What is Trolling?

If you engage in discussion on the Internet long enough, you're bound to encounter it: someone calling someone else a troll.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://blog.codinghorror.com/what-is-trolling/

Your post make me come out with something:-

If you are knowledgeable enough to build the world from scratch, you are welcome to troll. Otherwise, keep learning.

I think you’re almost right but your angle in the article gives too much heed to what are essentially poor trolls. Yes there is a spectrum of trolls, and some can be considered good at trolling, others bad. The ones who are bad at trolling fully deserve that connotation of being ‘brutes’ from the word troll. The brutish trolls are the ones who pose opinions so devoid of empathy or logic that they are often considered obvious.

But there are subtle trolls, good at trolling, if good is a word that should be associated to the ‘art’. These are the people where the older definition of ‘troll’ most strongly draws its connection. Although I would argue all trolls deserve that older meaning, as they are all looking for one thing, fishing for one thing. A reaction, a rise from an opponent.

On another point I recommend you read the interviewers defence of his actions in this article. He was definitely showing the playful traits of a troll, but he was in a bad position regardless, the Channel 4 news does not use celebrity interviews primarily to advertise that celebrities next project, that is simply a cost they pay. Instead their primary aim is to get some meaningful statement out of the celebrity to justify the slot on the news show. I think it shows incredible integrity to demand such a trade of valuable content for advertising when other networks would simply accept the interview as purely an advert.

I’d also really have liked Tarantino to have answered that question, as such a master of violence in entertainment it’d be good to hear his rationalisation of how such entertainment doesn’t necessarily cause real-world violence.

1 Like

Indeed, a ‘good’ troll can serve much like a court jester, and add considerable thought to a discussion. Unfortunately this kind of troll is quite rare.

1 Like

Do notice if you walk away the troll will not follow you.

He will stay back, thinking either " I win! " or " Was it something that I said? ".

Not all trolls do it on purpose and realize what they / we’re doing. Yeah, sometimes that troll is you / me. And sometimes it is even fun to do it on purpose. See how he laughs as Mr Downey’s walk away? :stuck_out_tongue:

By my understanding, there is no such thing. It’s either a troll or it isn’t. But sure, over time as its get more and more used, it’s very likely the term will gain “good” traces in it, and balance it out with shades of gray. Just not yet, I’d argue. :slight_smile:

I agree with what you write about trolls except Krishnan Guru-Murthy is not a troll.

Channel 4 News is a news program, it is not there for celebrities to promote their latest product. They’re warned beforehand that this is the case and some choose to ignore that and assume they can keep the interview on the topic of said product. Krishnan is renowned for turning the interview onto more controversial topics that the UK population is interested in at that time. His interview with Tarantino was focused on violence because that was an issue appearing in the news at the time.

So, where you say that Krishnan is “not interested in the topic”, you’re incorrect, he is, it just isn’t the topic the interviewee is interested in.


Did anyone take a look at this other interview. I was blown away. This was epic. He completely turned the tables on the interviewer who was trying to bait him. A great example of handling a troll in a different way.


Fundamentally, “why are you here” depends on whether you understand that there’s a ton more people reading a thread than writing to it, in most cases. It’s not necessary to be open to being convinced by the person you’re arguing with (or be able to convince them) if you know there are 1000 other people capable of being convinced by either one of you.

1 Like

If its between two and only two people, no spectators, trolling isn’t very effective because you can just ignore it.

In a way an interview is a form of positive trolling. Digging a discussion out of someone not for the two of them, but for the audience.

  • If everyone benefits and enjoys the discussion, you call that an interview. If the participants get dirty and the audience enjoys it, you call it a debate.

  • If the one conducting the controversial discussion did so with intent of it, and the participants are filled in and prepared, its still called a debate.

  • If the one conducting the controversial discussion did so with intent, and the participants are misled into thinking that it will be an interview, you can begin consider it trolling…

I wonder if there aren’t more angles to look at this from. Perhaps the desire to label/box someone as a troll unveils more about ourselves than about the incident. Like, if we’re on the fence about it, but theres that one guy that you’re starting to treat like a troll, avoiding them, subconsciously ghost-banning them, but not everyone sees them the way that you do.

