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A malcontent that posts messages specifically designed to enrage, confuse, and/or infuriate as many people as possible.
Truly "talented" trolls may even enter the realm of Stealth Parody. The very nature of the internet (from newsgroups to wiki sites) is such that if you try to preach to opponents outright or otherwise offend them, you'll probably be ignored and/or banned. A combination of parody and provocation is more likely to inveigle others and thus become a more effective method of quarreling.
A case-in-point of the GIFT, the troll delights in sowing chaos; he is enamored by the thought that he can set off total strangers and derail entire forum topics by posting one simple message. At the same time, anonymity shields him from the uncomfortable realization that total strangers are currently fantasizing about his brutal and painful death.
The easiest way for a troll to set off an argument is to find a forum devoted to a specific point-of-view—fandom, hobbyists, politics, what have you—and post something inflammatory and profane holding an opposite viewpoint. An experienced troll makes sure to hit as many buttons as possible in a single post, making sure that others on the forum spend an equal amount of time responding to and refuting each point. I.E., on a fan forum for "X", a beginning troll may simply post "X Sucks", while an experienced troll may post a long essay on why "X Sucks" (usually full of lies and mischaracterizations, but using the truth makes it all the more frustrating for the regulars,) and a very experienced troll will even use Sock Puppets to anger both sides of an argument at once. Troll messages are often characterized by poor grammar, poor punctuation, excessive use of net slang and CAPS. Whether this is real illiteracy or an additional attempt to garner a response depends on the individual.
In the world of fan fiction, an author who intentionally posts a story that is stupid, badly spelled, or otherwise insincere is also referred to as a 'troll', as are the stories in question themselves. The goal of such trolls seems to be to either laugh at the people who like their fic, because they're obviously stupid, or to laugh at the possibly self-righteous criticism they receive from more "serious" fic writers. See Troll Fic.
The recommended path for a responsible netizen when confronted with a troll is to ignore him. Replying to a troll is referred to as "feeding" him, and may earn the admonishment of one's peers. Most forums have rules for dealing with trolls, but there is little that can be done to shut one out without setting up significant barriers to new members, so they still trickle in.
Also note that a genuine troll doesn't need to be announced as such. One fallacious use of the term "troll" is to mean "somebody I disagree with". When you see somebody declare their opposition a troll during a debate (especially if it's later in the debate or it's against an established member of the community), it's an Ad Hominem attack as a desperate ploy to win. As such, this in turn became one of trolling tactics. In most civilized communities, it is similar to Godwin's Law in its ability to automatically derail the argument and destroy the respectability of the invoker.
This is a close cousin to the Wiki Vandal, and sometimes another facet of the Single-Issue Wonk. May be the same people, for all we know. Contrast with the Internet (not so) Tough Guy: the troll does not go beyond insults, the Internet Tough Guy will add threats, and sometimes (albeit rarely) acts. Compare with The Gadfly, who is not necessarily a troll but often partakes of some aspects of one.
One may think that the term "Trolling" comes from the way that people verb every noun they can get their metaphorical hands on, but it's actually the other way around: The (by now, mostly forgotten) origin of the term "Trolling" comes from the phrase "trolling for suckers," a reference to trawling as a technique in fishing, where a baited hook is slowly drawn through the water rather than simply being cast and allowed to stay in one place—the idea being that the troll drags his bait through the group without staying around himself. The use of the term "troll" as a noun, and the attachment of mythical beastly trolls to the concept are all more recent additions.
Interestingly, other forums may take a different tack to dealing with Trolls. Certain forums cannot simply remove the trolls, as they consist of a large portion of their userbase. Instead, they defuse trolling with critical analysis of the trolls in question. Certain trolls may even earn renown for consistently posting high-grade trolls.
Griefers are a type of troll. Griefer as a specific term often refers to a person who trolls people in online video games by interfering with play and doing everything they possibly can to ruin the fun of other people trying to play the game normally (or stupidly.)
They are not known for their logic.
At one time, the most irritating version of trolling was the "invasion". Entire net communities would become swamped by trolls, derailing them completely. Raiding has become less popular over the years, however, and trolling mostly exists as an individual effort in the modern era.
For an article about mythological trolls, see All Trolls Are Different.
No real life examples, please; we'd be here all day.
Anime and Manga
- Cromartie High School had an episode about a gang leader that administrates a web forum and is incredibly polite. After running into a Troll, he restrains himself. However, the troll later bumps into him in person, and is punched to the ground by the gang leader without either knowing who the other really is.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei has Meru Otonashi, who (true to her name) is extremely shy around others, and only communicates through text messages... pretty much all of which consist entirely of outrageous slander of the recipient. And don't even think about taking her phone away, because she has extras. And don't bother waiting for the battery to die. She has extras. Many extras.
- Beatrice in Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Lambdadelta and Bernkastel, too. There's a reason she's called "Trollkastel" by the fandom.
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni had the ever infamous Miyo Takano and Shion Sonozaki.
- Durarara!!'s Izaya Orihara not only trolls the internet (his favorite tactic appears to be posing as a girl in chatrooms) but also real life on a near-constant basis
- In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the plot is kicked off by the duo's reaction to trolls on a movie review site. The movie also ends with them flying to each troll's house and beating the ever loving hell out of them.
- In Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen goes around America as a Funny Foreigner trolling people in the name of Kazakhstan to show how big of dicks some people can be. Same thing with his other film, Bruno. Just replace Kazakhstan with fashion.
- In Ender's Game, Peter and Valentine troll message boards in order to learn from the angry responses. Step 1: Troll message boards. Step 2: ??? Step 3: World domination!
