Internet trolls are people who want to provoke and antagonize others online for their own amusement. Here’s how to spot the signs that someone is a troll and how to deal with them.

What are Internet trolls?

If you’ve been on the internet for a while, you’ve probably encountered a troll at some point. An internet troll is someone who makes intentionally inflammatory, rude, or disturbing statements online to elicit strong emotional reactions in people or to steer the conversation off topic. They can take many forms. Most trolls do this for their own amusement, but other forms of trolling are made to push a specific agenda.

Trolls have been around in folklore and fantasy literature for centuries, but online trolling has been around for as long as the internet has been around. The first known use of the term dates back to the 1990s on the first online message boards. Back then, it was a way for users to confuse new members by repeatedly posting an internal joke. It has since become a much more malicious activity.

A shocked woman holding her laptop screen.

Trolling is different from other forms of cyberbullying or harassment. It is not normally targeted to a specific person and relies on other people paying attention and becoming provoked. Trolling exists on many online platforms, from small private chat groups to larger social media sites. Here is a list of places online where you are likely to see trolls online:

  • Anonymous online forums: Places like Reddit, 4chan, and other anonymous chat rooms are prime real estate for online trolls. Because there is no way of knowing who someone is, trolls can post very inflammatory content without repercussions. This is especially true if the forum has lax or inactive moderation.
  • Twitter: Twitter also has the ability to be anonymous and has become a hotbed for Internet trolls. Common methods of trolling on Twitter involve hijacking popular hashtags and mentioning popular Twitter personalities to gain the attention of their followers.
  • Comment sections: The comment sections of places like YouTube and news websites are also popular areas for trolls. You’ll find a lot of obvious trolls here, and they often generate a lot of responses from angry readers or viewers.

You will find trolls everywhere online, including on Facebook and on online dating sites. They are unfortunately quite common.

Signs someone is trolling

It can sometimes become difficult to tell the difference between a troll and someone who really wants to discuss a topic. However, here are some telltale signs that someone is actively lagging behind.

  • Remarks off topic: Get out of the subject completely. This is done to annoy and disrupt the other posters.
  • Refusal to recognize the evidence: Even when presented with hard, cold facts, they ignore it and pretend they’ve never seen it.
  • Your suspicious and condescending: One of the first indicators of a troll was that he would ask an angry respondent, “Why are you mad, brother?” It is a method designed to provoke someone even more, as a way to dismiss their argument completely.
  • Use of unrelated images or memes: They respond to others with memes, pictures, and gifs. This is especially true if it is done in response to a very long text message.
  • Apparently unconscious: They seem oblivious that most people disagree with them. Additionally, trolls are rarely angry or provoked.

The above list is by no means final. There are many other ways to identify when someone is trolling. Usually, if someone appears dishonest, indifferent to real discussion, and provocative on purpose, they are most likely an Internet troll.

How should I manage them?

A sign

The classic adage about trolling is “Don’t feed the trolls.” Trolls seek emotional responses and find provocation funny, so responding to them or attempting to debate it will only make them troll more. By completely ignoring a troll, they will likely become frustrated and go elsewhere on the internet.

You should do your best not to take what trolls say seriously. No matter how badly they behave, remember these people spend countless unproductive hours trying to drive people crazy. They are not worth your time of day.

If a troll becomes spam or starts clogging a thread, you can also choose to report it to the site’s moderation team. According to the website, nothing might happen, but you need to do your part to actively dissuade them from hanging out on this platform. If your report is successful, the troll may be temporarily suspended or their account may be banned altogether.