Monday, April 17, 2006

Troll Psychology

Neo-neocon's commentary on critical thinking included a bit on trolls and started me wondering about troll psychology. I was prepared to do research, but it ended up being quite easy. The Wikipedia article on trolls covers the waterfront nicely.

I have only once accused someone of being a troll, and I was wrong, which
provided a salutary warning not to do it again. My more usual inclination
is to regard all comments as sincere, however antagonistic or uninformed -
or flat-out stupid - they might be. Perhaps this is because I work in a
field of intelligent people who often do not see their obvious biases
because they are seldom challenged. I don't assume that because a
commenter has written something of jaw-dropping bigotry that s/he is
necessarily stupid.

If you still regard the NYT and all its intellectual descendents as the
generally reliable and only mildly biased media, and you spend your
professional and social time with those who think the same, why wouldn't
you continue to rely on them? Isn't it much easier to just believe what
the smart people seem to be saying, regarding the others as cranks similar
to the flouride-in-the-water guys of the 50's and 60's? And as such, wouldn't
you regard their claims dismissively?


Anonymous said...
The balony detection kit, great for examining anything with

MaxedOutMama said...

If someone really wants to discuss anything I don't think that person can be properly described as a troll. People who just leave insults and unsupported contentions are trolls, but who really pays attention to them?

I have noticed that commenters disagreeing strongly from the group consensus are often described as trolls even if they are presenting a genuine challenge instead of hurling invective.

That observation makes me think that the "troll" designation is worthy of some psychologist's attention. I have also noted that any website that allows the censure or blocking of people that the group considers a "troll" experience a decline in substantive discussion.

I guess I'm saying that I don't like the word.

jw said...

Years ago, before there were so many people online, we called a person a troll if:

- in any discussion they took the contradictory position
- they sought to turn any discussion into a flame war

Both were required. Now, troll seems to mean anyone who disagrees with the majority. Sad ... troll was a good word.

Anonymous said...

Well, technically, anyone who lives in the lower penninsula of Michigan is a "troll" since they all live 'under the bridge'.

Heh heh.

Alternatively, on the DU website ANYONE who disagrees however mildly with the general lunatic Left is immediately assigned the designation of 'troll' and their account suspended. So much for the claim of intellectual superiority.

I think the power of the term has to do with the words' primary meaning... a troll was/is a creature who attacks unjustly and by surprise - much like an anonymous poster who bursts into a debate with some unjust accusation or ad hominem without the slightest provocation.

OBloodyHell said...

I haven't looked at the Wiki "official" designation, but, to me, troll is:

1) Throws out blatantly known misfacts, which have
a) been answered previously in the time said troll has been generally present
b) been debunked in countless places previously to the point where anyone actually looking for answers would long since have encountered them -- the hoary "my pet goat" story, and the "bush lied, people died" mismemes are key examples.

2) Does not respond to replies with questions or refutations but still more questions, often having nothing to do with what has preceded ("moving the goalposts")

3) steps backward on a position which has been refuted in their presence, and to their agreement, in very recent memory (I refer to it as a "reset button": You can take them through a series of point-agreements leading to either demonstrate your conclusion or falsify theirs, getting agreement at every stage and leading inarguably to the desired result, then three days later, they're back at square one with the same BS as though they never had the discussion -- "Error! Error! Unacceptable ideas! Reset button pushed. Purging... Purging... Unacceptable memes cleared. Insanity restored...") NOTE: this is not unique to liberals, I have seen the same response in conservatives involved in abortion arguments, but that is a much, much narrower application.

In short, a troll is not someone looking for answers or even honest debate, they're simply a gadfly looking to stir things up and annoy.

Anonymous said...