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Trolls, Flamers, and Baiters #185683
06/04/07 05:05 PM
06/04/07 05:05 PM
Rose  Offline OP
Joined: May 2006
Posts: 605
Leesburg, FL
Here's an article I wrote a while ago, for my forum members. I thought it might be useful here too. smile


99% of people you meet on our forums are fabulous - just nice people and for the most part, interested in the same thing you are - support, friendship, and fun. But not everyone - there are some people out there who want something quite different. They want disruption, chaos, and a breakdown of the community environment and social "norms". The psychologist in me attempts to grasp what makes these people tick, and asks why they get such enjoyment out of harassing good people. The message-board administrator in me says, "Who cares - they must be wiped off the face of the earth!" ... well, at least off our forums. smile

So this is my attempt to expose those personality types so that they are easily recognized, and offer advice on how to deal with them. Trolls, Flamers, and the elusive Baiters will bring down a community forum very fast if they are allowed. Read, and be informed.


Trolls - How to Recognize a Troll

Trolls are people who deliberately set out to cause negative controversy on the message board, in whichever way they can. Note that emphasis here is on the word "deliberately". Negative controversy can occur from the most innocent post, and posted by the nicest person - that's accidental. However, trolls actively try to create conflict, although some of the time they will appear to do it in the most innocent of ways.

So the obvious question here, is how do you tell the difference between the accidental troll, and the real thing? That's easy:

  • The real troll will keep at it, and post trolling topics on a regular basis.
  • Sometimes the troll won't really give a personal opinion, content to just start the flame and watch others build it up to an all-out war.
  • Most of their topics will be of a controversial nature.
  • More often than not, the troll isn't obviously attacking an individual or even the collective group. Their motive is to start conflict and watch others do the attacking for them.
  • Often the troll appears to be a nice friendly person - their aim is stay around for as long as possible, so they try to enviegle their way into people's good graces. They want to stay around for a while to cause the maximum amount of damage.

If challenged, especially by the site administrators, they will ardently deny it, screaming 'oppression', 'censorship', and 'discrimination'. When that doesn't get the admin biting or the community sympathizing, they will resort to name-calling and vowing never to return (which is a good thing). By this time of course, admin is happy to let the door hit them on the arse on the way out, by giving them a little push (in the form of a ban).

Why do they do it?

Why do trolls do what they do? What is their motivation? Various forum admin resources on the internet attempt to answer this question. The following have been taken from a collection of those resources who do a great analysis on internet trolls and other internet 'personalities'. I doubt that all of the motivations below are true for all trolls, but I'm sure that one or more of them are true in all cases.
  • To get any sort of negative response.
  • To change the dynamics and good feelings of the message board, so that users feel differently about it. (I frankly find this one very disturbing.)
  • To cause message-board policy change.
  • To cause the message-board to be temporarily or permanently shut down.

The Hidden Costs

The fact is, that trolls DO discourage people. While the emotional well-being of the community members is of importance to us, only you can control it. Here are some of the hidden emotional costs that result from trollers posts. If you recognize any of them within yourself, see them for what they are, and don't let the trolls win!

  • Regular affable people may decide that enough is enough and decide to either leave the forum or go into "lurk mode". If you do this, the troll has won!
  • Lurkers may decide that they are glad that they lurk instead of exposing themselves to possible abuse, and so never get involved. If you do this, the troll has won!
  • Bitterness amongst normally friendly people can result from a troll's posts, to the extent that established friendships may crumble between long-time users. If you let this happen, the troll has won!
  • This feeling of bitterness can leak over to other discussions with a normally mild-mannered member over-reacting, or mis-interpreting innocent posts. If you do this, the troll has won!
  • Trolls can create a paranoid environment, and instead of looking to the root of the problem, users mistakenly blame the forum as a whole. If you let this happen, the troll has won!

What can we do?

So how do you as community members deal with Trolls? Here's some tips:

  • Ignore, ignore, ignore. Any response, even if it's not negative just encourages others to respond too, and it will get ugly. DON'T FEED THE TROLLS!
  • If you must respond to them, do it in the politest way possible. The fastest way to make a troll retreat is by a lack of conflict.
  • Report the trolling activity to the administrators/moderators - we don't always get time to read all the posts and may be unaware of them.


Flamers - How to recognize a Flamer

Flamers are very obvious - much more so than Trolls. Their sole purpose is to create a "Flame War", which is a bunch of people all bitterly having their say in a very negative way. Flame wars have no peaceful end, and they are incredibly divisive and damaging. There simply isn't one good thing about a Flame War. Flame Wars can occur by accident without a doubt, but the Flamer is one who actively intends to start it.

About the only good thing to say about a Flamer, is that they are easy to spot.

  • They are very hostile - usually to the community as a whole, but often to a part of the community, or occasionally just an individual.
  • They post insulting and negative comments that they know will start a war. They don't care if the bulk of responses are hostile towards themselves - as long as they are entertained by the resulting backlash.
  • Their topic and message are intentionally meant to create defensiveness, anger, and offense. Worst of all, the forum is suddenly not the nice comfortable place people have grown accustomed to.

While Flamers may also use the same old tired "oppression", "discrimination", and "censorship" accusations when confronted, they are generally happy with their handiwork and leave fairly easily for "greener pastures". The damage has usually been done by that stage.

Why do they do it?

