Trollery

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In previous posts on this subject (see "Readings" below), we have listed a number of traits of the typical troll.  There are a few more items that have not been explicitly covered, so I will mention them here.

First, though, a prefatory remark about the defining nature of a troll and what his / her modus operandi consists of.  Namely, the primary purpose of a troll is to disrupt the smooth, collaborative functioning of a discussion group that is dedicated to the discovery of ideas and free, fruitful, civil exchange of opinions.  Trolls want to inflame others so as to bring a screeching halt to amicable, productive dialogue and discourse.  Sometimes trolls will come perilously close to derailing an interesting discussion, causing a furor of denunciation and recrimination, but then, if the group is fortunate and things calm down, they will end up having a stimulating, enlightening conversation after all.

A conspicuous characteristic of the typical troll is that either they do not read the comments policy of the forums where they deposit their invective or they read the guidelines but choose not to adhere to them.  Our comments policy may be accessed by clicking on the link at the top right of the Language Log (LLog) homepage.  However, since many commenters consistently break these rules, I think it is fitting to list them here for all LLog readers to see:

Be brief. Blog posts may be long or short; blog comments should be short. If you have a lot to say, post it on your own blog and link to it. If you don't have a blog, you could start one easily (for example here or here). Or you could link to a document that you've published on your own web site, or (for example) here.

Be relevant. Language Log is our site, where we write about whatever we want. Our main concern is for the quality of experience for our tens of thousands of readers. As a commenter, you are a guest, and should comment on the content of the post you're commenting on. If you want to write about some other topic, do it on your own blog.

Be informed. If you don't know anything, please don't say anything. If the topic is new to you, do some research  before you comment. And take the time to be specific: "<specific person> discussed this in <specific reference>" is better than "I think that I once read something about this"; and "this seems to be inconsistent with <specific documented fact>" is better than "I don't agree".

Be polite. If you don't know what this means, don't comment.

Comments that violate these guidelines will be deleted without notice. Repeat offenders may be banned.

Some of the best and most highly respected bloggers on LLog have ceased to write here any longer because of the viciousness and violence of the comments they encountered time and time again.  That's a great loss for all of us.

If you don't want to be a troll, avoid:

preening, prancing, and parading (i.e., don't show off; be humble)

pomposity and pedantry

pouncing and denouncing

officiousness and arrogance

superciliousness and smugness

vituperousness and vileness

name-calling and ad hominem aspersions

insinuation and ascribing guilt by association

castigation and chastisement

shouting people down

changing topic and shifting blame

repeated off-topic observations — focus on the subject at hand

repetition and piling on ("what X and Y said" — that is so boring and unhelpful)

magnifying a blemish or defect of others so as to nullify their contributions

self-righteousness

demonization

negativity

gratuitous politicization and blatant partisanship

Instead, do:

stick to the topic of the post

emphasize the positive

add useful information

learn what you can from the o.p. and other commenters

maintain your critical faculties without giving in to cynicism and censure

Since trolls are fundamentally adversarial and antagonistic, the don'ts are more numerous than the dos.

Trollery is not drollery; it can be hurtful and destructive.

In Chinese, we have a saying:  "yīwén bù zhí 一文不值" ("not worth a penny / farthing") when a person considers something or someone utterly worthless.  I personally don't think that is ever the case.  I always try to find something useful in whatever I confront.  Indeed, if one looks at the world with an open mind, it is surprising what treasures one may discover, worth far more than one might have expected with jaded, jaundiced eyes.

To whom does all this apply?  As my Mom used to say, "If the shoe fits, wear it."

 

Readings



21 Comments

  1. Aaron said,

    April 7, 2020 @ 8:06 am

    I'm sorry to hear you've had trouble with trolls lately. Moderating online spaces is a difficult and often thankless task. I appreciate your efforts.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    April 7, 2020 @ 8:20 am

    Thank you, Aaron.

