Online bullies: what a troll is, and how to stop one


1st Jan 2015 Technology

Online bullies: what a troll is, and how to stop one

In literature, a troll is generally a nasty piece of work, but at least when you put the book down, they will vanish from your mind. Online, a troll is a more persistent threat to your well-being.


What is a troll?

Using the broadest definition, an internet troll is someone who will take issue, or pick an argument, with something you post online. This abuse usually takes place on social media, be it in response to a forum post or a news story, or on a social media service like Twitter or Facebook. 

Trolls particularly like engaging in political, personal or any subjective topic, but if they think they can upset someone, will comment on just about anything to try and annoy people. If you try to respond to the troll's comment in a reasoned or logical way, they will usually try to lower any debate as rapidly as possible. They will quickly resort to offensive language, name calling, changing their argument or using absurd logic to defend their position. 


Don't feed the trolls

Their sole aim is usually to annoy, insult or wind you up. They could be carrying out dozens of troll attacks at the same time, and don't care who they are annoying, as long as they gain some twisted satisfaction out of causing someone pain. Using the anonymity of the internet, they feel powerful and gain more power from the people that they hurt. 

Therefore, the simplest way to defeat an internet troll is to ignore them, no matter how tempted you feel to correct them, challenge their absurd point or to defend your honour. If you fail to respond, they will soon move on to another target. If they do persist in stalking you (perhaps you post regularly on a forum or site), you can ask the moderators or site owners to ban them. 

Facebook and Twitter have their own solutions, you can block or choose to ignore posts from particular people, and report them if they become abusive. In the UK, it is also increasingly common for trolls that post defamatory, highly offensive comments to be reported to the police. If they are traced and found to be in this country, they can be prosecuted. 

If you decide to ignore the troll, someone else on the site or forum may take up the argument. They may defend you or side with the troll (beware of trolls working together). Either way, refrain from joining in any further debate until the troll has moved on, or been banned from the service. 

While us older internet users can deal with trolls, their prime targets are often younger users, with thinner skins and weaker defences. If someone in your family seems to be upset after some online activity, check to see if they are being trolled and give them the best advice you can. In extreme cases, youngsters have resorted to suicide or self-harm as they can't deal with the abuse, so don't ignore suggestions that nothing is wrong, and be prepared to intervene.