I only mention it because I’ve done it. They made me angry because what seemed like trolling was actually done to prove a point. The dude was still an ass for how he did it, but in the end he was right. Probably.

Unkind smart people are like super-villains~


Even malicious trolls provide a valuable service to all of us. They serve to immunize us from taking sides too easily and being too opinionated and too sentimental about our opinions. Much in the same way that systems are made more secure because black hat hackers exist.

Think about it: nowadays when you read something online you don’t immediately take it at face value. You stop and think along the lines of: “Is this guy for real? Or is he just a troll, trying to take advantage of how much engaged I am in this or that subject?”.

So, thanks, trolls! You make the Internet stronger.

1 Like

Aww. I kept waiting for the part of the post where Jeff would announce that Discourse is coming out with a new feature that will somehow magically solve the problem of trolling.

1 Like

“Now just a minute! This is a press conference! The last thing I want to do is answer a lot of questions!” General Mitchell

I don’t feel sorry for Tarantino. He obviously wasn’t interested in any topic either. He admitted he was there to sell himself. The interviewer is admittedly a jerk, but Tarantino obviously came with his own agenda. This wasn’t a Letterman or Conan “interview”. He was meeting with a reporter - though I use that term loosely. Jeff’s right - don’t feed the trolls. But don’t look for sympathy if you are going to engage them. Don’t just feed them…avoid the bridge.

1 Like

If the people engaged in the discussion aren’t interested in the same thing, why try to qualify any of the participants as a troll? It’s the discussion itself which should be spotted as problematic since it is open to become meaningless for everyone.

Granted, the discussion might still be fruitful. But that’s because us humans are good to mend communications. In fact, isn’t it one of the main reason why even when the context is bad we still expect good things from the participants?

On a personal level, I require myself to do so as much as possible but now I think I will also allow myself to not be able to do it all the time, anytime. I have just realized there probably is a limit to what I can understand through people telling me things. And in addition, yes, because of trolls, I also take into account how each participant is behaving.

But I ask what I feel to be a more practical and more to the point question, even if you would ask it to the potential troll. It’s:

How are the costs distributed and who is paying?

I’m not sure it’s a decisive trait to identify a troll nor if it encompasses the many kinds of trolls that exist. But it sure has something to it that I feel frame well my mind to evaluate the situation more objectively.

It always boils down to check if the person bears some costs or is willing to. And it is important as you will find out the ones paying the least are the ones enjoying the mess the most and were the ones who created it in the first place. To then nurtured it through others and that’s to say: paying the least by letting others pay.

I came to that question about costs after reading some reactions about on-line women harassment. The initial posts always voiced a clear distress. Harassed women are psychologically hurt and that affects their everyday life, like everything that shroud the mind in an oppressive manner.

Some of the reactions were all dismissive of that aspect in that they tried to analyze the situation without these… subjective biases? Well. Why not? But again: costs. And these reactions are always caught red-handed here. They say, even if indirectly so, that the harassed women should do blablabla and they should consider blablabla and they blablabla and they and they and they.

This is “letting others pay” all over again. And in practice when someone has proven to be able to pay, the whole trolling dynamic makes them pay some more. It has defined them as payers.

Here’s the interesting bit I believe.

I don’t think the majority of the trolling reactions were intended to be so. I think they were well-intended because most of their authors seem like new comers to the discussion. And what is more natural for them than to expect already present participants to mend the discussion? And who will naturally be targeted then but the defined payers since they have payed from the start?

So, in the end, what is why I’m asking this question of costs. I will be a new comer to a variety of subjects in a variety of contexts and it’s a good approximation to believe I will always expect the already present participants to be able to mend the discussion. And that I will feel it to be wrong if they do not do so.

Now, since I have realized that trolls make that request and that consequent expectation of mine to be so unfair to the trolled ones, I will always try to assess the situation to be sure I’m asking too much out-of-the-box.

