What is an Internet Troll?  Trolling Definition & Meme

In Internet slang, “trolling” refers to any type of act that intentionally elicits an emotional response from other Internet users. Hence, a “troll” is someone who deliberately instigates a dispute with other Internet users to trick them into being emotional. And does so to amuse oneself or to gain something.

Depending on the context, trolling may take a variety of possible forms. And if you’ve been online within the past few decades, chances are you’ve come across Internet trolls of various kinds. But even though trolling and trolls have been around for some time, these terms are often used inappropriately.

Let us learn more about the unique culture of Internet trolling below. We’ll find out how trolling and troll meme came to be and take a look at the psychology behind trolling. Alongside, we’ll discover what popular forms trolling and trolls take online and uncover some notorious incidents involving trolling.

Trolling and Troll: Origins of the Terms

The word “troll” originally comes from Scandinavian folklore. Old Norse fairy tales describe trolls as standoffish creatures, who are cranky and thickheaded, and who tend to bother travelers. Ironically, the way an average Internet troll happens to act today doesn’t diverge much from the original meaning.

It was not until the early 1990s, though, that the term troll came to be used in its modern sense. As Oxford English Dictionary suggests, the first account of the term’s modern use took place in 1992. As such, the term appeared in the phrase “trolling for newbies” in alt.folklore.urban, a Usenet group.

Over the next decades, the terms trolling and troll have evolved, acquiring the meanings that they have today. The concepts of trolling someone and being a troll, however, are not recent and have been around for some time. In fact, they seem to be present in various languages from around the globe.

Trolling in Various Languages Around the World

Trolling is a very common behavior. And it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume trolls have a diverse geography. Besides English, other languages also attempt to describe trolling, namely:

Chinese Trolling in the sense of being foolish and ignorant is called “bái mù” in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The phrase literally means “white eye.” In metaphorical way, it highlights that being foolish and ignorant is like having eyes with no pupils that can’t see.

Japanese Posts that intentionally trigger its readers to react emotionally are referred to as “tsuri” in Japan. The phrase has the literal meaning of “fishing.” At the same time, “arashi” refers to talking nonsense in Japanese, translating literally as “laying waste.”

Korean In Korea, “nak-si” is used to describe attempts at tricking other Internet users with post titles that are purposely misleading. Interestingly, the expression has the exact same meaning as “tsuri” in Japanese and translates as “fishing.” 

Thai Internet trolling is referred to as “krian” in Thailand. In its original sense, the word literally means “cropped head.” As such, it describes the distinct hairstyle that is popular among schoolboys in the country who like playing online games.

Icelandic In Iceland, trolls are described with words “þurs” and “tröll.” And trolling as behavior is expressed as “þursa” and “þursast,” meaning “to troll” and “to troll about” respectively.

Portuguese Both “trollismo” and “trollagem” are common ways to refer to “trolling” in Brazil. Similarly, “trollar” is a popular way of saying “to troll.” But “pombos enxadristas” is a more traditional way to describe trolling in Portuguese and literally means “chessplayer pigeons.” 

As you can see, trolling enjoys an almost universal recognition as a distinct behavior. In modern English, however, the term has grown to become almost synonymous with cyberbullying and pranking.

Trolling vs Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is the most common term that trolling is usually confused with. Because these two behaviors appear to be outwardly similar, the media tends to often use both terms interchangeably.

But even though both trolling and cyberbullying take place online, the two represent completely different behaviors. Hence, the use of these two terms as synonyms can’t be seen as correct.

Also known as online harassment, cyberbullying is the use of modern technologies to harass other Internet and social media users. As such, cyberbullying is an inherently hostile and repeated behavior.

On the contrary, trolling doesn’t come with any hostility involved. While trolling is a systematic and deliberate behavior as well, it has no intrinsic motive of humiliating or degrading anyone.

In fact, while cyberbullies make others feel inferior to feel better about themselves, trolls simply poke others for fun. Where cyberbullies harass, trolls entertain, amusing other Internet users and themselves.

Trolling vs Pranking

Pranking is another type of behavior that trolling is often mistaken for. Although trolling and pranking are closely related, each of them refers to a distinct kind of behavior on the Internet.

At its core, pranking is playing practical jokes and carrying out mischievous acts online that cause no harm to anyone. In essence, it takes a lot of coordination and resolve to prank others online.

Trolling, on the other hand, is a more chaotic form of entertaining yourself and others on the web. Even though trolls play jokes on other users by intent, they tend to act on impulse. 

Both pranksters and trolls pursue amusement on the Internet. But the two differ in terms of how they do it. As pranksters plan and execute their jokes in detail, trolls come up with most of their acts on the go.

Troll Meme: A Telltale Sign You’re Being Trolled

Many Internet users are strongly inclined to treat innocent acts of trolling as forms of being harassed online. While such reaction is natural for some people, it gives the trolling culture a bad rap. In fact, most Internet users have become conditioned to see trolling as something negative by default.

