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What is a troll?

Gizmodo's Mat Honan posted an item about trolling this morning.

He says there are two kinds of trolls -- the deliberate, malicious kind -- "the person who says or does something simply to get a rise out of people" -- and the trolls who don't consider themselves trolls, but "have good intentions, and see themselves as good people who are simply trying to help the world see things the 'correct' (i.e., their) way."

"Trolling is an inability to filter: an uncontrollable urge to say 'you're wrong.'"

Mat Honan: You're wrong. ; )

Actually, I think he's on to something, but I would define "accidental trolling" a little differently. Self-righteous, argumentative commenters trying to get people to see their point of view shouldn't be considered trolls. Actually, I think passionate advocacy for a point of view (without self-righteousness) is a virtue. Just saying "whatever" to everything is no way to live one's life.

To me, any definition of trolling would have to include attention as a motivation. This is what the deliberate and the accidental trolls have in common.

Accidental trolls see a big argument with lots of people going on. And if they chime in with a reasonable comment, they may feel bad because nobody's paying any attention to them. So instead they make an unreasonable comment.

The result is that the whole comment thread turns into an argument over that point. As others try to convince the accidental troll, he or she just refuses to be convinced. Now the troll achieves the sought after reward of having all the attention.

I've come across many accidental trolls. They're often hard to identify (sometimes people are just misguided or mistaken or hold a legitimately contrary view that appears to be deliberately unreasonable). They're easier to identify when they repeat the unreasonableness on multiple conversations.

Accidental trolls, like deliberate ones, do it for the attention. That's what makes them trolls.

As Google+ conversation cultivators, we should encourage argument and debate, and block the trolls, accidental or otherwise. That's the secret to great conversations.

http://gizmodo.com/5873503/why-we-troll
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68 comments
 
asking questions to Barack Obama
 
Do you spell it sociopath or narcissist? mmmmm
"Trolling is an inability to filter: an uncontrollable urge to say 'you're wrong.'"
 
His article is about to be troll'ed - We be trollin' mon.
 
hahahahahahahaha. just funny to classify the levels of trolling. "The troll is strong with this one"
 
I hear/read the word "troll" used in so many ways, I'm actually quite confused by it. Perhaps its still finding its footing :-)
 
I always took trolling in the very literal sense - a bastardization of the fishing technique "trawling" where you drag a line behind you, hoping to hook a fish. In that regard there is no such thing as "accidental" trolling. People troll to get attention. Whether or not they are self-aware enough to realize what they are doing is an actual, identified phenomenon is a different matter.
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There is a fine line between passionate advocacy and obstinate refusal of argument. A troll is and always has been defined as someone who seeks to inflame, not to engage. Passionate advocacy should be encouraged, it is the hallmark of good debate. Obstinate refusal of argument, for whatever reason, should be strongly discouraged/shamed. Sticking your ears in your fingers and yelling "LA LA LA" on the Internet should be a shaming offense.
 
+Kristina B. we all seek attention, otherwise we wouldn't be on G+, but the troll does so without contributing in a positive fashion to the conversation.
 
+Chris Chase I agree. And more specifically, that inflammation is done for the reward of attention.
 
Yes, the inability to filter is a property of a troll, but not a sufficient condition to be a troll. If the primary intent is to get attention, that seems like a good definition. Sometimes the boundary between stating your point for the sake of argument vs. stating it to get attention is a fuzzy one.
 
I've had questions about what Trolls are all about, this helped.
 
+Kristina B. disagreeing or commenting with no real substance or reason but to just evoke a reaction. I maybe wrong but just my thought.
 
Then there are the trolls who do it purely for the entertainment value, and don't try to harm anyone.
 
Someone can have a completely contrary viewpoint on a thread and not be a troll. I think people cross the line into trolldom when they are not willing to listen to another viewpoint and then proceed to try and disrupt the thread. I think there is a fine line between being very passionate and being a troll. Maybe that is why the term "troll" seems confusing at times.
 
+Chanchal Bhatia that is the definition that i've always thought of, regarding trolls. There is definitely intent - there is the "baiting" happening. A flame war is the result when the troll succeeds. When the flame war goes as far as the Godwin's Law , it ends.
 
+Marla Hughes This is close to what I was talking about in my first comment, the difference between a passionate advocate and an obstinate refuser of argument is whether or not someone is willing to be moved off their position. If you will not be moved, no matter the amount of evidence on the opposing side of an argument, then that is willful ignorance. It really is like sticking your fingers in your ears and running away screaming. However, it is still not technically trolling.
 
Here, in Brasil, a "troll" will be: "pé-no-saco", "chato-de-galocha" or, in fact, "pentelho".
 
+Garmon Estes It's over-used, for sure. I limit it to folks who deliberately provoke a response for the sake of the response, and not as a means to further a conversation (serious or not).
 
I read that and I couldn't agree with him at all. He basically said anyone that disagrees with your point and backs it up with their own reasoning is a troll. This is false beyond false.
 
Back in the olden days, the 1980's, when irc was the main means of internet social interaction, a troll was someone who entered a chatroom seeking the attention of another person in order to have a chat of a sexual nature (aka - talk dirty to me).

The meaning has since mutated to include (1) entering a conversation in order to start an argument, (2) using personal attacks during an argument, or (3) attacking someone's point of view.

I have discovered that occasionally the label troll is applied too liberally by some people. I tend to reserve it for (1), (2), and it's original definition.
 
So.... is trolling wrong or considered poor manners?
 
