THE MAJOR BREEDS
The Vulgar Troll. These, the crudest of all trolls, make no attempt to hide their species. Often, they make racist comments, or they may post porn and other spam. Vulgars usually confine their comments merely to primitive, profane, off-topic observations. When you log into the Really Profound Serious Philosophical Discussions board and see the post, "I smell my farts," you've spotted the Vulgar Troll. Other species of troll sometimes revert to this form when cornered.
The Deceptive or "Classic" Troll. More sophisticated but often easily identified and exposed, the Classic Troll gratifies his ego by pretending to be someone or something he or she is not. Classics make up elaborate stories about themselves, sometimes weaving some amounts of truth into their lies. As a web of lies is difficult to build with consistency, however, Classics are often "outed" by other forumites. When this happens, Classic Trolls have a bag of tricks to which they turn:
-- Classic Troll Tactic Number 1: If the heat gets too much for you, claim it was all "a joke." In this way you can excuse any and all deceit by claiming people just weren't smart enough to "get" the humor of it.
-- Classic Troll Tactic Number 2: Create another account, and log on pretending to be someone else, in order to show support for the Troll in Question (TiQ). These puppet accounts sometimes claim to be disinterested third parties. At other times they pretend to be "friends" of the TiQ.
-- Classic Troll Tactic Number 3: When your lies paint you into a corner, claim that your little brother, or some unnamed friend, has commandeered your account and made you look foolish. This technique can also be applied in claiming that the puppet account(s) you created may not, in fact, be disinterested third parties or friends, but that they are your relatives ("little brother" is most common) only trying to help support you.
-- Classic Troll Tactic Number 4: When nothing else works, claim that now, finally, you're telling the truth about all the lies you told before. Make up a fresh set of lies, and throw yourself on the mercy of the forumites.
-- Classic Troll Tactic Number 5: When all else fails, claim to be leaving forever. Trolls who claim they are leaving never do, of course; you can bet that anyone who proclaims, "I'm never coming back here," will most certainly at least check back for responses, and probably will not be able to resist posting again.
-- Classic Troll Tactic Number 6: Have a tantrum. When all their other tricks are exhausted, Classic Trolls will become angry and start shouting. Often they revert to Vulgar Trolls when this happens.
-- Classic Troll Tactic Number 7: The insincere apology. Similar to Tactic 4, this involves pretending to repent for one's trolling and is accompanied often by great melodrama. Insincere troll apologists hope that they'll be forgiven if only they act disgusted enough with their own behavior.
Classic warning sign behaviors may be shared by other breeds.
Virtual Tough Guys are a subspecies of Classic Troll.
Virtual Senseis are a more dangerous breed of Virtual Tough Guy.
The Contrarian Troll. A sophisticated breed, Contrarian Trolls frequent boards whose predominant opinions are contrary to their own. A forum dominated by those who support firearms and knife rights, for example, will invariably be visited by Contrarian Trolls espousing their beliefs in the benefits of gun control. It is important to distinguish between dissenters and actual Contrarian Trolls, however; the Contrarian is not categorized as a troll because of his or her dissenting opinions, but due to the manner in which he or she behaves:
-- Contrarian Warning Sign Number One: The most important indicator of a poster's Contrarian Troll status is his constant use of subtle and not-so-subtle insults, a technique intended to make people angry. Contrarians will resist the urge to be insulting at first, but as their post count increases, they become more and more abusive of those with whom they disagree. Most often they initiate the insults in the course of what has been a civil, if heated, debate to that point.
-- Contrarian Warning Sign Number Two: Constant references to the forum membership as monolithic. "You guys are all just [descriptor]." "You're a lynch mob." "You all just want to ridicule anyone who disagrees with you."
-- Contrarian Warning Sign Number Three: Intellectual dishonesty. This is only a mild indicator that is not limited to trolls, but Contrarians display it to a high degree. They will lie about things they've said, pull posts out of context in a manner that changes their meanings significantly, and generally ignore any points for which they have no ready answers.
-- Contrarian Warning Sign Number Four: Accusing the accusers. When confronted with their trolling, trolls immediately respond that it is the accusers who are trolls (see Natural Predators below). Often the Contrarian will single out his most vocal opponent and claim that while he can respect his other opponents, this one in particular is beneath his notice.
-- Contrarian Warning Sign Number Five: Attempts to condescend. Pursued by Troll Bashers (see Natural Predators below), the Contrarian will seek refuge in condescending remarks that repeatedly scorn his or her critics as beneath notice -- all the while continuing to respond to them.
-- Contrarian Warning Sign Number Six: One distinctive mark of Contrarian Trolls is that every thread in which they dissent quickly devolves into a debate about who is trolling whom. In the course of such a debate the Contrarian will display many of the other Warning Signs mentioned above.
Contrarian warning sign behaviors may be shared by other breeds.
The Agenda Troll. Agenda trolls are those participants who join a forum specifically to pursue an agenda of their own -- often a feud or grudge with another member, or perhaps a dispute with some party not participating in that forum. When a flame war erupts on another board, for example, Agenda Trolls will follow their opponents to other forums in order to continue the spat.
Some Agenda Trolls are subject-matter oriented. An Agenda Troll who thinks Self-Defense Instructor X is a fraud, or who feels he has been ripped off or otherwise dealt with unfairly by Instructor X, will visit forums devoted to self-defense and martial arts in order to spread his or her negative opinion of Instructor X.
Agenda Trolls may also be of the milder Spam Agenda subspecies; these are Trolls who join a board specifically to advertise some venture of their own. They are not often troublesome, though their shameless plugging is met with varying degrees of irritation.
