Contrary to popular belief, the word "troll" doesn't refer to the little gnome who lives under a bridge, but is actually a fishing term. You hear it when people use a rod and reel. Putting along in the boat, letting the line drag in the water, waiting for a bite, waiting for something to latch on to their hook and then they reel the fish in. Which is what the internet "troll" does.
The internet troll thrives on dissension and argument. This "feeds" the troll. When a troll finds a newsgroup or bulletin board where the "fish" easily take the bait, the troll will come back again and again, causing problems. The best way to get rid of the troll is not by responding, but by not responding. I know it's a hard thing to do, but from my experience, ignoring these types of people is the best way to get rid of them.
Some seem to make a life out of trolling. The effort they put into being a troll and a troublemaker is beyond a normal person's comprehension. They will use different names, maybe even use the name of a "regular" poster, which casts suspicion on someone innocent of all wrongdoing. Trolls will even respond to themselves when it seems as if no one is taking the bait. This is usually easily discovered, though, when you are posting somewhere that you can view the IP (Internet Provider) number of the poster. The troll is a coward and bully who will sometimes go to great lengths to hide his or her identity. He or she may use a service which hides the actual origin of the poster. I've seen many come from European websites, apparently originating in places such as Germany and the Netherlands and Singapore, Italy, Thailand.....the list is long. When I see a questionable post from someone posting from one of these IPs, I ignore it. I don't respond. Or the troll has found a service that allows for anonymity. These sites were made to hide the identities of those who live places where they can get into trouble for posting words unfavorable to their governments, but the troll uses them in a cowardly way, hiding behind the anonymity as they leave a trail of destruction behind them. Maybe you are familiar with the child's game of "Whack a Mole", where the mole keeps popping its nasty little head up from different mounds of earth; well, that's the troll. Some are one timers, who only post once and are gone and some seem to have a favorite playground and will never leave. They even post as a regular poster, making friends and gathering ammunition to use later.
What can you do? First off, don't respond to a troll. What he or she says is a reflection on him or her, not you. What you say reflects on you. I've found a really good website about trolls and flamers. It's Flame-Retardant Elixir. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it. It is very insightful. By the same author, About Trolls and Flamers.
Another thing you can do is to bookmark a site where you have access to whois information. A couple that I'm familiar with are Sam Spade (you can also download a version, which is what I use) and Network Tools. You may have the urge to contact the site webmaster, but I don't think that's really effective. Some of the popular sites have advertising on them. And the more people that go to that site, well, there's more of a possibility that the visitor will click on the banner ad, giving more revenue to that site. I've noticed that when there was some sort of argument on one of my boards, the traffic picked up, sometimes it even doubled. (I've since changed my boards to a monitored system and there are rarely any fights.) More people come by, not to post, but to read. If you're not involved in the fighting, it can be downright entertaining. Trolls make money for the websites who have advertising (I don't), even though they scare the legitimate posters away. The webmasters don't care. All they see is more money.
Also speaking as an experienced webmaster, it's really hard to get rid of a determined troll. They make it into a game, just to see if they can get onto a site. Block one address and they come through on another. I do my best to block troublemakers. I'm not always successful, though. And I don't hesitate to notify the webmaster of the offending poster's IP. My counter shows me both the IP number and the name of the IP. Oddly, I've found a couple where the Internet Provider name, from a European domain, doesn't match the owner of the Internet Provider number, which originated in Canada. Of course, I notified the Canadian provider.
What is the IP number? It's a little series of numbers that look something like this: 188.8.131.52
Some bulletin boards have this number right in the post. I do. I think it helps keep the troublemakers at bay. What does it tell you? Well, it tells you a lot about where the post comes from, which system. I did a "whois" on the numbers, my IP.
Trying 216.188.79 at ARIN
Okay, so what does this tell me? Say my IP is Nethere.net (which it was when I originally wrote this page). So, to find out more about where I'm posting from, type http://www.nethere.net into the URL location on your browser. Or, using the "quick tools" at the Sam Spade website, try plugging the numbers into each of the different tools until you get an answer. If you don't get a valid answer from any of them, you know you most likely have a troll and you know not to respond. Now, a couple of words about those numbers. The static numbers, the ones that won't ever change, are 216.188.. The other numbers, known as dynamic, will change each time I reconnect with my IP. So, if I'm online for hours, without disconnecting, responding to different posts, signing guestbooks, going into chat rooms, all will have the exact same series of numbers until I log off. If someone wants to make a complaint about something I've done while on the internet, my provider will be able to tell it's me, from the complete series of numbers. It would be extremely difficult, close to impossible, for someone to have the same exact number on their post that I have on mine (unless using an anonymizing service or AOL; multiple users can and do have the same number, so you can't blame one person for all posts with the same anonymized IP number). These numbers are almost impossible to fake. I've seen more than one troll deny that a troll post was from them, not realizing how difficult it is to have the exact same numbers. And you would send complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org. In my case, email@example.com. What you need to do, to give your complaint more weight is to search the IP's TOS (Terms of Service) or AUP (Acceptable Use Policy). Then find the section that applies to the complaint. If it's a post you are complaining about, include the URL of the post and tell the abuse department how to find the IP number. In some forums, you have to use "view source" to find the IP number. Most IPs don't like troublemakers and will give the poster a warning. Too many warnings, and they've lost their internet connection. But, before you complain, make sure that your complaint has merit. And be polite in making your complaint.
That's a lot of work, ferreting out trolls and making complaints. That's why I feel it's just better to ignore them. If you don't bite the hook, they'll move on to a new fishing hole.
One last piece of advice. Starting new threads asking "can't we all get along?", in reference to the flame wars, only prolongs the problem. It keeps the trolling fresh in everybody's mind. So, try really hard to move on. I know that many people want to be the good guy and calm the waters, but dealing with trolls is one case where it's best to just not say anything. If you feel you must continue the discussion, take it to email. Don't add fuel to the fire and the flames will die out.
© 1996-2003 lisaviolet