There is a tendency in the Internet to describe every online misbehavior as trolling.
- Someone disturbing a feminist hashtag on Twitter with sock puppet accounts? TROLL!
- Someone wrote „1st“ under a new YouTube Video? TROLL!
- Someone impersonating a celebrity? TROLL!
- Someone cyber-bullying a classmate? TROLL!
- Someone threatening to rape and/or murder someone else? TROLL!
These are NOT trolls. These are assholes, criminals or simply bored kids, but they are NOT trolls.
„Trolling is a art“ [sic!]
(most likely Christopher Poole aka moot, founder of 4chan and Canvas)
„Trolls are making mischief“
„[Trolls] trigger or exacerbate conflict for the purposes of their own amusement / entertainment.“
//German readers may also find some information in my older article: „Konflikte als Entertainment: Trolling“ (Conflicts as Entertainment: Trolling)//
Trolls are an endangered species, hunted by uninformed Community Managers or Social Media Moderators, but every community should have at least one. And here are 5 Reasons why:
1. Trolls will make you use all the brain you’ve got
Ever wondered how Sokrates’ students felt when he was involving them in his typical dialog? For sure they felt similar to what you feel when confronted with a troll. This can be from helpless to angry, confused,… Let’s be honest: Sokrates was a Troll. Imagine him participating in a forum discussion today and you’ll have the perfect example of a Troll.
However he made his students go beyond their beliefs and further.
2. Despite being a pain in the ass Trolls provide valuable feedback
When a troll is getting active you can be sure, that something within your community does not work as it should work in a good community. Hint: the troll is just the symptom of something you (meaning: your product/brand/company) most likely caused yourself.
Trolls leave their natural habitats (under bridges or in caves if no bridge available) only if they smell troll treats laying around. Things that could attract trolls:
- (too) strongly moderated discussions
- a community being mistreated by a moderator/manager/lead member
- unfair advantages for a certain group inside the community
- and cute baby trolls being muzzled
Investigate why the troll appeared and you will get important feedback. This may not be the most convenient way to get such information but it for sure can be helpful and could even give you more insights on what thrives your community than you normally receive.
3. There is no such thing as a stupid troll
As said in the opening paragraph there is a lot of confusion going on about what trolls are and what they are not. There are indeed trolls that troll for the single purpose of amusing themselves. However as soon as it is violating netiquettes or even laws this is not trolling anymore. Trolls are not stupid. They may have an opinion that is not yours, they may act as if they were stupid, they may behave in ways that makes a whole bunch of people uncomfortable. Anyway there is no such thing as a stupid troll and it’s his intelligence that will add value to your community.
4. Trolls will give you a good laugh
One of my favorite examples for good trolling is Jon Lajoie’s Video „You Are Not Alone“.
Jon Lajoie is a great troll. Some people might say that he’s a comedian but his main success as comedian is that he converted the art of trolling into stage performance. Many of his videos reference Internet culture (e.g. the one about 2 girls 1 cup). Just do the same as with Sokrates before: imagine him participating in online communication.
5. Trolls foster conflicts thus creating discussion
I don’t say that wild running trolls can’t do harm to a community. If you are inexperienced with troll handling or try to silently remove them from community, they can and will harm the community communication and culture. Trolls foster conflicts. They love conflicts. And conflicts create discussions, good discussions that have various arguments included.
Did you ever read Voltaire’s „Candide“? That’s the kind of trolling I’m talking about here. Voltaire does not directly criticizes Leibniz theories, instead he writes a novel that happens to be a collection of Freak Cases caricaturing the idea that this is the best possible world.
Seeing these two discussing in an online forum would give me philogasms!
I know I might have given the impression that trolls are brilliant geniuses that you should not judge. This is not true. Trolls are a huge challenge for every Community Manager, can be terrible annoying for your Community and are even able to destroy all the nice communication plans. If you want to read more from me on how to detect and handle trolls, check out my guide: “Don’t feed the trolls – Enchant them. Or How to Communicate with difficult users.”
P.S.: Artwork by Aeleron.