Caution: Trolls at Work

Construction sites warn drivers of danger ahead, proceed with caution. Cyber sites have now become hazardous terrain at reader forums, and it bodes well for readers at American Thinker to be aware of the often elusive pitfalls of Trolls at Work.

What is a Troll, you ask? According to Scandinavian folklore,

"... a Troll is ‘an obnoxious creature bent on mischief and wickedness' who lives in hiding under a bridge, ready to strike fear and chaos is the hearts of innocents passing by."

Transplanted from a home under a bridge to the cyber world, a Troll

"is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum... with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional or disciplinary response, or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion."

And in the case of a politically conservative web site like American Thinker, the goal is often to "to attempt to disrupt the dissemination of a story, and to demoralize the people who wish to see the story disseminated," in the words of AT reader Lucius Vorenus.

Hmmm? Starting to ring a bell? Modern day Trollism reveals an amazing cast of characters in the World of the Troll. Researchers point out that the virtual world of the Internet frees the Trolls from earthly bonds of body and identity, giving them the power to fly like Peter Pan from the crack of dawn to the Witching Hour. There are no restrictions of time or place. Armed with a laptop and Wi-Fi, an array of Trolls appear around the clock, stealthily plotting to disrupt, disorient, irritate, insult, fool, deceive, and trick the minds of innocent victims in reader forums. Beware, Trolls at Work.

American Thinker articles and blogs invite readers to join the discussion. The accepted mindset is one of a civil, open, and honest exchange of opinions and thoughts. And yes, this is what the majority of readers believe without a second thought. Ah hah! Try telling that to the Trolls. And who are these creatures?

Researchers identify one strain of Troll as the "Internet personality disorder Troll,"which is

"characterized by attention-seeking and disruptive behavior in anonymous places. This Troll is easily identified by a variety of traits including a high rating on the charisma score that demands attention from all other forum participants, and establishes dominance in a thread." In other words, the forum is "all about me - I am the center of the universe and the discussion."  

Another strain of Troll is the individual seeking the illusion of power.  A guide to Trolls on states:

"trolls are sad people, living their lonely lives vicariously through those they see as strong and successful. Disrupting a stable newsgroup gives the illusion of power... and allows them to think they are strong, too. For trolls, any response is recognition; they are unable to distinguish between irritation and admiration; their ego grows directly in proportion to the response, regardless of the form or content of that response."

Other red flags for the novice Troll hunter are: off topic posting, never answering a direct question, and posting extreme pedantic comments. Watch also for the presentation of irrelevant facts to disrupt the discussion flow, and the ruthless targeting of new forum participants.

American Thinker is a magnet for another strain of Troll, the finely tuned and highly skilled political opposition infiltrator. No psycho basket case here -- this is the high-stakes, professional Great White Troll shark, sometimes a volunteer opposition advocate and other times (I strongly suspect) on the opposition payroll. The goal: search and destroy. How? With sweet words of "concern," with knee-cap crushing attacks, or with a strategy of "I'm one of you, but... "

Forewarned is forearmed - know your enemy. Tolls come in many forms. The "Concerned Troll" hopes to "sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group. Others speak in reasoned and dulcet tones in the hope of shifting the discussion from inflammatory issues about the Obama administration and Congress. Some come like snow-white sheep, introducing themselves as a conservative friend, or a newborn convert.

A few examples of various troll types:

The Concerned Troll

  • "I feel bad for Sarah, really. She does have promise but she was thrust into the spotlight way too early and she simply wasn't ready..."
  • "There's no denying Sarah was dealt some tough cards. She had a left-leaning MSM that was out to put a dagger in her candidacy from day one. Instead of playing the hand she was dealt, she folded. Sarah couldn't stand the heat and so she left the kitchen... we absolutely need fresh moral leadership. We'll never get it from a quitter."
Speak Softly While Manipulating a Change of Focus

  • I don't like Obama's policies anymore than you do, but as an undergrad law student I have to tell you that this case has had its day in court and the court has ruled that Obama is a US Citizen. I think it's time for us to move on to more substantive issues.

I'm One of You

  • As one of the newly reformed liberals who finally left all the hate I recently found in Obamaland, I feel forced to remind you all of all the hatred and fear of terrorism Bush exploited... driven by the conservatives finding a way to exploit hate."
  • Great article! The only answer to the problem is for more conservatives like us...
Trolls have no desire to stimulate or further a discussion, but only to manipulate and control it. Attention is what fuels the garden variety of Trolls. The more they get, the harder it is to eradicate them from an honest debate. They are short on facts, and long on mind control and the dissemination of misinformation, i.e. lies.

The consensus among experienced victims of the Troll flu in defending the integrity of a web site from an epidemic invasion is to ignore the Troll. For a Troll to be ignored is equal to not watering your avocado plant in your kitchen window. Eventually, it will dry up and wither away. advises us, "Trolls often use fallacious arguments or attack the members of the discussion thread when they attempt to defend themselves" from the Troll's ad hominem attacks. This is another reason not to feed the beast with a response. 

American Thinker readers are alert and experienced at Troll detection. Many identify a Troll by name and advise others in the discussion to ignore this infiltrator who actively tries to hijack the tread and break the flow of discussion by initiating a cross-fire dynamic with one other participant, affectively shutting others out who fear getting "in the middle" which is the goal of the Troll. When this happens, the Troll has succeeded in their strategy.

Why does it bode well to be alert for Trolls in your cyber neighborhood? To survive we must protect the perimeters of our conservative thinking and web site community. We must make sure that the clever and devious individuals whose goal is to create disorder and to block the dissemination of facts, information, and truth do not pollute and shackle our thinking. 

If you are a naturally trusting person and fear that an unconscious slacking off of Troll awareness may sneak over you, try posting a small banner at the top of your computer screen with the warning: "Please do not feed the Trolls."

Jeanette Colville is a comment moderator for American Thinker.
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