Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Trolls - Overused, Misused, Abused

I think the time has come to re-evaluate the usage of a word that has been overused, misused, and abused, and that is the word "troll" or "trolling" when it comes to describing participants of various internet-based discussions.

The word is used way too often, and usually as an ad hominem, an attempt to shut down discussion or shut up a commentator that does not address anything actually said. One can note with interest that one never sees someone accused of being a troll by someone who agrees with the points the person is making.

First, because this is always fun, just what really is the definition of a troll (on the internet, not under a bridge). Wikipedia says a troll "is someone who intentionally posts messages about sensitive topics constructed to cause controversy in an online community such as an online discussion forum or USENET groups in order to bait users into responding."

But the actual use of the word seems to indicate that the real definition for some is now "anyone who posts something I disagree with" or "anyone who posts something that does not instantly identify me as a synchophant with whatever the local dominant community believes." Which, of course, are bullshit definitions. As Wikipedia points out, it is often used as an ad hominem, noting that "The term troll should be used with attention since it is a very easy way of undermining an opposing point of view. Sometimes, overly using the word "troll" may constitute trolling in itself."

The reason I bring it up is because I've been accused of being a troll, and I've also seen others accused of it, when I thought it was totally unwarranted, most recently in this thread (where I did not comment) and this thread (where I did). In fact, I am hard pressed to recall any instances where someone called a troll actually met the original definition of the word.

As such, I find it terribly annoying to see it used. Either respond to someone's arguments or don't, but unless it is patently obvious, don't just dimiss someone as a troll. (The only two troll postings I can recall on my own blog were basically obviously advertisements, and I simply deleted them). People can be genuinely passionate about an issue and also be on the OTHER side of that issue than you are. Don't mistake someone's passionate, sometimes inept, arguments for a subject to indicate trolldum. I've come to like the other wikipedia definition of a troll now, as mentioned above - the first person to call someone else a troll is the only troll in the conversation.

6 comments:

Robert said...

I don't know, I encounter plenty of people on forums who say one ridiculous thing after another, and every time you call them on their arguments they just switch to something else.

DBB said...

I'm sure there are legitimate trolls - I just think the word has a low signal to noise ratio - it is overused, more as an ad hominem than as anything actually descriptive.

tinahorn_cae said...

Completely OT...

I have Yooper on my mother's side and can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that a troll is someone from the lower peninsula.

;-)

DBB said...

Tina - still doesn't apply to me - my mother is a Yooper, so that makes me at least half-Yooper...

jonolan said...

Yep, it's way overused and for exactly the reasons you've stated. People debase and degrade those who disagree with them.

If you're invalidated your position must be as well.

Krystyn41 said...

You haven't met a true troll i see. A troll is a person who masquerades as anything but his real self. He is truly anonymous and just for the sake of being argumentative will even argue with himself!! He will also do things like...create MANY nameless troll people to attack one particular person. Being like sheep, everyone follows along and attacks this person, when in actuality, the various trolls made it seem like everyone was in agreement except the victim. Anyway, I finally outted the troll, he had MPD (multiple personalities) and was very difficult to "out". He doesn't mess with me anymore.