Any sensible and sensitive thinking person would be quite justifiably confused when wondering why a person would purposely be a Flamer. We all like to be liked by others, right? So why would someone deliberately make themselves actively disliked? Psychological reasons aside, the reasons are similar to Trollers, with a few extras.

  • To start an "entertaining" Flame War. Obviously their sense of "entertainment" is quite different to ours.
  • To change the dynamics and good feelings of the message board, so that users lose their level of comfort.
  • To cause message-board policy change.
  • To cause the message-board to be temporarily or permanently shut down.
  • They actually don't care about being liked. Or in some cases, they align themselves with a certain section of the community (e.g. political ideology) so that they will get some backup.
  • To get across their "I am right and you are wrong" mentality.

The Hidden Costs

Flame Wars are so incredibly damaging, many people will retreat from the community and never come back. Others lose their sense of community harmony with the message-board, and adopt a feeling of distrust and defensiveness in an environment that they once felt at home in. If you let any of this happen to you or your community friends, then the Flamer has won!

What can we do?

  • Flamers are fairly easy to deal with. We just delete their posts - if we see them in time. If we don't see them until it's become out of hand, we have to delete all of the responses too.
  • As with Trolls, the best thing to do is to ignore, ignore, ignore. This can be an extremely difficult thing to do, given the Flamer's post or some of the responses to it probably will have you angry and frustrated.
  • If you must retaliate, type out your response, then get away from the computer for a couple of hours. Chances are you will be thinking much more rationally when you come back and either decide not to hit the "Post Message" button, or to at least tone down your angry comments.
  • If you see that a Flamer is loose, use your community pride and respond with a FLAMER WARNING post - nothing else, just that. Others may get the message to not respond.


Baiters - How to recognize a Baiter

Many articles and material related to discussion board personalities say that Baiting and Trolling are the same thing. I don't agree at all. Trolls target a group of people usually - while Baiters generally target one individual only. Baiters often believe that they have the best interests of the community at heart, and maybe sometimes they do. Their purpose is usually to "bait" or "lure" an individual into a discussion with the intent of pouncing on him/her as soon as they do. Baiters can be difficult to spot if you don't know what you're looking for, but no online community is without them.

  • A Baiter can be anyone in the community, but they have issues with one or more other individuals in the community. The reason for their dislike can be:
    • The Baiter felt they "lost" a prior discussion/debate with the other person.
    • The Baiter doesn't agree with one or more of the person's opinions and constantly wants to challenge them.
    • A prior "perceived" or real affront from the other person.
    • The Baiter may just not like the other person's posting style, or their standing in the community, or whatever.

  • Baiters will conduct their baiting by posting topics that they believe will "catch" their target - hoping that the target will reply. The Baiter now has them in a position in which they can challenge or embarass the other person. In some cases I've seen, the Baiter will do anything to discredit the other person - even by twisting their replies and using them against them.
  • Baiter's posts are generally quite subtle, so that many others in the community may not even "see" what is going on.
  • Even the person being "baited" may not realize it until they've fallen into the trap.
  • Contrary to Trolls and Flamers, Baiters want to be liked in the community, so their "baiting" will never "seem" like an attack.

Sometimes I've seen "group-baiting", which is when a group of people will wait for one or two individuals to post, and then "pounce", hoping that the group opinions will overwhelm and discredit the person under attack.

Why do they do it?

  • Usually it's personal. The Baiter dislikes the other person for whatever reasons, and wants to discredit him/her.
    Sometimes they believe that they are performing a community service. The other person may be disliked by several people and the Baiter has decided to take it upon themselves to "take action".
  • Their ultimate goal is to "force" the other person from the community, or at the very least to curtail the frequency or style of his/her postings.
  • The Baiter may want to provoke the other person into saying or doing something that will get them banned from the community.
  • Perhaps to maintain a "groupthink" status quo.

The Hidden Costs

While baiting incidents generally don't impact the community as a whole, they certainly impact those who are being "baited". Whether the person being baited is a nice person or a villian, continued baiting will sometimes result in him/her leaving the community. If a Baiter succeeds in driving away their "target" it can result in a feeling of power for them and embolden them for their next target.

What can we do?

  • Sorry to say that the onus is on the person being baited. If this is happening to you, just refrain from replying to anything posted by the person you believe is baiting you.
  • If you believe you are being baited but still reply to the baiter, then you have knowingly walked into the trap. If you knowingly walk into a trap, then perhaps you want the resulting conflict as much as the Baiter does.
  • If you are a Baiter, reconsider what you are doing. In the end, are you really going to feel good about your actions? If you feel that the person you are targeting "deserves" what they get, just remember that maybe this is not your decision to make.
  • If you see a baiting situation happening, there is little you can do. Trying to "call" the baiter on their actions will only result in denial and conflict. If you believe you have good conflict management skills and can diffuse the baiting, go right ahead. But be careful you don't get caught between the two opposing forces. smile


For a humorous look at all sorts of forum personality types, visit the Flame Warriors.

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Re: Trolls, Flamers, and Baiters [Re: Rose] #185694
06/04/07 06:12 PM
06/04/07 06:12 PM
Mark S  Offline
Joined: Jul 2006
Posts: 4,722
Liverpool : England : UK
very good article wink

Took me months to suss out what a Troll and a Flame was,
then realised neither were a hot topic lol

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