12 Most Telling Characteristics of a Social Media Troll

12 Most Telling Characteristics of a Social Media Troll

I define a social media troll as someone who seeks to lure or bait people into negative, disruptive rhetoric for their own edification or to commandeer an otherwise free-flowing discussion among colleagues. They don’t recognize anyone that may be interested in discussing something that bores them and opt to criticize or yell “boring” instead of engaging in the discussion. They choose to belittle those who seek the information and discourse as well as those who try to provide it. They simply have no interest in anything that is not self-serving.

Trolls will defend their focus on expressing contrary opinions as an honorable attempt to rid the online community of fake-experts, get to the truth of a matter or enlighten their followers; however, their intent has nothing to do with community building or public enlightenment. If it was, they’d be more respectful in their debate. Advancing the understanding of a topic requires discussion, which by its very nature is bi-directional. There is no winner in a discussion, only points of view. Intelligent discussions don’t require people to agree but they do require a respectful exchange of ideas with the intent of exploring both sides, not “winning” or criticizing others.

Throughout the last 15 years, I’ve seen trolls work their way from discussion forums to blogs and now on to social networks. Like Shrek, they are no longer in hiding; they’re proud and openly walking among us. The nature of social media networks has created a prime hunting ground for them and they seem to revel in the celebrity of being a troll. The one thing that is consistent seems to be their unwillingness to admit that their intent is to be disruptive or self-serving rather than educational.

Are you a Troll? Not sure? You know you’re a Troll if you:

1. Display false interest

You join a chat you’re not interested in only tell people how lame the chat, topic or guests are.

2. Act overly critical

You join a chat and your only contribution to the collective discourse is to criticize comments, opinions or people.

3. Argue ad nauseum

You continue to argue a point well beyond any educational value for you or the audience to the point where you’re comments are simply repetitive rhetoric.

4. Wage attacks

You post personal attacks on someone’s character, family, job etc. instead of respectfully discussing the point at hand.

5. Present opinions as facts

You fervently argue subjects in which you have no real experience or subject matter expertise, yet present your point of view as fact.

6. Engage those you don’t like

You openly share your dislike or annoyance with an individual(s) yet continuously bait into public discussions through tweets/posts/blog comments.

7. Reject conflicting points of view

You publicly and loudly reject any opinion or fact that is not owned or shared by you, regardless of its validity or interest to the local audience or community at large.

8. Fan the flames in order to “win”

You refuse to “agree to disagree”, choosing to continue to bait your audience with questions and comments that fuels a continuing argument. You have to “win” every discussion as if was a game and will continue to argue even if the discussion moves on to other topics.

9. Don’t allow room for healthy debate

You don’t appreciate a dialogue with those who don’t express your point of view and never offer a “Thank You” for the exchange of information or opinions, choosing to get the last word in with a final insult or criticism.

10. Act childish

You resort to swearing or personal attacks when your point of view is not embraced by others instead of simply moving on.

11. Love to beat a dead horse

You introduce topics you love to hate-on even when no one else is discussing them or when it’s not part of the group’s discussion topic, simply to fuel your need to criticize.

12. Possess anger issues

You respond to others with increasing intensity, hatred, or provocation. You’re fuelled by the negativity.

There are many theories for why trolls are the way they are: bullied as children, jealousy, “little-man syndrome”, dropped on their heads as children maybe. Not sure. But they do exist.

If you’re being attacked by one, remember that trolls are like fire: they can only exist in the presence of oxygen. Removing their oxygen (your attention) is the best way to extinguish them. But this has to be done by the entire community, not just one person. Some try to engage the Troll, even trying to change or placate them but it only serves to fuel their ego and their attacks grow stronger. The community benefits from the group discussion and learning and it’s the community’s duty to ignore the Trolls in support of their victims.

Thoughts? Advice for others? Please share with the community.

Featured image courtesy of TonivS licensed via Creative Commons.

