What is a troll?
|This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.|
- This page addresses a parallel concept to vandalism, that of trolling. w:Wikipedia:Dealing with vandalism sets up policies for vandalism: for attempts to disrupt the usability of Wikipedia for its readers. Note that some behavior listed here has been taken as disruption of Wikipedia in Arbitration Committee decisions.
Trolling is any deliberate and intentional attempt to disrupt the reliability of Wikipedia for its editors, administrators, developers, and other people who work to create content for and help run Wikipedia. Trolling is a violation of the implicit rules of Internet social spaces and is often done to inflame or invite conflict. The label necessarily involves a value judgment made by one user about the value of another's contribution. Because of this, it is considered not to be any more useful than the judgment 'I don't agree with you' by many users, who prefer to focus on behaviors instead of on presumed intent. Trolls in the Internet sense of the word are not to be confused with large warty monsters thought to dwell under bridges, in caves, etc.
Trolling is not necessarily the same as vandalism, although vandalism may be used by trolls. A vandal may just enjoy defacing a webpage, insulting random users, or spreading some personal views in an inappropriate way. A troll deliberately exploits tendencies of human nature or of an online community to upset people. Trolling is not exclusive to Wikipedia, as it is a behavior that manifests in many online venues.
There are many types of disruptive users that are not trolls. Reversion warriors, POV warriors, cranks, impolite users, and vocal critics of Wikipedia structures and processes are not necessarily trolls.
The basic mindset of a troll is that they are far more interested in how others react to their edits than in the usual concerns of Wikipedians: accuracy, veracity, comprehensiveness, and overall quality.
The basic policy regarding trolling is simple: please refrain. Rule 14 of the internet also states "Do not argue with trolls—it means that they win."
Definition of trolling
All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.— Mark Twain
The nature of trolls is to slip from any definition intended to constrain their actions and to find new and innovative ways to annoy. What follows are some comments that point generally in the direction of what a troll is and what trolls do. There is no enforcement against trolls on most Wikipedia projects, as it is impossible to comprehensively define all behaviors that could be considered trolling.
Trolling is a deliberate, bad faith attempt to disrupt the editing of Wikipedia. Ignorance is not trolling. Genuine dissent is not trolling. Biased editing, even if defended aggressively, is in itself not trolling. By themselves, misguided nominations, votes, and proposed policy are not trolling. They are only trolling when they are motivated by a program of malice rather than ignorance or bias. This requires a judgment of the personal motivation for another's action. Such a judgment can never be made with anything approaching certainty. This fact should always be kept in mind when one is tempted to label someone a troll.
When you try to decide if someone is a troll, strive to assume they are not. Explain errors politely and reasonably; point them towards policies, the manual of style and relevant past discussions. Do not conclude they are a troll until they have shown complete inability or unwillingness to listen to reason or to moderate their position based upon the input of others. Even in that case, it is likely better to remain silent and let others conclude the obvious instead of calling someone a troll and creating even more mayhem. It is better to humor a troll for too long than to drive away a sincere but misguided user. Remember and apply the principles laid out at w:Wikipedia:Don't bite the newcomers.
Types of trolling
All of these identify behaviors that some trolls engage in. It does not follow from this that all, most, or any given person engaged in these behaviors is a troll. An important part of the definition of "trolling" is that it is always something someone else is doing.
The archetypal example of trolling is the deliberately inflammatory edit or post — saying something controversial specifically to cause a flame war. Inflammatory edits usually come from users who have a minority or controversial opinion and who sincerely believe that this view is inadequately represented by Wikipedia, and therefore will seek reasonable ways to properly represent their views; trolls, however, will generally not seek consensus but will instead insist on a position without any regard for compromise.
Not all edit-war trolls will choose subject matter that is obviously controversial. The defining characteristic of a troll in this case is not the content of the edit, but the behavior in discussing the edit and the refusal to consider evidence and citations or to accept consensus or compromise.
People who passionately believe in what they are writing also sometimes behave in a way that may make them appear to be a troll. Many non-trolls refuse to compromise; and, at times, compromise may not even be the best solution.
Uploading inappropriate content
Some articles are created and some pictures are uploaded with the sole purpose of offending readers or other Wikipedians. In cases such as copies from w:shock sites, this is more appropriately treated as vandalism. However, if an article with clearly inappropriate content is aggressively defended, pretending that it is a genuinely encyclopedic article, it may qualify as trolling.
