consisting of insults and childish accusations between multiple parties. Trolls can also throw threads off-topic and cause them to degenerate into flame wars by posting purposely offensive and inflammatory messages. . . .[*]
# Inflammatory messages, including racist, sexist, classist or otherwise needlessly hateful comments.
# Opinions stated as fact: Posting messages expressing their own opinions as generally accepted facts without offering any proof or analysis. . . .[*]
# Bumping an old discussion, or rehashing a highly controversial past topic, particularly in smaller online communities. . . .
# Trying to look for vulnerable people and being offensive to them. . . .
# Messages containing a self-referential appeal to status. "Pepsi is for white trash. I prefer a real soft drink like Coke." . . . [**]
# Intentionally posting an outrageous argument, deliberately constructed around a fundamental but obfuscated flaw or error. Often the poster will become defensive when the argument is refuted, and may continue the thread through the use of further flawed arguments; this is referred to as "feeding" the troll. . . .
# Plural or paranoid answers to personal opinions expressed by individuals: "I don't think that all of you really believe that -— you're just ganging up on me!" . . . [***]
* These are some of my favorites
** Or like saying that your IQ is higher than everyone else's, which is particularly fun when there's no way to verify the situation. And if the claim is untenable (as it most likely will be due to your ridiculousness), then you can go on to say that it's unimportant.
*** This one is particularly fun in an intellectual forum, where you can say that the people are all about praising each other and agreeing with each other all the time, which belittles their intellectual honesty and is maddening due to many examples that prove it wrong. It doesn't work well in a personal blog.

I have a few tips of my own. Make sure you mischaracterize everything that everyone else says. If they say that we shouldn't support amnesty for illegal immigrants, call them racist. If they say that we should handle the Iraq war differently, claim that they said we shouldn't be in Iraq. Subtlety is key here, and will make it all the more effective.

Always imply that you're winning. If the discussion has been reduced to insult-flinging (or a "flame war"), just go on about how nobody can match you, that you're the best. If they're still trying to debate with you, tell them that you're obviously right, and restate everything you've already said. Make sure to mischaracterize their position in the process.

On the same lines, make sure that you tell them that they lost their temper, or that you can tell you hit a nerve, or something to that effect, when they respond to you. Don't do this every time, though, or your trolling will be too obvious.

And finally, pursue them forever. If they won't let you speak in one forum, find out what other forums the participants frequent. Or find their e-mail addresses. Do whatever you can.


  1. Just in case there is anyone out there who knows how demanding law school is on one's time, and does not believe that the Full Metal Attorney is really a law student because there is no way a person could be in law school AND have time to write all this stuff . . .

    You're wrong. He is. I sit next to him in two classes. And his grades aren't too bad from what I hear.

    Just wanted to let ya know.

    Sorry, Kelly, I know this is probably technically a troll-like comment, but . . . .

  2. You are so wrong, Kelly, because I heard that trolls are helpful members of the web-community.

  3. Yes, BB, I read that they think they are. They might be on some forums where people get to patting each other on the back too much, but they're not needed here, and not on LG's blog either.