Luckily for online trolling culture, the solution came around on its own. Designed by DeviantArt user Whynne in 2008, Trollface has quickly become one of the most popular Internet memes in existence. Even today, Trollface is the first thing many Internet users think of when they hear the word meme.

Drawn in black and white, Troll Meme is a face with mischief written all over it. Looking right at you with a big devious grin, it tells you in an instant, “Relax, you’re just being trolled.” In essence, Trollface is a comic depiction of the exact face expression that Internet trolls have when they’re at work.

It comes as no surprise then that Trollface is one of the most popular memes in rage comics. As such, Troll Meme is not only an outward indicator that someone is being trolled on the web. It’s also the star of the numerous stories Internet users come up with to portray true life experiences with humor.

At this point, we have a better grasp of what trolling and trolls are. But where exactly on the web can we come across trolls and have an interaction with their unique online culture? Let us find out.

A Closer Look at Online Habitats of Internet Trolls

The Internet has no shortage of places where trolls can put their wit to good use. And do what they do best – mess with the delicate emotional balance of other Internet users.

Below are just a few places on the web that naturally attract Internet trolls like honey attracts bees:

  • Forums.
  • Chat rooms.
  • Message boards.
  • Online video games.
  • Comment sections.
  • Dating sites.
  • Social networking sites.

Simply put, if there’s a place online where people can post their views openly, chances are it’s frequented by trolls. And the ways in which an average Internet troll can make such place much less enjoyable for others are plentiful.

How do Internet trolls manage to achieve that?

Major Forms of Trolling on the Internet

Internet trolls can show a lot of ingenuity when trying to make other Internet users tick. And sometimes it can be immensely hard to realize you’re being trolled until you get emotional. Luckily, some types of trolling are in such heavy use by Internet trolls that they are relatively easy to recognize.

These are some of the most common strategies Internet trolls rely on:

Flaming When using this tactic, trolls intentionally bring up those topics that are very likely to escalate the discussion. All that a troll has to do is post something provocative on a moot topic, like politics, sex, or religion. And the discussion will turn into a heated and often hostile debate.

Newbie trolling In this case, trolls pose as newcomers, posting inexperienced comments and saying what’s obvious to the communities that they target. In this way, they elicit an emotional response from those community members who are more experienced and want to help.

Shocking Trolls who prefer this tactic use content that is truly disturbing to some Internet users, like horror and pornographic images. Posting it all of a sudden, right in the middle of a normal discussion, trolls evoke a strong negative reaction.

Advice trolling This method targets newbies and others who show less experience. Since such Internet users tend to be gullible, trolls purposely hand them questionable and even malevolent advice to mislead them. Trolls may advise to “download more RAM” or “press Alt + F4.”

Raiding Trolls who use the tactic of raiding conspire to carry out a massive coordinated assault on someone or something online. This method is typically a form of payback. One example of this tactic is the online assault on the social networking site Habbo Hotel by Anonymous.

Concern trolling When employing this method, trolls pretend to have the viewpoint that empathizes with the group that they’ve chosen to target. Showing fake concern for the issues that matter to the group, trolls sow chaos and anxiety among its convinced members.

Though these methods are the go-to choice of many online trolls, the list is in no way exhaustive. After all, some Internet trolls are seasoned fellows. And come up with more sophisticated tactics to troll others.

Advanced Tactics that Internet Trolls May Employ

The tricky tactics below paint a nice picture of how far some Internet trolls are willing to go:

Bait-and-switch Being one of the classic methods of false advertising, bait-and-switch is absolutely adored by many amateur and veteran trolls alike. A troll posts the link that seems helpful or interesting. But once it gets clicked, the link brings up completely unrelated content.

Deceptive links This method works in a similar way that the bait-and-switch tactic does. A troll posts a link to what appears to be sought-after content, such as breaking news or extremely funny videos. In reality, such links open shock sites and pages with disturbing media.

Fool’s errand Also called “snipe hunting,” fool’s errand is the personal favorite of many experienced trolls who take joy in misleading newbies. By posting suggestions that seem to be outwardly convincing, trolls trick newbies into going after things that simply don’t exist.

False confessions Some trolls are so committed to the act of trolling that they take the time to devise misleading stories online. They would post narrations looking like honest confessions about their own lives. Just to surprise the unaware readers with sudden trivial endings.

As you can see, the forms of trolling on the Internet abound. And they seem to have no other limits but one’s own imagination and daring. What drives people to engage in trolling, though? Let us see what the science of behavioral psychology has to say on this curious topic.

Trolling from the Perspective of Behavioral Psychology

If you ask Internet trolls about what motivates them to do what they do, their go-to response won’t be surprising. They will likely troll you or say that having fun is all they want. While they may sound convincing, there’s more to the trolling behavior and the Internet troll personality than meets the eye.

In 2014, Canadian psychology researchers Erin E. Buckels, Paul D. Trapnell, and Delroy L. Paulhus published their take on trolling. In “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun,” the scientists uncovered the covert personality traits of those who enjoy trolling. Specifically, the so-called Dark Tetrad of personality.

