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Recognising and Dealing with Trolls


This page is a supplement to our main troll article, and provides a detailed analysis of the four different types of trolls, how to spot them, and what to do when you encounter them.

Playtime Trolls

Playtime trolls are relatively easy to spot, but they may not be apparent to the naive user. There isn't a single set of characteristics that applies to playtime trolls, but you can look for some or all of the following signs:

To counteract playtime trolls, the best action is to ignore them. If you are convinced they are trolls, then you can advise the list manager. However, if other group members respond to the suspected troll's posts, then you may have to consider some of the responses outlined for tactical or strategic trolls.

Tactical Trolls

Tactical trolls take much more care and effort over the creation of their personae. Such trolls are likely to be seen as long term list members, and have the confidence and trust of the bona fide people on the mailing list. They use many of the techniques listed for Playtime Trolls, but in addition:

Many of these behaviours are things that 'real' people would engage in. It is very difficult to distinguish real people from trolls in an internet environment. The only method that can be used to verify the bona fide nature of list members is to investigate their personal information. Trolls will invent personal information, but when you investigate it you will keep coming to dead ends. For example, if their employer is company "xyz", then you may be able to find a web site at, but there is no contact information. However, with bona fide people, their personal information will lead to an ever-increasing wealth of data, such as:

The key difference between a troll and a bona fide list member is that when you investigate a troll, their personal data usually leads to dead-ends; when you investigate a bona fide person, their personal data leads to an ever-expanding set of evidence that they are for real. There are some tricks that the tactical trolls may use to deceive you:

There are some bona fide people who do not wish to be traced via the internet - but this makes it difficult to distinguish trolls from real people. If in doubt, assume that they are a troll, and don't simply believe the sophisticated lies that trolls use to hide their identity. Also, don't rely solely on your intuition - you need to establish hard data to help find out whether your intuition is for real.

Strategic Trolls

Strategic trolls often operate in groups, rather than alone. They use multiple personalities, each of which uses the techniques outlined in the section on tactical trolls. However, they have an overall strategy for drawing bona fide list members into argument, ultimately causing them to leave, or for the trolls to dominate of the group. In particular: The following is a further extract from the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) of the mailing list that is dedicated to trolling. It will help you to understand what type of person you are up against...

Domination Trolls

Recently, it has become apparent that there are probably trolls also operating as list managers. I am unclear as to the specific motivations for this type of activity, but it may be: Nevertheless, the lesson behind this is that you need to get verification data for list managers as well as other list members.

Other general tactics for dealing with trolls

When dealing with suspected trolls, there are various strategies that you can employ. First of all, remember that just because you suspect that someone is a troll, it doesn't mean that they are a troll; also, just because you suspect someone is genuine, it doesn't mean that they are genuine. In view of this, the best tactics are:

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