How to Identify a Troll: A Beginner's Guide.
Note: This article updated: February 21, 2008 at 1420h; July 5, 2008 at 2100h; #23 added on October 4, 2008; #s 24-27 added and #6 expanded, November 6, 2009.; #28 added November 18, 2008.
1. Automatic rejection of evidence which rebuts the troll's assertion(s).
2. Denying that an accurate summary or paraphrase of the troll's statement or view is true or valid simply because the critic didn’t use the exact words that the troll did. "I never said that. I never used the words!" is pretty standard.
3. Rapid descent into ad hominem attack. The attacks can take many forms. Amongst the more common ones are:
-- be condescending* (variants of insults to intelligence, a la "you're stupid!" are a fave-rave);
-- personal sneers that the recipient doesn't even find insulting, (such as allegations that feminists are going to end up lonely spinsters with many cats);
-- gutter, (often sexual and sneering, especially if aimed at homosexuals).
* - A helpful tip in this regard is to remember that a troll, like a rude but wholly wrong child, is more likely to sneer things like "you don't know what you're talking about" as they become more and more wrong.
4. Saying they proved something when they actually haven’t. (Credit for this one goes to Sarah in Chicago.)
5. Boastful declaratory statements after non-existent verbal victories. (For example: "Fish in a barrell [sic], folks. This is too easy.") The experience is like being in a debate and having your opponent shout “I win!” after every point (s)he makes, whether good, bad or incoherent.
6. Talking right past an assertion that has been rebutted by evidence. Pretend it never happened, is their motto. (This is often done more than once in a thread, where the troll's attention is constantly drawn to a telling point and they never acknowledge it.) A variant on this (as noted by commenter Beowulff, below) is "the re-hashing past arguments". You can blow countless holes in that argument, but they will keep advancing it as it it were whole. (This may be simple bad faith, or may have something to do with the fact that some people are so sure in their opinions that they are evidence-proof, like the stories told of 19th C. tribesmen who were convinced that magic x or y would mean that bullets couldn't hurt them, no matter what evidence to the contrary of fellow-believers dropping like flies to the Maxim gun. Another theory is that they believe that if they advance the lie often enough it will be believed, which is a favourite tactic [and self-deluding narcotic] of the American Right.)
7. Projection, usually based on the direct opposite of reality. (For example: "Sarah, you don’t believe me because you choose not to. Okay, but you’re wrong. That’s why I can argue from experience and you can only hurl insults.")
8. An Announced Departure in the middle of the thread. It’s never enough to go, but the troll must Declare It — purportedly because the others in the discussion are too [insert dismissive negative characterization here, (troll favourites include "ignorant", "uninformed" and "unwilling to debate")]. This is often accompanied by a statement that they will not return.
9. Flouncing, a verbal drama queen, huffy variant of the Announced Departure. (Credit to "Aloysius Watermelontail" for this one, but Aloysius asks for credit to Poppy Z. Brite.) This is always accompanied by a statement that they will not return.
10. The Inevitable Return after the Announced Departure. Put simply, if the troll said that it wouldn't come back then it will usually come back.
11. Onset of Jerk Fatigue (or its subset “Bigot Fatigue”) amongst the rational; this involves people not addressing the troll or his points for a while. (Jack Goff gets credit for this one.) Such a state is almost always shortly followed by the troll claiming credit for people being unwilling or unable to debate with him.
12. It's all about the troll. If people move on to a different part of the discussion, the troll will insert themselves into that (usually rudely) or make an effort to force the thread back to their own discussion of preference.
13. Irrelevant tangents advanced as proof (especially likely to be used where the troll was proved wrong). (Another credit to Sarah in Chicago.)
14. False Disavowal of like-thinkers. The troll will often say things indistinguishable from total sleazes, but does not wish to be associated with them, and so pretends to be different from same (even though they believe the same things that the troll does) in order to pretend that it is "not really like them" or "they don't speak for me".
15. Say-it-here-but-nowhere-elsers. This is similar to False Disavowal. The troll sliming a progressive blog might find it impolitic to identify with, say, Michelle Malkin's anti-immigrant views or John Derbyshire's quasi-pedo rantings, and assert up and down that it is different. However, one could go to the sites of those people and search in vain for any post from the troll excoriating those slatherers.
16. Troll manners 1: you must be polite to the troll, but the troll need not be polite to you. (Yes, I know I called you an ignorant, rapist faggot, but it was outrageous that you called me a rude bigot. How dare you!) This is self-explanatory. However, one need note that a troll of this kind need not actually be on another's blog to do this. Ann Althouse, for example, is a superb example of a troll is who is a troll even on her own blog or out in public.
17. Ostentatious displays of boredom when accurately called out on something that they don't want to hear. If they advance an argument and you advance evidence which blows a shotgun-blast-sized-hole through their argument you are often likely to see something like "Yawn! Bored now!" The odds of this increase exponentially if the damning counter-argument had been made often before against their silly assertion which continues to be advanced by them no matter how often it has been disproven.