My "favorite" trolls (sarc) are the ones who say they do not understand what the topic is about, then you proceed to exhaustively tell them what the topic is about, and finally you find out they have a very strong and well versed opinion about that topic.
 
I love me a good debate/argument, but I dislike trolls.
 
+Mike Elgan I think calling someone a troll has become the new way to dismiss opinions you don't agree with as well. I have questioned the logic of a position that I agree with at times just to find out who the person arrived there. To see if it was the same reasoning as my own. Only to be called a troll. Then it turns into a witch hunt. Full on pitch fork style mobbing ensues where everyone on the thread attacks the "troll". It's hard to judge intent and to me intent is what makes a troll deplorable.
 
I've really never considered passionate advocacy (even to the point of not listening to others, or blathering on irrationally) to be the same thing as trolling. To me, trolling is be definition intentional (not accidental), it is trying to get people angry and cursing you out, and causing the devolution of the main subject, etc. In this sense it is intentional digital vandalism plain and simple because it infers that the vandal has no real moral argument, it is completely amoral and with their only goal being destructive. Passionate advocates, while sometimes misleading, rude, and as annoying as true trolls, are theoretically doing it out of some area of truth because they believe in their opinions.
 
I've been dealing with someone who alternates between "troll", "cyber-stalker", and "cyber-harasser" for 19+ months. She's not the standard "looking for a rise" kind of troll. She completely buys into her story that she is a prophet of God and can detect a small group of people who run a huge network of blogs/companies (including Mozilla which she seems to think I coded... I think I should be flattered at that assessment of my programming skills).

Her initial rude/obnoxious comments to her targets were easily ignored. Then, she ramped up her efforts to contact companies people dealt with. (Sadly, some companies actually took her seriously.) She's even tried contacting the IRS and police on some people. (To my knowledge, they didn't listen to her.)

Sadly, since her harassment is international (she's in Canada, I'm in the US), there aren't many legal remedies. I just need to block her wherever possible and warn whoever she targets next.
 
+Jason Levine that person's behavior to me just indicates a psychological problem. Trolls may have some sociopathic tendencies, but this person seems to have broken with reality in some profound way and probably needs serious professional help...
 
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Trolling has a few forms - One is the old newsgroup variant, which was to make a comment that was controversial enough to cause people to reply.

More recently, trolling has come to include people who litter forums or threads with LOL, WUT LOL, and whatever else comes to mind.

I wouldn't confuse trolling with flamebait, however. Trolls might use flamebait from time to time, but not always.
 
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Some people cannot take any argument whatsoever, so they ban you right away :-) I only ban over-argumentative people if they refuse to see other point of view whatsoever after a few exchanges.
 
the word has been misused out of relevance. +Chanchal Bhatia's posted definition is the original and was useful. it has lost its usefulness and has become a tool of intimidation. trolls (original definition) are alive and well on youtube.
 
Thanks for starting this discussion +Mike Elgan. Great topic and timely given the rise in Google+ size. I agree with +Robert Daggett that the term is often use to actually refute an argument / refuse debate.
I am not sure that "doing it for the attention" is what characterize trolls. It is more that their intent is to kill the debate. And too often, they succeed. But the person who started the discussion can easily moderate it on Google+. I love your conclusion: "As Google+ conversation cultivators, we should encourage argument and debate, and block the trolls, accidental or otherwise. That's the secret to great conversations."
 
My mom is a deliberate troll. I had to unfriend her on FB back in September because of the comments she was making on my wall. She's still mad about that.
 
+Amy Carson that is both sad, and hilarious. Condolences and congrats. :D

Also, this comment thread is so meta it's on the verge of collapsing space and time.
 
Yes trolling is out there...but aren't there -trolls and +trolls ...Just posting is chumb for trolls...Attention,info...no hate please switch bait :)
 
Thanks for your support, +Christopher Woo. Some days my life is a sitcom.

Just the topic of "trolls" is getting everyone riled up...
 
there used to be a company in the uk that built buildings trollope & coles bit off topic ooh aargh
Gary P.
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Spend about an hour with CB radio and you'll see the behavior's not limited to the internet. There is nearly constant infantile name-calling, insults of all nature (though the tend not to be too imaginative) and so forth. I always attributed it to anonymity - though why it brings someone pleasure is for the professionals.
 
Attempt at helping navigate the stream of comments (nothing else than my personal opinion :).
Best answers to Mike's original question so far: +Christopher Woo.
Best comments on the topic: +Julia Piatt +Robert Daggett +Chris Chase
Best moderator: +Marla Hughes
Hopefully, Google+ will automate this kind of curating chore. And if you like low quantity and [relative] high quality content by amateur posters, check me out :)
 
+Gary P. About CB. Was it me or did everyone on CB sound like they shared the same DNA???
 
+Gary P. OMG I forgot about all the smack talked on the CB. I attributed it to the same. till someone tracks you down! That's what I like about G+ anonymity is overrated.
 
+L. Gray You are so right. I've lost count of how many times I've been called a troll just for not going with the majority.
 
When you are losing the debate, go ad hominem! The internet is famous for enabling that.
 
+L. Gray The kind of trolling I like is the online equivalent of the Dada movement in the art scene. You're screwing with people's brains in a benign way, even if they don't realise it. After all, growth is always painful, isn't it?
 
As for Mr Honan's trolls, I'd call his definition too simplistic. There are as many types of trolls as there are trolls. What he's latched onto is sincerity, which is certainly an important factor, but not the only one.
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