I am sure there are many more indicators than this. They strike me as the big ones, and more importantly, the ones any blogger can learn to be alert to, given enough experience interacting on threads. I think of them as behavioral markers — I am not looking to identify people as trolls, just to identify online communication as trolling and develop consistent ways of dealing with it.
1. No profile art and nothing at all linked to the comment. No blog, no G+, no gravatar, no nothing.
Some people don’t have gravatars, and some don’t have blogs. So be careful with this one, lest you mistake someone who’s just trying to make a connection and/or is new to the blogosphere for a trolling person. Only a consideration when all the elements listed are absent, and when you’re already looking at a comment and wondering about it. In and of itself, and without supporting context, it is a weak indicator.
2. Comments are audience-inappropriate.
This requires subjective judgment at times, but often, it is so easy to see, the only question is whether or not the person is aware that when they leave a comment on a public thread, they are speaking not only to the blogger who wrote the post, but potentially to the entire audience of the blog. For example, waxing eloquent about the unhealthiness of sugar on a thread where foodies are talking about pie.
Even if the comment begins by discussing pie, if it moves from there into a long-winded diatribe on the evils of sugary treats, it’s audience-inappropriate. Even people who understand the dangers of sugar and might agree with the comment don’t care to read opinions about that while they’re trying to chat with friends about the delightfulness of pie.
Audience-inappropriate does not necessarily mean offensive or objectionable, though audience-inappropriate comments do often offend. It just means the commenter did not take the time to look at the sort of blog they’re commenting on, or else, (in cases of intentional trolling) they did take a look and decided to try and provoke someone.
3. Comments are consistently way too long for discussion threads.
I’m a master of the long comment, and I often say too much. But I don’t habitually leave four or five too-long comments on a single thread, and I try to be mindful of the other bloggers’ preferred style of communication on blogs where I comment often. Everyone has their own opinion about what constitutes too long, so your mileage will vary with this one.
Sometimes, though, you just look at a series of comments and go “Why? Does this person not have a blog or other social media to be looking after?” I’m talking about habitual essay-length comments that have little value for moving a conversation forward and read like either hastily-written blog posts or people just spewing words. You know the type I mean. I consider this a form of spam if it is egregiously persistent. When it lands on a thread I am moderating, nine times out of ten, I treat it like spam.
Intentional trolling usually starts with a short- to medium-length comment calculated to get a response. If someone responds, the essay-length comments follow. You never want to address these point-by-point without good reason. And if you do, you need to be alert to the fact that you’re probably talking to a person who’s trying to lure you into the quicksand of a never-ending essay duel and suck away hours of your time.
4. Attacks people rather than ideas
This one is a no-brainer. Attacking people on my blogs is a bannable offence, and the most skillful intentional trollers don’t do it because of people like me who enforce zero tolerance for that sort of stuff. But it is an indicator and it happens often.
5. Makes sweeping generalizations without evidence
Not always an indicator. One generalization is not that big a deal. Some people are just prone to this and some people do it without thinking when they’re into a passionate exchange (no one’s perfect). The test is how the person responds when they are asked to back up what they just said.
6. Does not acknowledge requests to back up unsupported assertions
This is a biggie. Non-acknowledgment of a direct but friendly request to back up something that requires proof is a huge red flag. Especially if the person keeps right on defending the statement, or even worse, starts spouting more of them while people are still processing the first one. Often coincides with presenting opinions as facts, or with basing an argument on assumptions that are debatable without acknowledging that the assumptions are open to question.
7. Responds to a thoughtful, friendly, and well-considered rejoinder with more of the same
In other words. You point out areas of disagreement and seek clarity for the sake of finding a common starting point for a discussion. They rephrase what they just said in an even longer comment that makes no attempt to answer your objection. Once you get to this point, you are in danger of being sucked into the quicksand. it’s best to respond to the second comment with a polite, single sentence indicating that you are done, and move on to something else. Or else ignore it altogether.
8. Employs logical fallacies so consistently that you wonder if they are doing it on purpose
Again, a major red flag. People who are good at rhetoric and logical thinking might be prone to using one or two fallacies in areas where their knowledge is weak. And everyone slips up occasionally. But people who are good at discourse-type conversation do not use many logical fallacies nor use them often, and pride themselves on not doing this. Honest arguers tend to either acknowledge logical fallacies when they are pointed out or get defensive. They do not plow blithely along as if no one pointed it out, because it is embarrassing to get caught in one. Any time you see someone with otherwise good language and argument skills using a ton of logical fallacies in a long-winded comment, they are likely aware of what they are doing and are just saying that stuff to get a rise.
It is not difficult to learn to spot this kind of thing, and I hope at least a few of you find this helpful.
