Discussion trolling

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Discussion trolling (or just "trolling") is the act of disrupting a conversation with irrelevant or inflammatory comments in an attempt to provoke an emotional overreaction from, and/or waste the time and energy of, opposing parties, as opposed to working honestly towards the goals of rational discourse.

The word "troll", in this context, may also refer to:

  • a comment made with the intention of trolling
  • a person who engages in trolling

Discussion trolling is most commonly found in text-based discussions on the internet, typically in the reader comments on a blog post, where others in the conversation cannot easily use out-of-band communication (e.g. facial expressions, body language, instant messaging) to reach a consensus as to whether or not trolling has occurred or take action to exclude the troll from the conversation.

(This is one reason why some form of moderation is generally necessary in order to maintain civility in text-based discussions involving a large enough group of participants.)

Common Techniques

Trolling techniques include:

1. taking serious offense at humorous put-downs (remarks implying drug use are a favorite)
2. taking criticism as a personal attack
  • This applies both to general criticisms of ideas that the troll happens to believe in (even if there was no way the speaker could have known this in advance), as well as politely-worded criticisms of the troll's actions or statements.
3. making vague provocative statements
4. declining to provide any evidence for one's statements, then accusing your opponent of the same
5. throwing acorns
6. disengage-and-bait tactics:
  • frame the discussion as one which is only being perpetuated by immaturity (or other undesirable attributes)
  • accuse opponent of being the one perpetuating the "pointless, immature, schoolyard" discussion
  • if opponent seems to be backing off, make inflammatory accusations so that they keep responding (thus proving your point)
7. Start an argument over something trivial, then complain about people arguing over trivia.

Note: This list should probably be split into "techniques" (the underlying tricks used by trolls) and "indications" (how to tell if someone is trolling).




While some trolls may be in it just for the fun of causing a disruption (the internet equivalent of kicking over an anthill and then retreating to a safe distance), some trolls may be methodically attempting to prevent productive conversations on certain topics -- either because of a personal preference, or because they are being materially compensated for doing so.

More study is needed, as there have not yet been any proven cases of this sort of trolling. There certainly have been cases where people were paid to express certain opinions in open discussion areas, so paid trolls would seem a logical next step. They would be harder to detect, and might be able to get certain topics declared "off-limits" due to their "inflammatory" nature -- when in fact it is the troll who has been doing most of the inflaming.


  • http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2010/12/kwanzaa_cake_maker_confesses.php: comment #2 is obviously a concern troll, though difficult to refute without knowledge of how genuine low-budget meals should be prepared; comment #9 does a very nice take-down, as does comment #18 (from a somewhat different angle). Fortunately, nobody seems to take the troll too seriously.
  • The Further Left You Are the Less You Know About Economics: "CharlieK" posts a long, rambling argument which is quickly demolished by "Pro Street", who also identifies the post as a troll. "CharlieK" deliberately and clearly distorts "Pro Street"'s rebuttal, which "Pro Street" points out -- but "CharlieK" is allowed to continue his pointless arguing because there is no social mechanism by which other readers can collectively agree that he is being a nuisance.