For those unaware a troll is somebody that posts inflammatory, provocative and usually off-topic remarks within an online community such as a forum, blog or chat room.
Trolling has been around for decades but has grown as the social web has expanded, and as a result is visible across most of the mainstream online communities.
The answer to why people troll has been asked many times by many people, try Google for some further reading. Some of the more extreme articles I’ve read recently suggest there are deep rooted psychological reasons behind the behaviour. However since I’m no Maslow I’m not going to comment, rather share some commonalities and traits I have observed while touring the bridges of the interwebs.
Anonymity: Most trolls are called anonymous! The internet offers a level of anonymity in conversation that real life doesn’t and I am yet to see a troll post under his or her real name or offer any genuine credentials. Maybe this faceless and nameless behaviour provides a sense of distance when posting, perhaps removing any fear of recrimination resulting in the freedom to say whatever one likes.
Industry: I’ve noticed that industry specific communities that contain people with overinflated feelings of self-importance, or put another way, people with big ego’s have more trolls than those that don’t. Maybe trolls live amongst them as opposed to visiting for kicks. Take technology/IT, finance and advertising communities. All are rife with trolls and all I feel its fair to say are populated with big ego’s!
Low intelligence: Its not that most troll posts are off topic (that’s part of their provocative nature) but rather what they do write makes little or no sense, is grammatically incorrect and uses language that a 4th grader would be ashamed of. This commonality seems opposed to the previous points reference to professional industries but it still seems to hold true.
Tolerance: Forums, blogs or chat rooms that tolerate trolls seem to have a far higher proportion of trolls then those that don’t. This may seem obvious, but what this means is that a sort of Gresham’s law is in action (Sir Thomas Gresham would probably turn in his grave if he knew his financial theory was being applied to internet trolls!). What I mean by this is that trolls are willing to participate in a community populated by intelligent individuals but the opposite isn’t true.
This means that tolerance to trolling can have a significant impact on an existing community essentially driving out the valuable conversation leaving a festering pool of negativity and nastiness.
This leads me to my warning to any brand that operates an online community. Ignoring trolls may seem like the best option since the purpose of trolling is to elicit a reaction, but its not. Trolls need to be dealt with before they cause irreparable damage, driving the very people you are trying to engage with away.
I’ll post some thoughts and tactics on dealing with trolls shortly, in the meantime, the community managers out there should check under their respective bridges.