December 18, 2004

happy trolls


Besides comment spam, the biggest irritation of having a relatively large blog is what I call "The Happy Troll".

The blog-frequenting Happy Trolls are quite different animals from the internet trolls of 1997. They're not trying to turn a Martha Stewart chatroom about home-decoration into a foul-mouthed, hostile flame-war about whether or not the Holocaust actually happened. No, their art is far more subtle than that.

Because the blog owner is far more vigilant about guarding the good karma of his online "space" than a large website, the Happy Trolls have to ply their schtick via stealth. It's much more passive-aggressive. Much more cleverly disguised.

Basically, the Happy Troll is happiest when he is "shitting in your living room" without you actually noticing. That's the art of it. He does this by "adding healthy, helpful dissent to the discussion"- at least, that's what he calls his little turdpiles. And he's hoping that's how you and your other readers at first glance see them as- a reasonable yet dissenting voice, good for the debate and democracy itself yak yak yak.

Sure, his manners may be somewhat lacking, his attitude is a bit weird, but because the actual merits of his argument are so valid, relevant and well thought out, to delete them surely would be a form of "censorship"? And as a blogger, would you not be letting your readers and the entire blogosphere itself down by being such a petty, egocentric control-freak?

Ha. I can see you're already started falling for the Happy Troll's evil plan. What he's actually trying to do is make you, the blog owner, feel guilty that he's pissing you off. He wants you to feel weaker, basically. It's a power thing, oddly expressed.

Whatever. I delete these losers' comments, then I ban their IPs. I can smell them a mile away. So they got too may wedgies at summer camp back in the 70s. Not my problem.

Anybody else have problems with Happy Trolls?

Posted by hugh macleod at December 18, 2004 6:37 PM | TrackBack

"Beer and pussy"? Hmmm. Looks like you're working on a beer commercial. Knock 'em dead.

Posted by: clyde at December 18, 2004 7:06 PM


the whole troll business is a power thing. it has been in newsgroups, it is in web forums and of course its a power thing in blogs - they are just so much more personal than web forums or newsgroups.

anyhow - blockig trolls ips normally is NOT a good idea, because most people still use dial-up connections. you won't hurt the troll but instead surprise someone else....

so please: just delete their nonsense, but don't ban their ips. (of course, except for cases where the same troll is coming through the same ip regularly.)

thomas woelfer

Posted by: thomas woelfer at December 18, 2004 7:06 PM

i have at least one such troll and they always follow the exact pattern you've described. it's always immediately apparent in their tone.

Posted by: cynthia at December 18, 2004 7:30 PM

I've had problems before. I usually just nip them in the butt right away and move on. Its just not worth pleasing a troll of any kind. The more they stick around, the more psycho their explosion will ultimately be. Delete and ignore, and even play dumb to it.

Posted by: DJ Coffman at December 18, 2004 9:51 PM

this is a test to see if I am a troll - I'll see if you delete this losers’ comments, then ban my IP.

Posted by: Piers Fawkes at December 18, 2004 10:08 PM

I'm just getting into blogging (just getting MT set up for myself and I'm not quite up and running yet.) However, message boards and newsgroups have bred the finest trolls in the world and the best are exactly as you've described. Any idiot can throw a few profanities around, it takes a special kind of troll to seem genuine en face. You're certainly correct in perma-banning them from your site as they're nothing but trouble -- blog world, message board world, or elsewhere.

Posted by: Dan Irwin at December 18, 2004 10:27 PM

Yep, I have had them. One of them called me an arrogant piker. I have no problem being called arrogant but what's a piker? Good luck with your "whack-a-troll". (It's like whack-a-mole but..well, you get it.)

Posted by: Troy Angrignon at December 18, 2004 10:35 PM

I suspect that a 'piker' is meant to be a 'pikey', which is a derogatory expression for an Irishman and/or Romani. (Which, for our American friends, is the politically correct expression for a Gypsi. A bit like Inuit and Eskimo)

I'll get me coat now.

Posted by: Andreas at December 18, 2004 11:55 PM

Who cares what someone else thinks, F*ck them.

But then I'm of middle age and I DO NOT CARE THAT MUCH for people that have utopic fantasies about just about anything except comestables of all sorts.

Burn, booze and food. What else is there?

Posted by: jimce at December 19, 2004 1:28 AM

I've had a few on some of the personal topics I've posted on - particularlly when they have some religious tone to them. I personally confront it head on by challenging what they're saying. If it gets to be a problem I generally have a "this is my world, like it or leave it" post and they tend to go away.

Of course, I'm not as big of a target as you I guess :)

Posted by: Travis Swicegood at December 19, 2004 2:06 AM

I avoid the problem entirely, by having gutted all of the comment tags out of the templates that spit out my MT posts. Solves the problem- if people wantr to actually talk to me, rather than verbally masturbate all over what amounts to a public space, they can email me.

Of course, they don't, just like I'm not emailing you, and probably for the same reasons. Nobody responds to email these days, especially from somebody they don't know. :P Comment leaving at least ensures that somebody will read my thoughts on the matter... which is probably all a Happy Troll really wants. Attention.

