Technical Terms: Internet Troll

An Internet Troll is someone who posts online with the intent of starting a distracting argument. Trolls can be found all over the Internet in forums, message boards, comments sections and any other place where people discuss anything. The term comes from both the fantasy creature and the fishing technique. There are effective ways to deal with trolls whether you are a member of a community or the moderator of a discussion. Patent Trolls are another type of technology trouble-maker.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Technical Terms: Internet Troll.

Let's take a look at an internet term I'm sure you've heard and examine it a little more closely. The term is Troll, or internet troll to be more accurate. So what is internet troll?
It's someone that posts in an online form or community or message board or mailing list. Any place people are communicating by sending messages. This person provokes people. Starts a fight. Starts a quarrel by posting something controversial or upsetting or something like that.

Now the important part is the intent. It has to be their intent. Because, of course, when there are online discussions people are going to post things that other people don't like, that start arguments and all of that. Otherwise there will be no point in actually having discussions if everybody just wants to agree with each other. But if the intent of the person is actually to start a fight or to get people talking about something off topic or whatever, then that person is a troll.

Now the term troll comes from two different places actually. You may think of troll, kind of the fantasy type creature that you know is from mythology, that bothers travelers and creates havoc. That kind of thing. That's certainly a troll and that's where you think the name might come from. But there's also the troll as in a type of fishing where you drag a line behind a boat. It's kind of the same thing where the troll is actually kind of casting a line and dragging it along to see what he can catch. So it comes from two different places really.

There are different types of trolls. So, in thinking about it in a little more detail, it's very subjective right. Some people may think that a post is from a troll or it's trolling and other people may think that it's actually adding to the discussion. It's not always clear if there is a troll or troll post. Sometimes it's definitely malicious. Somebody really wants to wreck havoc on the message board or forum or whatever. Sometimes it's not quite that bad. Sometimes it's humorous. Somebody wants to lighten up the mood or thinks it might be funny. You may not think it's funny. But if their intent was maybe to add some humor then it's kind of a different kind of thing.

Sometimes it's just unintentional. Sometimes somebody is accused of being a troll or trolling and they basically were forming an opinion. Maybe they even mistyped or misspoke or something like that. Sometimes that happens. But other times it's very well thought out. The person actually wants to breed discord in the forum or whatever it is. Sometimes it's worse than that. Sometimes it's organized and recently there's a lot of talk in the news about actual organizations, you know, coming in and creating these kinds of arguments by trolling. Sometimes it's very specific and sometimes it's a little more subtle even with somebody trolling in the opposite direction where they really wanted to go just to kind of create a lot of disagreement in a group.

Now dealing with trolls depends on where you're coming from. For instance, if you're just a member in there or participating in the conversation the only way to really deal with a troll effectively is to ignore the post. A lot of times trolls will leave a post and never come back. They create an account and never even do anything else except do that one post. So responding to them isn't actually going to get anything accomplished.

Other times they actually are really there and they love the fact that you're responding to them because that's what they wanted. They want this subthread of the conversation to get as long as possible and to kind of override the entire original intent of the discussion. So ignoring is a really big tool if you're just a member of the community. You can also, occasionally, mute. Depending upon the community you can choose to mute somebody so you never see the responses. Or mute that part of the conversation as well. So depends on where you are and what type of community you're in.

If you're in charge of the community or have some powers or administrative powers you can always delete troll posts if you like. So you're kind of like are moderating the discussion. Sometimes you can even avoid the things where it's, maybe, an unintentional troll or something like that by doing a direct response. What I mean by that is maybe deleting the original post. So getting rid of the trolling post out of the original forum but responding directly to that person as to not alienate them if you think it may be a mistake in saying, hey this isn't really appropriate or I like to keep things on topic. That kind of thing. It can help in situations where you're trying to build a community and you're not sure whether or not somebody was really being malicious in a trolling post.

Now this is not to be confused with another type of troll which is called a Patent troll which is also discussed a lot online. It uses that same term troll. That's when a company, you know, takes some old patent or something and then tries to sue as many people as they can or get them to pay money even though the patent doesn't really apply to what other people are doing. So this is also a common use of the term troll online or in technology. So just another thing to look out for.