Sam Fiorella

http://www.senseiwisdom.com/

Sam Fiorella is a globetrotting interactive marketing strategist who has earned his stripes over the past 20 years in senior management roles with corporate sales &marketing teams as well as consulting for more than 30 marketing agencies. Sam’s experience with over 1600 Interactive projects during the past 15 years spans the government, finance & insurance, manufacturing, national retail and travel/tourism sectors. Currently, Sam is the Chief Strategy Sensei at Sensei Marketing, where he is charged with strategic campaign guidance and marketing technology development that power the Sensei Customer Lifecycle Methodology. Sam is a respected blogger and popular keynote speaker on marketing, branding and social media communications having presented at more than 200 conferences in the past 2 years. Follow Sam on Twitter or Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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57 comments
Sappho Aviva
Sappho Aviva

So, if I offer a correction to the spelling "argue ad nauseum"  to "argue ad nauseam," does that make me a troll because I'm being, oh, I don't know, critical? I wonder, too, about the ideological loading in the word "respect." Wasn't it Edward Said who warned about this and how it can lead to a form of quietism, where participants are simply too afraid to say anything for fear of not being thought nice? Critical discourse is not the same as social discourse (and is very different again from the inherently persuasive nature of sales and marketing discourse), and I think that's a distinction that's not quite carefully analyzed enough, especially when this topic of "dismissing trolls" comes up.

Jennyjinx
Jennyjinx

@LucyALloyd Oh, man, does that sound like a lot of twitter.

TimNichols
TimNichols

@samfiorella Addendum to numbers 3 and 8: Trolls fail to respect Godwin's Law and its corollary - the first to compare the subject in question to Nazis/Hitler loses and the discussion is ended. http://bit.ly/jBaHZ9

Martina McGowan
Martina McGowan

Excellent post Sam. I think we've met the same people. I will be happy to pass this on. I could have used this list a few weeks ago :) . Live and learn. @martinamcgowan

OptioneerJM
OptioneerJM

Thank you for sharing this Sam. Thankfully, I have not run across folk like this. The best way of describing my experience, as in life, "birds of a feather, flock together".

With this heads up, I'll be on the "look out" for SURE!

Kim Phillips
Kim Phillips

I've probably been guilty of snarky commenting...no wait, I know I have...because there are huge numbers of people in the social media/blogging world who get out there with terrible writing, no facts, and no real point. They can't stand to be corrected in any way, which I attribute to the current "every kid gets a trophy no matter how bad he sucks" mentality. There is a totally famous social media blogger (if I said the name, you'd get it and I'd get a lawsuit) who regularly puts out posts with bad grammar and misspellings and defends those to the bitter end with a "I meant to do that" stance. The prevailing lack of critical thinking is shocking, and if any is ever used, people go nuts, calling you an negative old geezer. I'm thinking of doing a post called "The 12 Most Disturbing Forms of Positive Thinking," which will probably get me thrown out. This business of having to like everything breeds not only mediocrity but also a tendency to view all things as relative, with no intrinsic value of their own. This really came home to roost with all the flak about the new Facebook format. That being said, this post gives me a lot of food for thought.

janetcallaway
janetcallaway

Sam, I have seen some trolls in action on tweetchats and it is not a pretty sight. Usually, it takes a while before people catch on that it is, in fact, a troll. In the meantime, the chat deteriorates and goes way off topic as people honestly and nicely attempt to respond to the troll's repeated demands.

They think they are not explaining properly when, in fact, all they are doing is inadvertently fanning the flames as the troll revels in the attention.

Mahalo, Sam. Until next time, aloha. Janet

BruceSallan
BruceSallan

Sam - I'll read this later...btw, will you please RT ALL my tweets and send me $$$ for my effort to get a new car?

spikejones
spikejones

Love.

I actually watched someone very recently post about how it's sad how there is no more professionalism in business and then go on yet another attack of someone's personal character calling them names and belittling their experience and education.

The other part that I just can't figure out is that if they are in this "social" business, they would never advise one of their clients to attack others, right? It's do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do to the nth degree.

I think another characteristic is that these personalities would even echo your sentiment here and then turn around and try to call out others in their attacks. Or better yet, claiming that they, themselves, have been the victim of trolls. I still have an email from a few years back from one of these people calling me every name in the book - vulgar and otherwise - because I did challenge them in an online social forum.