So: Krishnan Guru-Murthy, as a Channel 4 News journalist, troll or not?

That’s an easy one: troll of course. And also: I wish I was not in his situation but if I would be, I would try to change my questions or my bosses’ behavior or quit if all of it proves to be impossible.

Because for that precise position, I would be sent to interview actors and directors on their own ground for what, 15 minutes? If I and the TV channel I work for are not interested to do interviews for advertising, why accept it in the first place? And not proposing to pay to prepare an interview on my own ground?

Why let the interviewee pay and hope I can fish something in a minimal amount of time? Sure, the notion of an exchange is a good one: actors and directors need to reach a wide audience and something like Channel 4 News can provide that. Journalists need powerful statements. From the content itself of the statement and from the aura of the person who says it.

But in what way is it smart and respectful to think getting a powerful statement in a 15 minutes interview absolutely geared toward something else from the ground-up and fully paid by the other participant, what’s more a powerful statement on a practically unrelated topic? The questions of Mr Guru-Murthy are abashing in how little they connect to the subject at hand, even regardless of the purpose of advertising.

In fact, the interview of Richard Ayoade is just perfect in all regards. Because on that one, the interview is on Channel 4 News’ ground. They have paid for it. And Richard Ayoade voices clearly interviews are not super lovable but that it is part of his job. He compares that to commuting, a fair connection in that commuting is about reaching either your workplace or your home and such an interview is about reaching either your audience or the meat of your product.

So is Richard Ayoade a troll?

Well, look at the costs all the way through. He is not and Mr Guru-Murthy yet again is. Sure, Channel 4 News has paid. For a 5 minute interview. Again, in what way is it smart and respectful to think getting a powerful statement in such a short amount of time?

What’s more troubling however is that, regardless of the indisputable wit of Mr Ayoade, Mr Guru-Murthy is “short of cash” in that 5 minute interview. Several times and it takes only a second or two to Mr Ayoade to bankrupt his interviewer.

I said “regardless of the indisputable wit of Mr Ayoade” because Mr Ayoade did not even once ask for anything pricey. He voices clearly the problem: “where should I go?” And there you see it all. Mr Guru-Murthy asks, even if indirectly so, Mr Ayoade to go somewhere. Then his interviewee asks where to or where he, Mr Guru-Murthy, already is. But the journalist cannot answer, he mumbles and he loses a control that he never had.

Anyway, I knew the interview was pretty much done as soon as Mr Guru-Murthy pleaded Mr Ayoade to “give him something”. It happened quickly, all too quickly in an interview that was sized way too short. And Mr Ayoade did not let that one slipped and voiced a remark about how badly phrased that demand was.

But you know what? I have just watched the video again, just to be sure I got things right. And the first question floored me. Mr Guru-Murthy asked “what would you ask yourself?”.

Ultimate… letting… others… pay: do my job.

(Also I didn’t get things right. I thought Mr Ayoade said he dislikes interviews when in fact it is subtler. I wished I could be as smart as him in such a situation.)

1 Like

I enjoyed the article.

In regards to, “Don’t feed the trolls”, what’s your opinion on people like Katie Hopkins?

For the uninitiated, she is a minor celebrity in the UK with a column in one of the countries most read (Murdoch owned) newspapers and over half a million twitter followers. An obvious troll, but also very publicly says very controversial things. She recently more-or-less called for Libyan migrants escaping to Italy on illegal boats to be murdered, suggesting Gunships as a possible method.

No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.

I’ll let you Google her, I’m not linking.

On one hand, don’t feed the trolls. On the other, surely such BS needs to be called out.

It’s a catch 22, she just wants publicity, and by calling her our on her BS you are giving her that publicity, but by not doing so you are letting her get away with saying terrible things.

So what to do?

Loved the article.
after our little back in forth on twitter - I just want to thank you for bringing attention to trolling behavior of men to women in technology. Now here is an nlp nugget that you can use to identify trolls using a “bot” :

It’s true – most of the time, you’re not arguing to convince the other person, you’re arguing to convince the other people reading.

