How to stop an Internet troll
by Carol Thompson
In the late 1980s Internet users adopted the word “troll” to describe someone who intentionally disrupts online communities. Today, not only are trolls those who disrupt online communities, but those who cyberstalk and harass as well.
Trolls often take personal vendettas online, be it against an individual or business.
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Wikipedia describes a troll as “Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”
Experts who have studied trolling describe those hiding behind a computer to lash out as depressed, attention-starved, angry, sad, jealous, narcissistic or some other form emotion.
When a troll targets an individual, the obsession can be unnerving. The experts say it’s best to ignore the troll as responding only perpetuates the situation. People only engage in repeated behavior if it pays off for them.
The payoff includes:
- Attention and recognition, even if negative
- The emotional release of venting
- Power (the power to disrupt)
- The thrill of breaking social conventions
- Sabotaging groups the troll dislike.
When ignoring a troll doesn’t work or if the troll starts harassing or threatening, it’s best to report the situation. Different online platforms have different monitoring and reporting systems, however, if blocked from a website, they often create a new account.
Threats should be reported to the police. Be sure to make screenshots of any threatening or offensive posts.
For those with websites, the IP address of the troll can be captured and traced, however, for those with no way of tracing an IP address or if the troll is using an anonymous IP, a John Doe lawsuit may be filed.
If the true identity of the troll is not known, most county courts allow a civil to be filed using John Doe for the defendant’s name. All emails, letters, comments, and other online activity that show there is a valid claim in absence of a name or location. The purpose is not to file for a monetary judgment initially but to obtain a subpoena for the ISP and email providers of the unknown troll in order to obtain the person’s name and address so a civil suit can be filed.
As technology advances so does the ability to catch Internet trolls.
Image: Flickr/Eirik Solheim