There are a handful of constants in the Internet when it comes to a message board or comments section. There will inevitably be the person who made $100,000 working from home last year that pops in to promote their pyramid scam, there will be the people who have no idea what is going on but comment anyway and there will be the trolls. How did these people (who have nothing better to do than to stir the pot and get the rest of the people riled up) get their moniker?

Trolls are older than computers

The usage of the word troll in the English language dates well before the Internet. The first recorded usage of the word can be found in 1610 to mean an ugly dwart of a giant. The word itself comes from the Old Norse word troll which meant giant or demon. Trolls are common in Scandinavian folklore, particularly children’s stories, and are depicted as antisocial and slow-witted creatures that make life difficult for travelers. They would hide under bridges and only emerge at the last moment to demand payment for crossing their bridge or something like that.

The term trolling also predates the Internet describing a fishing technique of dragging a lure from a moving boat (this can be confused with trawling which actually involves a net rather than a line). It also has military usage from US Navy pilots in the Vietnam War who “trolled” for MiGs to attempt to decoy them or draw them away from the main group.

Each of these uses are appropriate for an Internet troll. They are not particularly well liked people who offer little to no rebuttal while making life difficult for the travelers of the Internet. They are also dragging their line around the Internet in search of a bite and latching on. At the same time they are trying to deflect from the real conversation drawing interest on themselves.

Trolling is almost as old as the Internet

When it comes to the Internet the term troll was one of the earliest terms appearing in the early 1990s. More seasoned members of Usenet would post odd things which other veteran members would recognize as nonsensical and would leave alone but newer members would not know and engage. They were trolling for noobs. By the late 90s this practice was frowned upon but it slowly morphed into what we know it as today, people who appear on in a comments section and spout mis-information or a deluded opinion in an attempt to rile up a group.

Not all trolling is the same. There are actually four levels of trolling, playtime trolling, tactical trolling, strategic trolling and domination trolling. Some of this could be good natured, like having a visiting sports fan ask where a good place to get a beer before a game is and then directing them to the local gay bar. Good for some laughs certainly but it can get far more vengeful from there.

In the end though once trolls appear it severely disrupts a discussion and could cause someone to follow some bad advice. It can cause people to leave a forum when their first post or interaction is bombarded by trolls. In some forums being branded as a troll is essentially a death sentence there but how to deal with trolls does come in conflict with the First Amendment leaving many forums seemingly powerless. Despite this many forums are now requiring users to now register using real names and email addresses or link a social media page thereby removing the anonymous veil that trolls once hid behind.

There are consequences to trolling

Trolling has come into light in recent years in conjunction with cyber bullying. For many young people their actions have led to extreme embarrassment at best or death at worst and some have received prison sentences for their actions. In the UK it is possible to go to jail for posting offensive comments.

As long as Internet trolls hide behind a veil of anonymity there seems to be very little that can be done to combat them other than identifying them. Once that happens the easiest way to make them go away is to simply not feed the trolls.

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