Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

While internet trolls may be a recent invention, like the three Billy Goats Gruff found, they are a menace.

“Recent? The internet has been trolled since it was started back in the ’80s!”

Ahem. As I was saying, trolls are a menace. The modern usage of the term indicates someone who deliberately leaves argumentative comments in discussion forums and social media. The aim of a troll in that sense is to enrage and provoke others.

You can find examples of trolling or troll like behaviour wherever you go online. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are rife with them, but you can also see examples in the comments on websites. Take a look at some of the comments on this newspaper’s website to see what I mean.

Do people become trolls on purpose? Possibly, although I suspect the answer is generally no. The ability to post anonymously definitely eases the path to becoming a troll, because all internet trolls are motivated by a hidden agenda. What that agenda is depends on the person behind the comments. They may be a political activist campaigning for their chosen party, or perhaps they are a developer or land owner trying to promote a new estate that is being built or they may just be someone who bears a grudge or wants some attention. The point here is that anonymity offers the internet troll a shield to hide behind.

“Ha! You can’t catch me. You can’t catch me.”

Sounds rather miserable and dire doesn’t it? Well not quite. There is a silver lining to the cloud of anonymity. That is the simple truth that opinions expressed anonymously are rendered invalid without an element of context. So if you have the misfortune to be trolled, do bear that in mind and take it in your stride. Take a step back if things get heated and try not to get riled. The worst thing you can do in a situation like that is to feed the troll by responding in kind.

There are of course other ways to handle trolls. If a troll enters the discussion on a social network, use the tools that network provides to mute, block and report the offender. A troll without a voice is no longer a troll at all. Similarly, if you own a website or discussion forum you have the power to ban or block people. In either case, banning, blocking or reporting someone is a last resort to be used when other avenues have failed. If you can, try to talk to the person first to explain your position.

Talking and understanding is important. Neither you nor I may know the person on the other side of the screen. To use an example from the 1995 film Jack and Sarah, where Jack has recently been widowed. He opens the door to a delivery man who says, “Cheer up mate, it might never happen.” It is plain to the viewer that it clearly has already happened to Jack. The delivery guy doesn’t know this and thinks he is being funny.

So be careful what you say, lest you become a troll yourself.

“Oi, you little…” - Blocked.

Alan Stainer