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What is Internet Trolling?

How Internet Trolling Affects the Social Web


What is Internet Trolling?
Photo © Douglas Pearson / Getty Images

If you have a strong social presence online or at least consider yourself to be pretty active in online communities, you may have experienced what many savvy Internet users call “being trolled.”

Being trolled, or the act of trolling, is something we all have to deal with increasingly as the Internet becomes more social. Here’s a brief introduction to trolling for those of you who aren’t quite clear on what it actually means.

What exactly is “Trolling”?

The Urban Dictionary has a bunch of definitions under the term “trolling,” but the first one that pops up seems to define it as simply as possible. So, according to the Urban Dictionary’s top rated definition for “trolling,” it can be defined as:

“Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it's the internet and, hey, you can.”

Wikipedia defines it as:

"Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

Those who aren’t quite familiar with the Internet slang definition of “troll” or “trolling” might automatically think of the mythical creature from Scandinavian folklore. The mythological troll is known to be an ugly, dirty, angry creature that lives in dark places, like caves or underneath bridges, waiting to snatch up anything that passed by for a quick meal.

In some ways, the mythological troll is similar to the Internet troll. The Internet troll hides behind their computer screen, and actively goes out of their way to cause trouble on the Internet. Like the mythological troll, the Internet troll is angry and disruptive in every possible – often for no real reason at all.

Where the Worst Trolling Happens

You can find trolls lurking around almost every corner of the social web. Here are some good places to look.

YouTube comments: YouTube is notorious for having some of the worst comments of all time. Some people even say “it’s the trailer park of the Internet.”

Go and have a look through the comments of any popular video, and you’re bound to find some of the worst comments ever. The more views and comments a video has, the more trolling it’ll probably have as well.

Blog comments: On some popular blog and news sites that have comments enabled, you can sometimes find trolls cursing, name-calling and just causing trouble for the heck of it. This is particularly true for blogs that cover controversial topics or for the ones that tend to rack up a lot of comments from people who want to share their opinions with the world.

Forums: Forums are made for discussing topics with like-minded people, but every once in a while, a troll will come in and start spewing negative words all over the place. Other forums will often respond and before you know it, the thread goes completely off topic and becomes nothing but one big pointless argument.

Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr or practically any social networking site: Now that almost anyone can comment on a status update, reply to a tweet, converse in a community thread or send an anonymous question, trolling is absolutely everywhere that people can use to interact.

Big brands on Facebook, celebrities on Twitter and Tumblr teens with lots of followers face trolling every day. Unfortunately, as the web becomes more social and people can access social sites wherever they are from their smartphones, trolling (and even cyberbullying) will continue to be a problem.

Why Do People Troll on the Internet?

Every Internet troll has a different backstory, and therefore different reasons for feeling the need to troll a community on the Internet. They may feel depressed, attention-starved, angry, sad, jealous, narcissistic or some other form emotion.

What makes trolling so easy is that anyone can do it, and it can be done totally anonymously. Trolls can hide behind their shiny computers, screen names and avatars when the go out trolling for trouble, and after they’re all done, they can carry on with their real lives without facing any real consequences. Trolling makes a lot of cowardly people feel stronger.

Dealing with Trolls

If a troll tries to provoke you, just ignore them. They’re not worth your time or emotional distress. Try not to take anything personally. If you can, try to have a good laugh and think about how sad it is that people actually feel the need to insult complete strangers on the Internet.

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