Still, that requires respect for the topic, first and foremost, and the people in it. The video link @g00p3k posted is brilliant and illustrates that the whole thing is in bad faith – they are more interested in breaking out of the constraints of the movie/book press junket format than the actual content.

I for one would have loved to hear a bit about Ayoade’s book because I know nothing about it. Did I learn anything whatsoever about the book from that interview? No.

I wish! But we do strongly encourage people to flag instead of respond, if something particularly awful is posted.

It is a perfect illustration. Because nothing of value or interest was produced for anyone – neither audience, nor interviewer, nor interviewee. That’s the failure of trolling. You cannot produce anything useful when you approach the topic in bad faith. It’s like watching a dogfight or a car crash. All noise and spectacle.

I think letting the more eloquent, thoughtful, and powerful people take the lead on combating junk like this is the right strategy. If you want, echo those people by amplifying their message. Beyond that… just don’t look.


Jeff, I’m responding to your post because, after reading it, I got the impression that trolling is annoying but not really dangerous. I want to make the point that this is not always so. As you and the majority of your readers and commenters are male (assumption, yes), you may not be aware of how very specific and vicious the comments are that many female writers receive. I’m sure there are other groups that suffer too, but it’s women that I have come to notice since reading the article linked below. Since reading this article I have noticed that many female writers note (often with disbelief) how many comments they get threatening rape and murder.

Trawling for a reaction can be harmless, but isn’t always. I thought that should be an important part of the discussion.

I don’t think that’s quite true: my impression is that a troll simply wants to bludgeon opponents into submission/silence, I don’t think they have an adequate representation of the person opposite them to be able to conceptualise ‘convincing’ them. That’s why I’m wary of using ‘real life’ examples - such as the interviews - as examples of trolling. To me internet trolling is a direct result of the anonymity and facelessness of internet. To all intents and purposes, for a troll I suspect that trolling is a ‘game’ just like any computer game. And a cowered opponent is just one more virtual kill.

Also, as you hint in your article, I think the ‘classic’ (as in internet classic) meaning of troll is losing out to the ‘monster’ version. Now people proffering rape threats on Twitter will be referred to as trolls in the media. Which is a shame because I think there is a fundamental distinction for which we lose vocabulary.

As for addendums to ‘don’t feed the trolls’, I think that if they are targeting a specific person, one should express support for that person at the same time as cutting off the discussion.

And of course, sometimes people aren’t quite trolls, they’re just monomaniacs who do passionately care about a subject and just don’t know how to let go. But even in that case, I think “not feeding them” will help them stop, as they are incapable of stopping on their own.

The most annoying I find is the ‘relativistic non-concession-concession’:

A: But Paris is the capital of France
B: Yeah, that’s just your opinion, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

That’s where I would struggle to let it go :smile:

You got the Tarantino interview completely wrong. Maybe you should view it again. The interviewer was asking perfectly reasonable questions, and Tarantino all of the sudden got testy, for no apparent reason. He (Tarantino) came across as a jerk, while the interviewer maintained his composure and level of respect throughout, even though he was called a slave master by Tarantino. No trolling here at all. Jerk that he apparently is, I love Tarantino’s movies, and have seen them all, several times over.


I think your reply perfectly demonstrates the main misinterpretation of the cause of top 80% “looking like a trolling” replies. While you just have an opposite opinion and the truth is not demonstrable/measurable, your reply is to be considered as trolling by anybody who has been reading this post from Jeff’s point of view. Whether now Jeff would start to argue with you, his replies are to be blamed to be trolling by your supporters (including myself).

That‘s funny, because I think unless there is a sample in BIPM.org to go and compare to, there is no consensus possible. People often are just mistaken and/or not sufficiently competent, and that by no means makes them trolls. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,”—wrote Evelyn Hall in “The Friends of Voltaire.” After all, that’s possibly the best definition on what anti-troll is actually like.