At the end of it all, what keeps me from getting all worked up is knowing that these folks are crying out for attention because they are trying to validate their existence. Behind a computer screen and keyboard, they matter. They have an audience. People CARE about them (or at least the illusion of caring). And they have bought into it wholeheartedly. They believe their own hype. And that hype has been built on them attacking others and paying into their own ego-inflation. They are a big deal in a very small fishbowl. Outside of that fishbowl? Not so much.

margieclayman
margieclayman

Hmm. None of these traits ring a bell with me. Never seen any of 'em. I wish I could offer some good advice here but I have just never experienced anything along these lines.

You're weird!

BrandFlair
BrandFlair

This post could actually be titled "12 Most Telling Characteristics of Career Politicians." You would not have to change a word other than swap 1) social media for politics and 2) Chats for Townhall Meetings. I think most of them other than Herman Cain and Ron Paul would fall in the Troll category. Great post Sam. Love your writing!

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV

I'd like to add another that is sort of interesting.

Many trolls aren't experts or even knowledgeable in the subjects in which they provoke. If anything erks me it is when I see that.

My simple perspective is this. Disagreement is fine, but add to the conversation. If you have better insight, then share it.

But then again, without these antics, I wouldn't be able to write posts about why Twitter is like High School :O)

PegFitzpatrick
PegFitzpatrick moderator

Absolutely brilliant post @samfiorella . I greatly respect your debate skills and engagement style. You & I have both dealt with troll problems and they are stressful. One of the problems with being a a small social media community is that trolls can exist within the group and if not dealt with properly the problem just snowballs. This causes disharmony within the group and people leave.

This statement summarizes it for me:" Intelligent discussions don’t require people to agree but they do require a respectful exchange of ideas with the intent of exploring both sides, not “winning” or criticizing others." I have encountered several trolls who like to try to come off as creating "intellectual debate" while causing havoc and spreading negativity. One uses faux hashtags/accounts because they lack the courage to stand up for their negative spewing.

I would love to tweet this to a few specific people but I am sticking with "Don't feed the trolls, they'll eat your soul." Thankfully, the troll to fabulous people ratio is very, very low.

Power to the positive people!

Love this post,

Peggy

abashford
abashford

Is that 3,4,3,4 numbering Troll-bait?

Kim Phillips
Kim Phillips

@Sappho Aviva That would depend on the definition of "overly" in rule #2 above. To those raised in the Everybody Gets a Trophy generation, any amount of criticism is too much. There can be no critical discourse because critical (i.e. questioning, challenging) thinking is not allowed. "Good job!" is allowed.

samfiorella
samfiorella

@TimNichols Wow. Someone going there is beyond a Troll. They're a douchebag. (I'd break the swearing/name calling rule for such people). Sad.

jenjarratt
jenjarratt

@Kim Phillips I wish you'd write that post. As a lifelong pessimist, it would probably give me some insights!

samfiorella
samfiorella

@Kim Phillips

Thanks for sharing. Great comment. There's nothing wrong with a healthy dose of snark. If fact, I rather enjoy it. Provided that it's good natured and delivered with the intent of moving a dialogue forward instead of on a tangent (personal attacks on an individual)

I agree that we shouldn't fawn over every comment just for the sake of being polite.

There's a place for debate and challenging of people’s opinions and comments. If fact, I think it's absolutely necessary provided that the debate is constructive and focuses on the topic, not the personalities. We cannot move knowledge forward without it good debate.

samfiorella
samfiorella

@janetcallaway

Yes, that's just it. Today's new breed of Social Trolls in many cases are quite intelligent, have jobs, families, etc. They are not the stereotypical young jobless males living in their mother's basements with no friends. Their personas come across as normal professional – people like you and me – yet they very duplicitous and negative in their engagement.

I cringe when I see people trying to engage them politely, unaware that they are giving him/her exactly what they want. Like moths to a flame.

samfiorella
samfiorella

@spikejones That was my point about community. Many social media trolls have a large following - people who get some entertainment value out of their antics. They see these followers as justification of their antics instead of the rubber-neckers who slow down to gawk at the car crash. It's morbid curiosity, not "caring". Again, the community must take a stand.

samfiorella
samfiorella

@BrandFlair I appreciate the comment. Thanks. (and sadly, I think you may be right about the politicians. To their defence, many will acknowledge what they are)

samfiorella
samfiorella

@danielnewmanUV Agreed. It's not even about their opinion in many cases, let alone any expertise in the subject matter. It's really only about "amusing themseleves" through criticism of others regardless of the discussion topic.

samfiorella
samfiorella

@PegFitzpatrick thanks for the comment Peggy. The concept of community has to extend to self-management. The community must stand up and self-police itself for the sake of the whole and not leave it to one or two people to do that job.