The Sophist Troll. Sophist Trolls, or "philotrolls," fancy themselves Enlightened Philosophers or Learned Experts of the highest order. Often well educated, Philotrolls are capable of speaking intelligently on a number of topics, and when the spirit moves them they can be worthwhile forum participants. Unfortunately, Sophist Trolls are an extremely hostile and intolerant species.
When confronted by opinions with which they do not agree -- particularly when they do not see any means of successfully arguing their contrary views -- Sophists resort (repeatedly) to a variety of intellectually dishonest tactics. Most often, this is characterized by an overly snide, condescending, patronizing attitude. Philotrolls consider anyone with whom they do not agree to be "immature," and are fond of quoting that old saw that "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."
When cornered they are quick to resort to personal attacks. A philotroll's bag of rhetorical tricks includes a variety of transparent ploys, such as willfully misinterpreting the opponent's words, committing Straw Man fallacies, accusing his or her opponents of engaging in the very tactics used by the philotroll, and so forth.
When engaging in their sophistry, philotrolls are among the most hypocritical and aggravating of trollkind.
The Affected Profundity Troll. A mutant subspecies of Sophist Trolls, Affected Profundity Trolls post endless pages of pretentious drivel that is intended to appear wise, but which generally makes little sense (if any). Affected Profundity Trolls enjoy asking themselves questions, sometimes answering them and sometimes leaving them hanging, for they believe this looks intelligent and lends an aura of mystery to their incoherent ramblings. Affected Profundity Trolls aspire to become Sophist Trolls, but lack the intelligence necessary to make the leap.
The Don King Troll. Related to Affected Profundity Trolls, Don King Trolls spout gibberish in the hope that they'll either bore or confuse to death those with whom they disagree. The average Don King Troll is "a pursuitist who gromulates his adversarial computerists with height defining formulations to the disinterestingest adjunct."
The Artistic Troll. A higher species of Classic Troll, Artistic Trolls are intelligent individuals who understand the subtle art of trolling, and who do what they do specifically to make others look foolish. Often employing the techniques of Deceptive Trolls, Artistics will string forumites along until some point in time designated by their own desires, at which point they will reveal the ploy, admit that it was a ploy, and laugh at everyone for being stupid enough to fall for it. Artistic Trolls delight in sowing discord, but do it in a highly developed and fully aware manner. They do not care if they are despised, and do not seek the approval of forum participants. Chaos is their only goal, and preferably chaos with a humorous bent to it. Without a doubt, this is the most dangerous species.
The Bitter Troll. Bitter Trolls are a curious cross-species. They can be trolls of any breed in their larval stages, but become Bitters after their previous activities are seen for what they were. What sets these trolls apart from other classifications is their behavior after they have been spotted and labeled as trolls. Angry, frustrated, and resentful about being "outed," the Bitter Troll will wage a campaign of indignant complaints intended to focus attention away from the troll and on whomever is responsible for identifying the creature. Often, a troll mutates into a Bitter just prior to becoming a Vulgar.
The Hybrid Troll. Trolls can be any combination of types, though some Hybrids are more common than others. Just because a given poster is a EuroTroll, for example, does not mean he or she is not also a Contrarian Troll. (The EuroContrarian Hybrid is actually very common.)
The Pretender Troll. The mutant offspring of Bitter Trolls, Pretenders become outraged when outed and attempt to channel their distress by mimicking their tormentors. Pretenders always "accuse the accusers," as they say, frequently (and falsely) charging that they are being wrongly labeled for merely dissenting in the course of a debate. Pretenders sometimes try to invent their own species labels and descriptions in desperate attempts to deflect and redirect the attention of other forumites. They may also ape the language and demeanor of their accusers (though they typically fail).
Trolls often have many basic characteristics in common:
1. Low post count. Trolls usually do not last long enough on a forum to rack up a large number of posts. Be particularly suspicious of any poster whose count is not yet in double digits and who appears to be causing trouble.
2. Suspicious IP addresses. Puppet accounts will have IP addresses identical to that of the TiQ.
3. Suspicious E-mail Addresses. Accounts that are similar in nature to those of the TiQ can indicate a puppet account. AOL accounts, for example, are particularly suspect, because AOL allows multiple usernames for a single account.
4. Syntax and grammar. Trolls, particularly Deceptives, invariably have trouble hiding their writing styles. Puppet accounts, or serial accounts created after previous accounts have been thoroughly discredited, will display traits similar to that of the TiQ.
Trolls have certain naturally-occurring enemies. Among them are these:
Moderators. An active moderator is the bane of trollkind, as a moderator can lock a troll's efforts before they come to fruition, see to it the troll is banned, and generally make the troll's existence unfulfilling. Moderators are normally above more direct efforts to humiliate or expose trolls, which makes them ultimately more dangerous but less intimidating to all breeds.
Troll Bashers. The worst enemy of trolls, Troll Bashers appear to possess an almost pathological hatred for trolls. Fully aware of the tools and tactics of trolling, Troll Bashers expose trolls whenever they see them. Often the first to identify Contrarians, and unforgiving in the pursuit of Deceptives, Troll Bashers are experienced and venomous. Often accused of being trolls themselves, Troll Bashers understand the difference between the initiation of trolling and the retaliation against it -- and believe any amount of retaliatory abuse is justified when a troll rears its ugly head.
Angry Forumites. Though normally slow to anger, and lacking the venom of Troll Bashers, Angry Forumites can pose a danger to trollkind when they gather in groups. While it takes three to five Angry Forumites to equal the danger represented by a single Troll Basher, they are not to be underestimated.
The Antrollpologist® Antrollpologists are those fascinated by the psychology, behavior, and identification of trollkind. They tend to write lengthy guides about spotting and dealing with trolls, which makes them particularly troubling to the disruptors in question. (Special thanks to Matt Seling for coining the term.)
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