In the above work, the researchers point out that trolling exhibits such dark personality traits as:

  • Narcissism, characterized as an inflated sense of self-importance as well as self-indulgence.
  • Machiavellianism, described as a deep desire to manipulate others and use deception.
  • Psychopathy, explained as an overall lack of conscientiousness and empathy for others.
  • Sadism, defined as a tendency to derive pleasure from making others suffer.

Making up the Dark Tetrad of personality, these traits are considered pathological and hence tend to be toxic for others.

As the proverbial saying goes, though, it takes two to tango.

According to B.F. Skinner, an American behavioral psychologist, a behavior tends to persist if reinforcement of it is consistently present. In case of trolling, the reinforcement principle suggests that trolling works only if its unwilling targets respond to this behavior.

After all, trolling is about making the other person tick.

Sometimes, however, trolling causes others to go through much more than simply being emotional.

Controversial Stories with Trolls and Trolling Involved

The two cases below demonstrate that Internet trolls can and do go too far:

Natasha MacBryde and the Facebook Tribute Troll

Losing a child is already a living hell for many parents. On the Internet, though, trolls like Sean Duffy can make this hell especially torturous. Indulging his boredom, this 25 year old Internet troll didn’t think twice about how his behavior affected a grieving family.

As such, Sean Duffy kept posting insulting and disrespectful content on the memorial page for Natasha MacBryde on Facebook. The parents of Natasha MacBryde, a 15 year old girl who had committed a suicide, were distressed by Duffy’s actions. And wanted Sean Duffy to pay for it.

On September 14th, 2011 Sean Duffy was sentenced to four and a half months of jail for his actions. Soon after the verdict, other families claimed that they had been hurt by Sean Duffy’s actions too. As it turned out, Sean Duffy had done the same to Sophie Taylor’s memorial page.

Jessi Slaughter and the 4chan Raid Trolls

Jessi Slaughter, also known as Jessica Leonhardt, was a young YouTuber. As such, she gained a lot of popularity with her attention-seeking videos. Once 4chan trolls came to know about her blog, though, Jessi Slaughter became the repetitive target of their online raids.

Even though Jessi’s father threatened to involve the police, the trolls went on executing their online onslaught on Jessica. In particular, 4chan raid trolls made a slew of remix videos and memes that humiliated both Jessica and her father. Eventually, the situation took an ugly turn.

Jessica’s family started receiving prank calls. Anonymous death threats soon began to follow. As a result, Jessica’s family was placed under police surveillance. The cyberbullying disaster caused Gene Leonhardt, Jessi’s father, to have a heart attack, dying on August 11th, 2011.

When abused, trolling stops being a form of “innocent” fun and starts causing real damage to real people. You don’t have to fall easy prey to trolls, though. The next section will arm you with simple tips for detecting trolls before they do harm.

Tips for Spotting Internet Trolls with Ease

From the pits of social media to comment sections on video platforms, there’s a troll sitting under every digital bridge. Sadly, there’s no way to purge trolls from the web. But there are ways to spot them and increase awareness.

To detect a troll online, stay tuned for the following key patterns:

Writing in all caps Internet Trolls are aware of how little tolerance most Internet users have for those who type with Caps Lock on. Making many people tick by just pressing the right button is the opportunity no seasoned troll will allow to pass.

Use of crude language, berating, and insults No user on the Internet or person in general would like being trashed, especially for no apparent reason. Trolls, on the other hand, enjoy making others feel inferior because it quickly elicits an overly emotional response.

Spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes The research by Buckels et al. suggests that most Internet trolls tend to be males of younger age. Coming as no surprise, such individuals are very unlikely to be able to write in good clear English.

Frequent use of “I” and “Me” Being the narcissists they are, Internet trolls take pride in every single act of trolling they commit online. As a result, personal pronouns “I” and “Me” permeate their sentences, serving as gratification and indulging their self-importance.

Lies and deceit Every tactic Internet trolls employ boils down to lying and deceiving others into believing things that aren’t true. Most trolls, however, are no experts in lying. And their trickery becomes easy to detect once you take note of the usual inconsistencies in their stories.

Anonymous and fake profiles What makes trolling distinct is that it’s hardly possible without a decent degree of anonymity involved. Take privacy away, though, and most trolls would think twice before trolling out in the open.

Lack of any contribution to the discussion Internet trolls have zero interest in fostering a constructive debate. Instead, they type to evoke chaos and drive others into inferior moods.

Using these tips, you’ll up your chances of spotting Internet trolls before any damage is done. What do you do, though, once you know you’re dealing with a troll? There’s a simple strategy to employ.

Deny Them Targets: A Simple Way to Counter Trolls Online

Trolling is an attention-seeking behavior. And when you pay no attention to it, you effectively cut its emotional fuel supply. Discard trolling as a nuisance. Don’t let Internet trolls drag you down to their level. Robbed of your responses, they’ll starve and eventually switch to easier targets online.


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