Sappho Aviva
Sappho Aviva

@Kim Phillips @Sappho Aviva Yes, Kim, I think you're right. Reminds me of when I was learning to ski. I was skiing (badly), as one does when learning something new, and so were others, mostly children, close by. Still, I noticed that no matter what the children did (haphazardly skiied, stood up, fell down ... breathed), everything was met with a manic "good job!" by the instructors. Unfortunately, though, when a child actually DID make sudden and remarkable achievement and received a "good job," all sense of its meaning was considerably diluted through overuse, if not lost entirely. 

Jennyjinx
Jennyjinx

@LucyALloyd Funny that it infects all areas and topics on twitter. Well, not funny, I guess. Typical? *sigh*

BrandFlair
BrandFlair

@samfiorella@spikejones I think Social Trolls are all people who used to play WoW but got sick of annoying people for 15 bucks a month. Now they can do it for free and run their own Social Media Guild....I mean Troll Tribe.

PaulBiedermann
PaulBiedermann moderator

@samfiorella Agreed — but first communities must have an established foundation of principles and values that people can point to and rally to uphold.

Kim Phillips
Kim Phillips

@Sappho Aviva @Kim Phillips Yeah, hard to get better when everybody's telling you you're perfect. Used to be that sitting on the bench was an incentive for working harder and playing better, that "taking laps" was a consequence of not trying hard enough. If you know you're going to get a trophy no matter what you do, why bother? This leads to entitlement over effort and does nothing to build resilience or character. Had an experience recently with a retail establishment run by 20-something hipsters in a too-cool part of town. A week before Christmas, they're opening at 11:00 a.m., four days a week. Not exactly conducive to selling those gifts I wanted to buy for customers. When I suggested they might want to keep hours that are more like other stores, they went nuts, said I was harshin' their buzz, whatever. That's how sincere, polite feedback is received. Buh-bye. 

Jennyjinx
Jennyjinx

@LucyALloyd Yeah, you're right. That particular incident was really odd b/c I was really friendly w/ her. But yeah, I can see that.

LucyALloyd
LucyALloyd

@Jennyjinx Sarcasm- especially when dry like yours- is hard to explain. You get it or you don't. Ehh.

Jennyjinx
Jennyjinx

@LucyALloyd My own situation happened because I was too friendly w/o explaining my sarcastic wit. I was really nice and then RAWR.

LucyALloyd
LucyALloyd

@Jennyjinx I've seen it come and go. Mostly, it seems like expressing an opinion boldly makes one a target. Weird inversion of civility.

BrandFlair
BrandFlair

Hey just trying to do my best troll impression. :-)

samfiorella
samfiorella

@BrandFlair

You know I think they've evolved from the Forum Trolls of old. They were usually anonymous and didn't have the celebrity that Social Trolls do. I believe we're witnessing the creation of a new breed.

PaulBiedermann
PaulBiedermann moderator

@samfiorella Makes sense, but only in a perfect world. Unfortunately, I have seen people become uncomfortable in these types of situations and afraid to be drawn into a negative undercurrent. Rather than rise up in support, many just seem to leave.

PegFitzpatrick
PegFitzpatrick moderator

@samfiorella@PaulBiedermann I agree with Paul that a community needs an established foundation - I personally had problems with someone and it went on a for much longer than it should have due to the community accepting the behavior while I personally did not. So you can choose to leave the community or block the person. I eventually blocked the person who then continued to have faux conversations with me by mentioning me within the hashtag and setting up other accounts. Since I had blocked them I couldn't see them on Tweetdeck but would see them on my iPad app.

As you said @samfiorella "But this has to be done by the entire community, not just one person."

samfiorella
samfiorella

@PaulBiedermann Interesting point. Does a community need an "established foundation of principles and values" to collectively weed out trolls? I would think that any community - by its nature - would have a defacto communication standard: encourage & engage in open, respectful and inclusive engagement without having it formalized?

PaulBiedermann
PaulBiedermann moderator

@abashford Sorry about that! Sometimes Sam likes to be tricky and test us editors. All fixed.

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