Posted by: solios at December 19, 2004 2:07 AM

Interesting. If I reasonably disagree with your point of view, then I'm a Happy Troll. My comments get deleted and my IP banned and no one can hear me scream.

Sounds a little like what Bush and cronies do to silence dissent - kind of an "if you're not with us your against us" approach. a little.

Personally (at the risk of being branded a troll), I think trolls can be occasionally useful. Mostly, though, they're just irritating, and I think experienced web-dwellers just ignore them. I also don't have a problem with them on my blog (yet), so it's probably easy for me to talk.... However, if it makes you feel better to ban them then go for it.

Posted by: kinrowan at December 19, 2004 5:42 AM

no, lots of people 'reasonably disagree', but a troll uses that to get his foot in the door before going mental with personal attacks. a troll always has the personal attacks awaiting just under the surface, and tries to create a situation where they can let fly. and the first step is to 'reasonably disagree.'

Posted by: cynthia at December 19, 2004 1:58 PM

After a couple of years of blogging, (I think) I'm surprised to find myself agreeing more-or-less with kinrowan above that trolls can be occasionally useful.

One of the things I've noticed with blogs that have regular communities of commenters is that the online facilitation skills .... the listening and "looking-for-the-learning" skills of the blog host ... can be very useful. Some people are masters of this, like the Happy Tutor over at Wealth Bondage ... skillfully done, responding to a troll via acceptance and a well-wrought question that turns a troll's contribution inside out can lead to useful insights, and growth in learning all around - as well as showing the troll's comments for what they are. I think it takes a lot of skill, and patience, however.

Just like real life ... if we take the time to listen and learn from the obnoxious asshole next to us in the bar (even the one that's grin-fucking us with his superiority), we can find out some interesting shit ... at the very least, about ourselves.

kinrowan also makes the point that they are almost always ignored ... which is true in my experience, and helpful. And thus what does wanting to keep our own blog neat and clean show us about ourselves ?

I've found trolls a useful wall to bounce ideas off of (as in cynthia's "reasonable disagreement" point above), in order to deepen a point .. and clearly, when it becomes useless to do so, one can just stop the feeding.

Jeebus, hope I'm not being a happytroll.

Posted by: Jon Husband at December 19, 2004 6:16 PM

Here's something my friend wrote to a happy troll who came into our group of lyricists and tried to battle everyone 8-mile style:

you got your battle tactics, noticed, and overated,
fixated, a personality mistakin, mad tight, and in depth,
but this aint war, its communication...
so keep your tactile pads a fluctuatin

your ego fucked up... the path youve taken, its breakin.
This dude, complicatin the heart, manipulatin the art
fabricatin his arch, eradicatin the spark
too much masturbate in the dark...

the only light i think you see
reflectin off your computer screen.
"yo im tighter than all these here fuckers!"
no, you´re just a got-to-feel-yourself fiend

welcome to the land of, "i dont give a damn about your insecurities!
damn dude i dont know you, and you sure as hell dont know me!"
So shut the fuck up or flow free, i have no need for your dope seeds. lookin for motivation

aspire to inspire a nation. You? you perspire and awaken, shaken,
cuz we all have demons
due to the mistakes that we´ve been made in.

If for some reason you are ever at my door, are you going to knock and be welcome,
or try to just battle your way in? The babble you cravin, is like a babe in a cradle
rattle in hand wavin!!

...the happy troll was shut down and in the process we all learned something about why we practice our art...

but was it worth the annoyance? I'm not sure

Posted by: Brett at December 19, 2004 8:00 PM

without the once-a-year troll and the far more frequent comment spam, i wouldn't get any email at all. hello? hello? is anyone there?

sometimes when i can't seem to get any radio stations, i just tune into the white noise turned down real low, and soothe myself with the sound. trolls are in some ways like a mindless wave machine on the night stand. their only downside is bandwidth consumption, which is usually fairly minimal. if i initiate a conversation that gets hijacked by trolls, the conversation was already dead meat.

Posted by: campester at December 20, 2004 1:14 AM

I don't mind "dissent" or disagreement. What I don't like is bad manners, and I'm pretty ruthless about it.

Sure, "bad manners" is a subjective call... but it's my call to make.

PS: "Dissent". What a pompous-ass word. Heh.

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 20, 2004 11:48 AM

Ha ha! I thought I was the only one with happy trolls. Well, one happy troll. Your definition is perfect.

Cynthia put it perfectly: they use "reasonable dissent," they agree with some things, then suddenly they go mental.

As of last Friday, he's banned.

Luckily our software has bayesian filtering so it can find our young troll as he moves from IP to IP, and it has this neat little trick where the troll continues to see his own posts, so he's not even aware that he has been banned, which reduces the chances he'll be able to run off in one of his predictable "censorship" rages.

Posted by: Joel Spolsky at December 20, 2004 4:56 PM

Crushing dissent? You sound like a dictator! If nothing else I think you have coined a new term. By the way, anyone have any TP? Sorry about stinking up the site. I guess I am one of the not so subtle trolls. Muahahaha

Posted by: John Fuller at December 21, 2004 8:24 AM

we've got one of these on right now, she's commenting in just about every post and trying really hard to cause problems.

Posted by: Sean Bonner at January 9, 2005 5:00 PM