  3. Mark P said,

    April 7, 2020 @ 8:45 am

    My impression of both the content and most comments has been generally good. In fact, LL has had a reputation for years for high quality in both. It's unfortunate that trolls have managed to discourage the authors.

  4. Theophylact said,

    April 7, 2020 @ 9:14 am

    I fully understand why Geoff Pullum's posts usually had the comments closed.

  5. Jenny Chu said,

    April 7, 2020 @ 9:51 am

    Which topics attract the greatest trollery? (And is there is a paper in this?)

    My uneducated guesses would be:

    – All varieties of prescriptivist topics in English: maximum troll
    – Turkic kaymak and Sinitic sū (and similar): low troll level

    ?

  6. Robot Therapist said,

    April 7, 2020 @ 3:57 pm

    Only the crudest of trolls use invective. One of the most typical tactics, in my experience, is "pretending to misunderstand", drawing the original poster into more and more efforts to clarify.

  7. John Shutt said,

    April 7, 2020 @ 8:53 pm

    While I agree the pretending-to-misunderstand trolling strategy is a familiar one (we see those at Wikinews), there are also people who, in good faith, genuinely consistently misunderstand explanations because of incompatibilities between the way they think and the way the explainer thinks. (Honest behaviors that mimic trolling strategies can, in my experience, be a worse problem for a community than an actual troll; if administrators know enough to recognize the good intent, so that they're reluctant to apply the sort of measures they would use against an actual troll, you've then got a user acting much like a troll without being quashed, and this can go on for a very long time.)

  8. Rick Rubenstein said,

    April 7, 2020 @ 9:51 pm

    Unfortunately, another trait of trolls is that they don't give a damn about such policies. If they wanted to adhere to the norms which make for productive discussion, they wouldn't be trolls.

  9. AntC said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 4:26 am

    …, the primary purpose of a troll is to disrupt the smooth, collaborative functioning of a discussion group that is dedicated to the discovery of ideas and free, fruitful, civil exchange of opinions. Trolls want to inflame others so as to bring a screeching halt to amicable, productive dialogue and discourse.

    And that accords with the definitions of (Internet) 'troll' on wikipedia, wiktionary, urban dictionary.

    Are there posters here with malicious intent to "disrupt" or to "bring to a screeching halt"? That is a strong accusation. I have to say I've seldom seen it (if ever, but then I don't follow every discussion).

    What I do see sometimes is people with strong opinions, expressed vehemently, that seem oblivious to the kind of evidence or reason I expect to see on a blog devoted to linguistics-as-science. If anybody tries to counter such posts, deploying evidence, reason, scientific discipline, the thread can rapidly veer off-topic. I see no evidence the posters (on either side) are insincere or wanting to inflame as their sole objective. If that veering is the sort of behaviour Prof Mair wishes to curtail, 'troll' is the wrong word, and the O.P. has missed its target.

  10. AntC said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 4:44 am

    Some of the best and most highly respected bloggers on LLog have ceased to write here any longer because of the viciousness and violence of the comments they encountered time and time again.

    If that remark is referring to a 'respected blogger' I particularly miss, my observation is he withdrew not because of viciousness and violence of comments, but because of Political Correctness gone mad. Just as a compiler of dictionaries must state definitions of words as they are used, even if those senses are offensive and non-PC, so I expect a blogger here to be able to mention and discuss (not use) such words — even to discuss (not use) them in a robust signature style — without a whole bunch of people who seldom otherwise comment getting their tail-feathers in a twist. In that particular brouhaha my sympathies were entirely with the blogger; I considered his apology unnecessary; and I would have banned the whole PC brigade — who seemed to be unaware of a fundamental Linguistics distinction between mention vs use.

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 6:14 am

    Sigh. Anonymity is all very well, but this thread is getting more perplexing with every contribution. Who are the alleged trolls, and who are "the best and most highly respected bloggers on LLog" who have ceased to write here ?

