Trollery! — How Vulnerable Are You? And Can You Spot It?


I’m wrapping this series up today with some questions to help you see how likely you are to have an encounter with a person who is intentionally trolling. It has a lot to do with the things you choose to talk about on the Internet, and with your style of interaction.

How Vulnerable Are You?

Here are four questions to ask yourself to gauge your vulnerability to intentional trolling.

  1. Do I often blog about or discuss social issues on comment threads where a lot of other people are also commenting?
  2. Am I engaging consistently with a group of friends and making a conscious effort to grow our networks and find more readers for our blogs or for a project?
  3. Do I give people I’ve just met the benefit of the doubt and value the free exchange of ideas to the point that I am prone to ignoring the indicators and chiming in to correct errors or defend my position?
  4. Do I have a respectable number of friends and followers who share my links often?

If you can answer yes to more than one of these questions, and especially if you are aspiring to a large, diverse, not-overly-political but quite socially-conscious audience (as I am), it’s in your best interest to know the indicators and discipline yourself to deal with trolling while you’re small. Because if you wait until you get big to learn, it will overwhelm you. If you blog frequently and your schedule is tight, a single encounter with a trolling person can put you off your game for days. And we just can’t be having that! 😉

Can You Spot the Trolling Here?

The Feminist Friday thread from Victim to Charm earlier this month. I am not going to say anything about the person doing the trolling except to note that is what they’re doing. No judgment of other peoples’ Internet tendencies and no speculation about motivations from me in a public post. I am not even identifying the handle, but it’s so obvious, there is really no need for me to. Look at the thread if you are interested. It will jump right out at you.

Intentions and judgments aside, though,  this is habitual behavior. I know because Google tells me so. And whatever else this person has going on, they seem to enjoy trolling feminist threads, in particular.

I do not know why Diana responded to the original comment. I responded much later, for two reasons.

  1. Diana responded early in the day and had not received a response by the time I was able to really engage on the thread.
  2. I vaguely recognized the handle, and wanted to see whether this was a clueless debater or a person who engages in habitual trolling. The only way to know for sure was to engage with them and pull some information out of them.

No matter how well a person disguises their identity or how false they play with their actual views, every rhetorical decision gives information to people who know what to look for. Rhetoric can be analyzed on its on terms, and decisions are behavior. So rhetorical decisions can say quite a lot about the person making them. That’s something to remember. It’s rarely a good idea to leave many hundreds of words on a single comment thread for the social science geeks to put under the microscope.

For most of the conversation, I was sincerely debating and studying that person’s style so I can recognize their comments when I see them again, even if they change usernames. But the last long comment I left on the thread was for everyone else as much as for the person I am referring to. I reached the point where writing that last one was worth it, despite the fact that it took too much my time. Here’s why.

  1. I’d already spent a lot of time engaging with that person. The time was a sunk cost, I was sure what I was looking at by that point, and I needed more out of the encounter.
  2. I was clarifying my own position on some things, both for myself and for the other feminists who hang with me on the Internet.

I was first-drafting a series of boilerplate responses. Even though I was responding directly to specific comments there, I can revise a lot of that stuff, break it up into smaller comments, and save it in a text file so I can just respond to overly-tenditious and otherwise wrongheaded commenters on threads I am moderating by copying and pasting a set of standard responses. Basically, I was taking one for the team by the end of that conversation. I already had this series in mind.

And just for fun. Some of you may remember me making a big appeal to welcome For a Feminist Anyway to WordPress a few weeks ago and getting a good response in the form of people going and saying hi on this thread. The person who trolled the thread at Victim to Charm also commented there. I did not answer it, because it was obvious bait and I did not want to feed trolling on a thread owned by a blogger I just met.

This is one reason why the username seemed vaguely familiar, but I did not realize all this at the time I was arguing on Sabina’s thread. If I had, I would surely have ignored this person rather than responding, and would have cautioned Diana to do the same before she left her first response. But then we wouldn’t have a four-part series on trolling.

I hope you’ve found these posts helpful. As I learn more tricks for moderating threads and avoiding getting sucked into exchanges with people who are just commenting to wind us up, I will certainly share it.

Tune in tomorrow for my #1000Speak post, and next week, we’re doing Feminist Friday at Things Matter.