Absolute Beginner's Frequently Asked Questions

5. What is a Troll?

On Usenet, a Troll is someone who posts messages in newsgroups with the deliberate intent of provoking flames or heated discussion or, in the case of a destructive troll, an attempt to destroy the group.

There are people who imagine that trolling is always a Bad Thing. Bad trolling is definitely a bad thing but I have seen many intelligent and entertaining trolls. When it is done properly it can be compared to gently winding people up or stirring things for fun, as you would find people doing every night in your local pub.

Where trolling becomes bad is when it is done by someone who has no real interest in the group's topic and is there purely to hurt or disrupt the normal flow of discussion or, as said above, to try to actually destroy the group by turning it into a continual flame war.

A troll feeds on responses, taking any serious attempts at debate and turning them round to feed the fire - this is one of the ways in which a real troll can be identified. When it becomes clear that one of these is at work, the correct response is to post a short message exposing them as such and thereafter, ignore the thread.

Trolls post purely to get a reaction - think 'attention seeking behaviour' - and so the only way to defeat a troll is to ignore it. Forget what anybody tells you about engaging them in order to defeat them. There is no evidence of any kind to suggest that feeding a troll will make it go away. There is abundant evidence (and common sense) to say that they go away when they get no responses.

Therefore, the cardinal rule is Do Not Feed The Trolls.

(Of course, when the troll is entertaining, intelligent and harmless, you can have some fun by joining in. But if you do this, bear in mind that you will have become a troll yourself!)

Trolls have increasingly adopted the habit of using 'sockpuppets', fake identities pretending to be someone else, by using one of the free services like Yahoo or Hotmail or posting through anonymising news services like alt.net. If you find your group being attacked by a number of anonymous entities using these kind of addresses, it is possible that there is actually only one troll at work using several sockpuppets to fan the flames.

Another way in which a destructive troll can be identified is in crossposting to inappropriate groups. For example, if someone posts an inflammatory message to uk.music.folk and it is crossposted to, say, alt.autos.bmw, you can be fairly sure it's a troll at work. The intention is to flood uk.music.folk with angry messages from alt.autos.bmw saying, "Why is this stuff being posted here?" and generate flames. The correct method of dealing with it would be to not reply at all or, if you must, remove alt.autos.bmw from your replies.

In the hands of a destructive troll, crossposting can be a powerful weapon so keep an eye on what groups are in the 'Newsgroups' line when replying to messages.

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