18. The troll's life is perfect! Perfect, I tell you! One often sees this in discussions of social issues turning on gender and finance. The troll has a wonderful education, a gleaming home, wealth, a perfect job, a girlfriend who looks like a supermodel whom he beds hourly.... You get the picture. (It is interesting to note that such trolls' happy, sated existences are never the result of privilege or luck, but result solely from the trolls' hard work, brains, skills and copious quantities of their own bootstraps, pulling up for the uses of. The libertarian ideal reigns supreme as, magically, nobody got their Ivy League education as a Legacy Admission, or entered the bond trading firm because dad's fraternity buddy hired them. It's true, they swear!) The troll, in his assertion, is an ideal as a person and as a social model and as a Prize Catch. Like Charteris' Simon Templar, the persona represents typed masturbation about what the author really, really wants to be, but isn't. (The male pronoun is used because that sort of prat is invariably male.)
19. A troll about to be ignored is a Troll More So. If people start to refuse to engage the troll, he will become deliberately more provocative and offensive, like a child at the adult table gleefully moving from words like "bastard" onto ones like "slut". ("He", for the same reason given in 17.) This is a variant on "It's All About The Troll", but more immature and pathetically obvious.
20. You must prove everything, everything !
A demand that you provide evidence for your assertion is not trollishness, but an essential part of debating. What is trollishness is a demand that you, in the context of your debate, prove that wheels are round and that water is wet. Some trolls love to do this: make demands for more and more data that you need not provide then crow that you haven't done so. It is not without significance that this point often goes hand in hand with "6. Talking right past an assertion that has been rebutted by evidence". If the troll demands X proof, and it is provided he will demand Y, Z, A, B, proof that you are a carbon-based biped, proof that.... Well, you get the idea. It is linked to 21, which is...
21. Troll manners 2: you must provide evidence to the troll, but the troll need not provide evidence to you. Assertions are usually deemed to be enough. This sort of type is most commonly found amongst ideologue trolls, especially of the conservative and libertarian types. (Venn note: there is a fair degree of overlap between the two, caused in no small part by the fact that a lot of nasty conservatives call themselves "libertarians" when in fact they are just right-wing assholes who don't want to be arrested for pot.) They don't need prove their assertions because they are self-evidently true, it seems. Oddly enough, liberal and leftist bloggers are less prone to this simply because (a) they are more addicted to facts and proud of being "reality based", and (b) people on the left love to disagree with each other and point out flaws in each other's arguments; conservatives like mutual reinforcement of shared views.
22. A refusal to ever concede a point. Everevereverever. There's nothing wrong with admitting a gap in your argument, if you are arguing with somebody in good faith and they are extending the same courtesy to you. Nobody's perfect and nobody's argument is without weaknesses. Trolls, however, don't live in a good faith world and they don't argue to prove a point or to engage in debate in order that mutual learning and refinement of views may result. They're there (in their minds) because they're smart and right and you're stupid and wrong and it is their duty to explain this too you and to everybody else.
23. False claims of repression of dissent. A troll called out on being a troll will often claim something like, "so this is how you treat dissent!" or raise claims of censorship. They are unable to grasp the difference between disagreeing and being a total fool. Basically, it's a simple correlation: the dumber or more ideologically driven the troll then the more likely they are to whine about counterfire. Picture the Constitutional Peasant from Holy Grail shouting, "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" about two minutes earlier in the sketch, when Arthur simply says, "What?!"
24. The focus on your minutiae. The troll will "pick you up on minor typos, read as grammatical mistakes [and] claim ... that you should not be in the position you are in" or that they irrefutably undermine your point, (a point that he is unable to refute himself). (Credit: Jennifer Cascadia).
25. The Change of Topic. Commenter Beowullf: "Change Of Topic is most often used to allow the troll to weasel out of an argument they're about to lose. Of course, it also nicely derails the thread from its original topic. Some trolls also have a favorite subject they'll try to change to, whether it's related or not. Another favorite is to change the topic to a meta-argument (arguing about the (style of) arguing).Change Of Topic can also be applied many times in rapid succession, like a rapid-fire of new falsehoods and bad arguments to be refuted. This makes the troll look like he's always ahead on the discussion, while honest commenters are tangled up in trying to refute all the lies and fallacies.
26. Dismissiveness. Often an argument made to the troll will be dismissed out of hand with all of the disdain of a spoiled princess waving away an unwanted gift. (Linkage note: Trolls who exhibit this behaviour will often do so in linkage with comlaints that others on the thread won't engage with her, the debating equivalent of demanding a square circle.)
27. False attribution of negative characteristics. When called on something, or faced with a compelling argument which undercuts their position, the troll will refuse to engage based on a spurious claim that the poster in question is [insert negative personality characteristic here: racist, sexist, unwilling to listen, wev].
28. The Troll is a very special expert. Many trolls very conveniently claim to have special expertise into the topic at hand, "usually due to a flashy job or some sort of high-status social standing". ”... In a thread about the liberal media, all trolls know for a FACT that all reporters are leftists because they are news editors, and everyone who’s ever worked in “their newsroom” (actual quote from an actual thread!) has been a raving commie. In a thread about deadbeat dads, the trolls are always divorce lawyers who have seen judges take everything from men and give it to women time and time again. ...” “The trolls ALWAYS have special expertise on the matter at hand! Trolls are never paper pushers, CPA’s, schoolteachers, salespeople, or programmers. Trolls are ALWAYS attorneys, reporters, and members of other fields that tend to be firsthand witness[es]” with experience that exactly suits both their position in the thread. (Credit and quotes: The Opoponax.)
Remember, kids: If it snorts like a troll, and lurks under a bridge like a troll, then it must be ...