  12. John Shutt said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 7:38 am

    The greater danger is that people who do not intend disruption may, nonetheless, contribute to degeneration of the quality of discourse. This is something that has always been possible (through the centuries or millennia) but has become much, much easier to do, harder to avoid, and thus more common, in the new medium of the internet. A major problem, in my experience, though it may sound trivial, is the lack of a suitable word for someone whose behavior is having a similar effect to that of a troll without intent to disrupt. People may get offended when told their behavior is "trollish" or the like, and that can become in itself a source of further deterioration of the social atmosphere. Thus, the word "troll" becomes in itself an agent of social destabilization.

    The guidelines for this forum seem to me to be important primarily as guidelines for those of us who do mean well, rather than for any bearing on the less common phenomenon of deliberate disruption.

  13. Rose Eneri said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 10:04 am

    IMHO it is not the job of only the host to monitor for trolls. Every earnest commentor must do their part by ignoring the troll and not taking their bate. I know many people believe all extremist comments must be countered. But I think if we ignore the trolls, they will go away.

    As I assume the absent blogger we are referring to is Prof Pullum, I'm glad to learn that his absence is not due to his final reward which is what I had feared.

    Regarding comments in general, I usually do not read long comments, especially by writers who are paragraph-challenged. It's just too taxing.

  14. V said,

    April 9, 2020 @ 4:44 pm

    "The troll comes to the door of a new forum and sets down his bag of tricks. If he has a grudge against the people inside discussing and debating their passions with a certain degree of amicability, peacability and decorum, he does not show them. He has the cracked, stoic smile of Robin Goodfellow, a Puck with the simple desire to disrupt peace itself. He loves chaos; his bag is full of golden apples he can lob to set the masses squabbling. He has also many masks, smoke bombs, straw men, cloaks, puppets, matches, ethanol, knives, dust, sand, and magicks of the most arcane sort. He knows what he is about – causing trouble. Why? This is the troll's darkest mystery – if any one knew his secret, he would die. For all trolls, their motive power is this: without contraries, they cannot progress."

    Remember that website from 1998-ish? It had a classification of 20-to-30 different kinds of disruptive people on web fora. The picture accompanying it was a person sitting on a bucket, fishing inside a computer monitor with goldfish in it.

  15. V said,

    April 9, 2020 @ 4:49 pm

    Unfortunately, it is now defunct, or at least I can't find it. The title was "internet warriors".

  16. John Shutt said,

    April 10, 2020 @ 12:07 am

    @V said: Flame warriors; has the picture you describe (under "troller"): link.

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    April 10, 2020 @ 5:11 am

    Sadly some of the accompanying illustrations (e.g., http://www.flamewarriorsguide.com/Assets/furioustyper.jpg) seem to have vanished into the mists of time; I shall have to see if the wonderful Wayback Machine can help bring them back to full glorious Technicolour life …

  18. Andrew Usher said,

    April 10, 2020 @ 7:19 am

    I have to agree; while I've seen a few trolling posts here they normally don't get a response and therefore do no harm. There aren't any regular posters that come anywhere near that category.

    I remember the 'Flame Warriors' site/list as well; it had only humor value in my opinion and was not to be taken as a serious guide to dealing with trolls. I wouldn't mind preserving it for that sake, but it is to today's internet a trlic.

    k_over_hbaarc at yahoo dot com

  19. V said,

    April 10, 2020 @ 10:23 am

    Andrew Usher: "but it is to today's internet a trlic" trlic? That's not a term I'm familiar with? Although I do agree with the general implied sentiment.

  20. Andrew Usher said,

    April 10, 2020 @ 10:01 pm

    Typo; 'trlic' for 'relic'. I don't know why I didn't catch it, certainly I can't blame anyone for not understanding!

  21. Graeme said,

    April 12, 2020 @ 7:26 am

    "since many commenters consistently break these rules, I think it is fitting to list them here"

    For a moment I thought we were getting a name and shame!

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