On the usage of the word troll... April 30, 2001 12:41 PM   Subscribe

On the usage of the word troll...
posted by cCranium to MetaFilter-Related at 12:41 PM (11 comments total)

Yeah, yeah, you're awfully funny, thinking you're going to beat me for first comment, but I'm actually writing something long and involved, and you aren't. Nyah.
posted by cCranium at 12:42 PM on April 30, 2001

People are flinging the word "troll" around like day-old hotcakes in a frisbee competition, but most of what gets posted to MetaFilter and accused of trolling just plain isn't.

A troll isn't just any random offensive comment. I'm sorry, it just isn't.

A troll is a comment intentionally geared to get someone's (the trollee) back up.

The key word in the preceeding sentance is intentionally.

A random comment that can be taken as offense is not by default a troll, it is, by default, offensive. It is far more likely that someone thought they were being funny, and just landed flat on their face.

A blank generalization that doesn't contain an iota of background and supporting links is not by default a troll. It is far more likely that someone was posting something and didn't feel like elaborating because unless specifically requested, long elaborate posts are not the norm here.

Realise something: We're all here to find links, read comments, post comments, or some combination of all three. There are very few people here with the sole intent of pissing us off.

Insulting a Bush or calling people who think differently hippies is more often an off-handed joke than it is a call-to-arms for your favorite demographic.

It's pretty easy to accidentaly make an ass of yourself in an online dicussion environment. Trust me, I do it all the time. So before you go calling "troooooooooll" and getting the billy goats gruff all in a huff, think for a second "Could this person have been joking? If I read this with a mental smile on the other person's face, and a mental air of humour in their written tone, could it be construed as funny?"

Then, if it's ignorance, try a little patience. People don't realize they're ignorant, by definition. Share the knowledge, don't feel you're any better because you have what everyone should.
posted by cCranium at 12:57 PM on April 30, 2001

I'd also like to add that a troll is trying to elicit a response in order to make the responder sound foolish. So writing a biting post, sometimes even a mean one isnt trolling, really, it's just one person trying to get a response from other people. Sometimes in an effort to start a discussion, and sometimes just to air their legitamate distaste for a topic.
Too many people sound like a kid who's heard a new word, and wants to show it off, but doesn't quite know what it means.
Kind of like how all republicans are stupid idiot jerks.
posted by Doug at 1:23 PM on April 30, 2001

Aw crap. Thanks Doug, that's a fundamental aspect of trolling. I'm not quite sure why I forgot to include it, except for that whole making myself look like an ass stuff.

Damn long-haired free lovin' liberal hippie pot-head vegetarian socialist unmarried living-in-sin baby-eating bastards.
posted by cCranium at 1:32 PM on April 30, 2001

posted by jennyb at 2:08 PM on April 30, 2001

"Troll" may be a specific intent crime, but there's definitely a need to avoid posts which are likely to engender mindless, vapid threads. You have to anticipate how others will react. It's not fair; it's not just, but it's for the common good...
posted by ParisParamus at 2:46 PM on April 30, 2001

Actually, I think there's something to be said for mindless, vapid threads once in a while, but I agree with the second half of Paris' statement entirely. The explosion of users means that you can no longer count on everyone being so likeminded as to appreciate your intent, and the recent squaring-off between factions means that certain people are just looking for a fight and will take any excuse they can find.

So, sometimes a joke about Dubya or Clinton is just a joke, and sometimes it's a troll, but you can't predict how it might be received.

Maybe instead of jumping on people and yelling "Troll!" we can find some spectrum of contentiousness that everyone can grasp and do a better job as a community of warning our friends and adversaries when their rhetoric is potentially trollish.
posted by briank at 5:19 PM on April 30, 2001

I'm not saying people shouldn't consider what they're writing, that alone would save much confusion, especially in a text-based environment. I mean, look at the time difference in my first two posts, I spent 15 minutes composing something I knew I wanted to say.

But even then I forgot an important point. I'm just saying that it's hard to always take everything into consideration, especially when you're just trying to add a reasonably brief datapoint to the thread.
posted by cCranium at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2001

Sorry cCranium but I have to disagree here. It's not online anymore, but back when I was Usenet guide for about.com (back when it was still miningco.com) I wrote a piece about "The Accidental Trollist" and having been one many times, I speak from some experience. It is possible to be a troll and not be aware of it. Someone with opinions that are ignorant and offensive to others in society can make a statement which illicits the same kind of response that a purposeful troll statement can achieve. Oftentimes a troll, from his own drastically different point of view, thinks he's doing the right thing, or means well. That doesn't excuse the behavior, but it does explain it.

There are also people who purposefully make offensive statements just to get a rise out of people for mischievous or even nihilistic reasons, but they're just purposeful trolls. In most cases the trollees can't tell the true motive of the troller. It's not the intention of the troll that determines whether or not he is one, rather it's the result - or potential result - and a troll is a troll. Their motive is irrelevant.

Maybe someone who can't swim doesn't know that he's dog paddling to keep his head above water, but just because his brain isn't aware of the terminology, that doesn't change the descriptive term for the body motion. I've been called a troll on many occasions, and the derogatory nomenclature was justified in hindsight, even though it was not my intent to malign the public message service or disrupt communications. I was just trying to be heard. In the final analysis it is not intentions but results that define the outcome.

If it looks like a ducks, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, chances are it's a duck.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:55 AM on May 4, 2001

That's a very good point Zach, and you're most definitely right. I hadn't looked at it as such, but ignorance isn't an excuse.

I'll still argue though that, rather than outright dismissing someone's post as an intentional troll, it's much less aggrivating to assume that someone just doesn't know better.

There's lots of ignorance out there, and accusing someone of trying to stoke the flames usually isn't a good way to educate them.

There are times you do have to verbally smack someone around a bit to make them reassess their beliefs (hey, if someone feels that vehemently about something maybe they have a point), but I think a calm explanation helps the person you're trying to persuade much more open to your view point.

I'm not saying Blog Nicely, I'm just saying don't assume the worst.
posted by cCranium at 7:00 AM on May 4, 2001

A troll isn't a person. A troll is a comment or message. Trolling is the act of posting or uttering a troll, and you can't troll accidentally. That would be like dragging bait through the ocean accidentally. It has nothing to do with bridges or goats or or any of that crap.

"Trolling aims to elicit an emotional reaction from those with a hair-trigger on the reply key." It is the art of identifying people whose eye-rolling mechanisms are defective. Trolls are always funny. Trolling is not the same as flame baiting. Booya.
posted by techgnollogic at 12:25 AM on May 5, 2001

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