Granted, there are literally billions of people in the world whom I have never met, so maybe I'm just talking to the wrong people. The non-trolls. It's possible, too, that some of the people in my circles are pathological liars who secretly get a sadistic glee from trolling.
But it's just as possible that thousands of the people who are fouling up the internet don't even know they're trolls.
Could this be you?
Here are six symptoms of trolling. If any of the following symptoms describe you, you might be a troll. Seek professional help immediately — maybe an editor, a college professor of logic, or, in a serious case, your mother.
Instead of disputing facts, you attack characterI enjoy a good, reasoned argument. Even through the time delay of blog comments. I've even had my mind changed by a good argument.
If you have a point to make and a logical, fact-based argument to get you there, bring it on! But if you attack me (or anyone) on a personal level, ignoring whatever it was that I wrote about, that is the quintessential troll move.
Coming to my blog and attacking my character is the online equivalent of walking uninvited into my home and picking a fight. In the real world, I would be legally justified to kill you in self-defense.
Fortunately, for the trolls, my online options are not so dire.
The general rule: Stick to the subject!
Hitler figures largely in your commentsThis classic troll move is so prevalent that a vocabulary has developed around it. Godwin's Law (or Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) is the theory that as an online discussion gets longer, it becomes more and more likely that someone will make a comparison to Hitler or Nazism. When the comparison appears, it is a case of the logical fallacy reductio ad hitlerum.
A corollary of Godwin's Law states that when someone makes that Nazist comparison, the argument is over and whoever made the comparison loses. It looks like this:
CuteGirl42: I <3 chocolate chip ice cream!!! It's my fave!!!!
Nabob455: UR an idiot and a slut. U know that choc chip was Hitler's favorite ice cream, right?
Here's a good rule to follow: Unless you're arguing about WWII-era politics, keep Hitler out of your comments.
You chide (or berate) the author for your own inferencesThis one can be subtle, but it can lead to the most vehement, ALL-CAPS rants on the internet. The sad part is that the person thinks their defending someone's honor when really they're just finding any old excuse to become a victim. It looks something like this:
Blogger writes: According to the survey, seven of the top ten richest women in the world are childless.You see what happened there? The blogger reported a fact; the commenter drew a conclusion from the fact, attributed the statement of that conclusion to the blogger, and then attacked based on something the blogger didn't even write.
Troll writes: So what are you saying? That a woman can't be a mother AND successful? This isn't the 1400s anymore, you ass. I swear to God, if you were standing in front of me right now I would punch you in the neck.
True, a writer can spin a story by choosing which facts to include and which to leave out. And a commenter would be justified in pointing out, for example, that the blogger left out the fact that six of those seven billionaires said that they regretted not having children. Now you've got an argument.
But that's not the troll's way.
When you're commenting, remember: Use facts to fight facts. Also, use facts to fight opinion. Otherwise, if you feel like protesting, STFU.
You've already commented on this postBack in the chiding/berating section, I wrote "the person thinks their defending someone's honor." That their should be they're. If you stopped reading as soon as you found something to complain about, you might be a troll.
Try this: Before you raise an objection of any sort, make sure to read the whole post. Your objection might just be addressed further down.
You know what your comment will be before you even read the postSome people think they get all they need from just the title. The sad thing is that the troll who does this thinks he's being witty. Here's what it looks like:
Here's an article about the Oscars/Golden Globes/Grammys/etc. I'll make a comment that references Hollywood masturbation.Or this:
This title uses the phrase "Military Intelligence." I must call that an oxymoron.Or this:
Another article about the lack of women in science fiction? Time for a rant about political correctness run rampant.
Rule of thumb: Never comment on an article or post that you haven't read. Ever.
You never leave complimentsMaybe you're argumentative by nature. Maybe it just never occurs to you to say that you agree with a writer. Maybe you're just a dick. But for whatever reason, the idea of complimenting a blogger never even crosses your mind.
Look, the majority of bloggers (and writers in general) don't write in order to win praise. Those who do either learn quickly or disappear. But people — and unpaid bloggers in particular — put their souls into these things. You've got to be fairly passionate about a topic to commit to writing a blog about it and letting the world into your mind. But if you write about something month after month and all you get in response is superficial attacks — or no response at all (I haven't decided which is worse) — it can wear you down. It can deflate your confidence and suppress your passion.
So please, if you take nothing else from this post, if you think it's all a bunch of malarkey, take this: When you're out there digging through blogs or online magazines or whatever, make a point of leaving at least one compliment. Somewhere.*
You don't even have to agree with what the person says: "You make an interesting argument that I hadn't considered. I appreciate all the time you put into researching this post, but..."
This isn't about rules or about stroking egos. This is about making the internet (and the world) a nicer place to play.
*But not here. I'm not fishing for compliments. But the next time I write something you enjoy reading, feel free to send me a little joy.