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ARCHIVED: What is a troll?

In email discussion lists, online forums, and Usenet newsgroups, a troll is not a grumpy monster that lives beneath a bridge accosting passers-by, but rather a provocative posting intended to produce a large volume of frivolous responses. The term can also refer to someone making such a posting ("a troll") or to the action ("trolling", "to troll").

The content of a troll posting generally falls into one of several categories. It may consist of an apparently foolish contradiction of common knowledge, a deliberately offensive insult to the readers of a newsgroup or mailing list, or a broad request for trivial follow-up postings. The result of such postings is frequently a flood of angry responses. In some cases, the follow-up messages posted in response to a troll can constitute a large fraction of the contents of a newsgroup or mailing list for as long as several weeks. These messages are transmitted around the world to thousands of computers, wasting network resources and costing money for people who pay to download email or receive Usenet news. Troll threads also frustrate people who are trying to carry on substantive discussions.

People post such messages to get attention, to disrupt discussion, and to make trouble. The best response to a troll is no response. If you post a follow-up message, you are contributing to the resulting clamor and most likely delighting the troller. Before posting a response, consider the following questions:

  • Have responses already been posted by others?

  • Will my post add any information that others are not likely to be aware of already?

  • Is the issue resolvable, or will discussion turn into name-calling?

  • Should I send private email instead of posting publicly?

  • Will I later regret the contents of what I am posting?

Please deal with trolls constructively, and do not participate in trolling. By refraining from doing so you will help make mailing lists and online forums much more enjoyable venues for discussion.

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Last modified on January 03, 2013.

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