- Pretty much the entirety of Edgar Allan Poe's only full-length novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, is a long, mean-spirited practical joke at the expense of readers. In an age where exploration narratives were one of the most popular forms of literature, he published it without a label indicating it as fiction, made it completely unbelievable, and turned most of the plot into a series of anticlimactic moments, and the ending is infamously abrupt. First editions tend to have marginalia along the lines of "I don't believe a word of this!" and "Damned liar!"
- Referred to in the introduction to David Hume's Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, in which he calls people who are "entirely disingenuous, and really do not believe the opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy from affectation, from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of showing wit and ingenuity superior to the rest of mankind" the most irksome of all types of people. Hume goes on to state that "the only way, therefore, of converting an antagonist of this kind, is to leave him to himself. For, finding that no body keeps up the controversy with him, it is probable he will, at last, of himself, from mere weariness, come over to the side of common sense and reason."
- Andy Kaufman
- Kaitou from Kamen Rider Decade is a mild example in that he only purposely trolls one particular person, but everytime he's onscreen with Tsukasa, he takes the opportunity to mess with him and try to ruin his plans, complete with a grin on his face. As the show continues, he eventually becomes a bit more friendly, but then in the finale, after tearful confessions of camaraderie, he beautifully comes full circle when he unexpectedly shoots Tsukasa in the face for a season-ending cliffhanger.
- Best exemplified by his cameo in the Kamen Rider Den-O movie The Onigashima Battleship (where he trolls someone else for once), which is nothing more than teleporting in, siccing copies of past Riders on the DenLiner crew, and teleporting out.
- Thanks to Villain Decay, Narutaki ended up as this: after the first few episodes, he did very little other than taunt Decade every time something went wrong.
- The Top Gear America Used Car Challenge special essentially required them to troll Alabama by writing slogans on each other's cars.
- Proving that this concept is Older Than They Think, Ratatotskr the Wold Tree Squirrel from Norse Mythology fit the bill. On the surface, he was a simple and efficient messenger boy for the gods, but his favorite clients were the wise eagle that perched atop the Tree, and the vile serpent Nidhoggr who coiled around its roots. Ratatotskr would loyally relay threats and insults between the two enemies, all the while chuckling at the rage from them and stirring the animosity between the mighty beasts, which was never directed at him. Some versions make Ratatotskr more malevolent, relaying the messages hoping the two foes will actually destroy the Tree to get at each other, which actually happens during Ragnarok.
- Akita Neru is a Vocaloid character created during a troll attack in the Japanese 2ch message board accusing the characters of being pointless moeblobs, and calling everybody who used the program a misogynistic freak who wanted the illusion of controlling women. She is now considered an Anthropomorphic Personification of trolls.
- In The Sims 3, Sims with certain traits, evil most notably, can troll forums, and derive fun from doing so.
- Hazama / Terumi from BlazBlue practically revels in trolling and taunting everyone he comes across, as shown heavily on Ragna and Rachel. By Continuum Shift, he has practically trolled the entire cast because no matter what you do, even if you Astral Finish him, he always wins.
- Forum Warz is an RPG where you play a troll - an Emo Kid, a Camwhore, a Hacker or a Perma-Noob. People contact you to bring down forums by "fighting" forum threads, derailing them and posting nonsense until you "pwn" the entire forum.
- Palutena from Kid Icarus Uprising messes with Pit almost non-stop. Her pranks range from not warning Pit when she's going to speed his wings up to deliberately using him as bait to lure out one of the Hewdraw heads. All that, and she's his Mission Control.
- The Knight Templars of some online video games are the ones who design strategies specifically to defeat players who use the Top Tier ones (often loaded with Tier-Induced Scrappys. The procedure goes like this: They choose one type of player who uses the "offending" Scrappies that other players hate, design a strategy much easier to put together (more-or-less) but specifically designed to defeat the "offender". Players who defeat Top Tier players like this can often expose them as terrible Sore Losers. An example.
- GLaDOS from Portal cruelly taunts Chell with childish insults while goading her with chances to escape that she yanks away when they're in arm's reach. Fortunately, Chell, being a Heroic Mime, never gives her a reaction.
- GLaDOS also acts like this in Poker Night At the Inventory when she makes an appearance; obviously she sees the opportunity to troll a lot more characters than Chell by doing so. She doesn't actually play (having no hands would make playing cards difficult) but she might (to give one example) look at an opponent's cards and then turn to the player and say "I know something you don't know!" in a snarky tone. This might be a cue that it's a good idea to fold, but since any fan of Portal knows GLaDOS is a liar, it could mean just the opposite.
- Referenced by Kevin and Kell here.
- Also parodied by xkcd here. Then some fans put together the extended version.
- In Ghastly's Ghastly Comic, Hitler is shown to use the Enigma to troll the Allies.
- The twelve trolls in Homestuck are actually major characters. They start off as simple internet trolls, but later befriend the four protagonists and act as exposition. And they are literal trolls, i.e. aliens from a different planet.
- In Unwinder's Tall Comics, the title character is an oddly-dedicated troll both on the internet and in real life. "The real music is the jeers of the angry crowd!"
- Retsupurae tried to riff on a usual Let's Play, but about six minutes and thirty seconds in "The Marios", they discover it was intentionally made to be Retsupurae'd and it actually derails their commentary.
- Parodied in a College Humor sketch featuring an Internet troll living under a bridge. He blocks the road and shouts racist, sexist, homophobic or just plain inflammatory comments at people until they lose their temper, at which point they get sent flying Monty Python style. The only way to defeat them is to agree with everything they say until you can get them to unironically and genuinely admit vulnerability and the need for friendship, which imposes the same fate on them as their victims.
- Parodied in episode 48 of Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series, where Internet trolls abduct Téa and prepare to cook her to death with their flames ("ONE STAR! DOWN THUMB!").