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


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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