This is part two of four. Tomorrow: How to deal with trolling once you’ve recognized it.
Number 7 is really important, I think…especially the bit about leaving it be. I found myself in a similar situation recently. I was all would up and primed to give someone a rather large piece of my mind, but then realized that it would be a fruitless effort that would only lead to more non-productive exchanges. Sometimes, even if it’s frustrating, I think it’s really best to just walk away.
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Yes. The only time I respond to those with anything other than “see ya'” is if I want to leave something for posterity or if I am playing to the lurking-folk. And I only do that rarely, because honestly, most people aren’t reading other peoples’ comments anyway.
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Haha! Very good! Your review did well this week, btw.
Good stuff. I’ll keep an eye out for the rest of these, I’m always afraid of coming across that way as I have a tendency to be long-winded myself.
And you should have seen me last week, I was so excited when I got my first Troll on Twitter!!! 😀
Mind you, I kinda asked for it; my tweets about the anti-vaccine crowd being irresponsible struck a nerve with some.
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Yes. The anti-vacc thing is a sensitive issue to many.
During the #YesAllWomen madness last year, I did a massive retweet thing from that hashtag the way I sometimes do for #SundayBlogShare and I had a couple of people actually tell me they were blocking me before they did. I was all like “well, ok, I am not for everyone and I understand. But I will be doing other things tomorrow, and you will not see those other things if you do.” LOL.
You don’t come across as trolling, even when you are long-winded 🙂 But do keep the eye out. Don’t want to get sucked in by a person who does it just to get off on sucking people in.
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I don’t mind a long and thoughtful comment on my blog, provided it’s not from “Michael Kors outlet” or “cheap ugg boots” – those drive me nuts and I can’t figure out how to keep them off. I’ve started blocking certain words and phrases in my settings and it seems to be helping a bit. Learning little by little…so much I don’t know.
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Long and thoughtful is just fine. Saying a bunch of stuff just to get a rise and disrupt a thread is not. And sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference, is what I am getting at here.
WordPress dot com is doing a good job of fending off the spam for me right now. I am studying that problem, because at some point, I am going to have a self-hosted blogging project, and I will need to know how to manage the spam comments eventually.
Thanks for stopping by!
Great stuff here. I don’t know if I should be grateful or hurt that I haven’t had a troll visit my blog yet? Isn’t it a rite of passage? Kidding, of course! This is awesome because I would likely engage for a while before I would catch on to their true motives. That being said, WHAT motivates someone to do this? Other than political or ideological differences. I know that brings out the crazy in some people… but for others it’s a hobby or something? Who has that kind of time???
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You should be grateful. I divide the intentional trolling-folk into two categories at the moment.
1. Garden-Variety Gladiator. Will truly troll any thread that is busy enough. Would actually launch an attack on sugar an a thread about pie to get a rise. They have private ways of keeping score. It’s like a video game to them.
2. Would-Be Operative. These are people who intentionally disrupt conversations for ideological reasons. They are trying to have a political effect, and their blind spot seems to be that they don’t understand just how easy it is to tell someone you have never encountered before who drops into your community-building operation and tries to tear stuff down to piss. The fuck. Off. and Also to let your multitude of friends know to just ban them the minute they land on the first thread without ever having to say a word about it on the public side of things. What they want is for us to paste their comments into the dashboard and attack them in a front-page post. But oh no. Never do that. That is what secret groups and restricted Facebook audiences are for. These are dangerous, though. You want to learn to recognize them and minimize your contact with them. Don’t want them to latch on and start snagging your profile art. Best to ban them and not interact, even if you are only 60% sure about it.
There are others, and I have much tactical knowledge about trolling as well. Like I can explain the difference between “Concern Trolling” and “Purity Trolling.”
Will take a while, but if we keep doing the feminist thing and other positive social projects, I will educate some bloggers about when to take prisoners and when to not. We will keep attracting them. Not every week, but often enough to learn stuff. I can almost promise you that.
Here’s a pro tip if you ever do think you are dealing with one. Just let the comment sit in the moderation queue long enough to do a google search. Include the username with wordpress in the search. If they are browsing a specific tag and trolling posts from that tag, Google will tell you. And if that is what they are doing, just send the comment to the trash and ban them from your blog without a single word.
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You remind me that I need to blog more about the delightfulness of pie 🙂
The most trolley comments I have gotten have been on posts about Halo, and have shown up when I’ve noticed someone dropped a link to one of my posts in a forum (that happened to one or two posts, can’t remember). So then people stop on by, seem to not read the post, and leave annoying comments. So, “ideological,” in the sense of their ideology is an opinion about Halo. I’m sure the same could be said for other fandoms, that’s just the one that seems to have found me.
And they spoiled me for Halo 4! I’m clearly still nursing that wound.
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