Misuse of process
Deliberate misuse of processes is a favourite troll game. Examples include continual nomination of articles for w:Wikipedia:Articles for deletion that are obviously encyclopedic, nomination of stubs for w:Wikipedia:Featured article candidates, baseless listing of users at w:Wikipedia:Requests for comment, nomination of users who obviously do not fulfill the minimum requirements at w:Wikipedia:Requests for adminship, "correction" of things that are already in conformance with the w:Wikipedia:Manual of style, giving repeated vandalism warnings to innocent users or setting obviously unreasonable requirements for the selected victim, flooding one's talk page with criticism on nearly every edit made. When we say that something is "obvious" or "baseless", we mean that anyone acting in good faith would agree with that characterization. Be aware that something may seem obvious to you but quite non-obvious to others. Characterizing someone as a troll who simply disagrees with you can cause disputes which can be very damaging both to Wikipedia and to your own credibility.
Often, even if the behavior clearly breaks policy, this is just someone unaware of policy. Look at the user's response to being pointed towards the relevant policy. If they accept the policy, or seek to change the policy at the appropriate location, they might not be a troll. If they declare the policy "wrong" (but make no effort to amend it) or simply ignore it, it's possible they are a troll. Remember that "policy" on Wikipedia is not a black-and-white issue. It is sometimes very difficult for a new Wikipedian to understand the complicated system of authority which Wikipedia uses, and these systems are not really detailed anywhere (or even set, to some extent). If a user challenges that an alleged policy really is a policy, perhaps it's best to utilize the help of other users. Encourage the newcomer to use the village pump, and point them to the IRC channel, where experienced users may be able to help the newcomer get acquainted with the system.
Another form of trolling can occur in the form of continual questions with obvious or easy-to-find answers. Of course, sometimes what is obvious to one person is obscure to another. If a user seems to be asking stupid questions, try to give them the resources to help themselves. You can also send them to the help desk. If they persist, politely explain that you would love to help but are rather busy. If they continue asking the question even after you have clearly answered it, or begin complaining that you will not help them, there is a chance of them being trolls. Or they could just be lazy or confused. Of all the kinds of trolling, this is the most important kind not to get bent out of shape about. Remember: Wikipedia is a source of knowledge. Be friendly about providing knowledge to people. That said, in extreme cases questioning can be a method of trolling, and it is not inappropriate to ask someone to leave you alone once you have made a reasonable attempt to answer their questions.
Some trolls are critical of the project, its policies, its users, its administration, or its goals. Often, this criticism comes in the form of accusations of cabals or campaigns that are typically invested in a particular POV, invested in maligning a specific user, and other similar claims. When confronted, some trolls will accuse Wikipedia of Marxism, political correctness, limiting freedom of speech, or fascism.
Criticism of the project, made constructively, is welcome from contributors when shared in an appropriate place. It is unwelcome when cross-posted to a wide variety of places (cf. MeatBall:ForestFire), or to clearly inappropriate locations such as article pages and established policy pages. This is very similar to posting any controversial issue: If it is done to improve things and foster discussion, it can be a great benefit. If it's done with malice and in bad faith, however, it can be a problem. Of course, a new user who gets treated roughly can easily interpret that as cabalism, especially if there seems to be no appropriate forum for these complaints. Which criticism is "constructive" is very much in the eye of the beholder.
The nature of trolling is to be disruptive, and one of the most disruptive things that can be done is to find new ways to cause trouble that are not quite against the rules. No matter how great your definition of trolling may be, a dedicated troll will find something you have not thought of yet.
This, then, is something of a catch-all category: if a user is being continually disruptive, and no amount of politeness, consensus, mediation, or anything else is reining them in, they are trolling. When a user, in a conflict of any sort, insists on the letter of a rule while grossly violating its spirit, this is often a sign of trolling.
In these borderline cases, however, it is more important than ever to try to assume good faith, and to seek consensus not only in your opposition to whatever you think is being trolled about, but on the issue of whether or not someone is a troll. A good start when you are faced with creative trolling is to come to this page and propose an amendment to the "Types of trolling' section. If people agree that it is trolling, then you can go back to the conflict with this on your side. Failing specific additions to this page, however, the Arbitration Committee should be the only authority to ban users for "creative" trolling.
Dealing with trolls
Rule 14 adequately summarises how to deal with trolls. "Do not argue with trolls—it means that they win." Remember: trolls feed on truth, converting it into hate and ignorance.
Not feeding the trolls
A common piece of advice regarding trolls is "Please do not feed the trolls." It is sometimes abbreviated as "DNFT" or "DNFTT". While many seasoned veterans of online communities consider this advice useless—because in a community of any size, someone will react to the troll's posts—others still consider it to be the only effective method for dealing with trolls. Not fanning the fire will, at the very least, not make the situation worse. If the behavior escalates to abuse or vandalism, it is easy to deal with those things.
Dealing with edit-war trolls
Sometimes trolls cannot be ignored without compromising the integrity of an article—particularly in the case of edit-war trolling. In these cases, err on the side of improving Wikipedia, but always remember the principle of staying cool when the editing gets hot and do not hesitate to follow the dispute resolution process. Remember the three-revert rule. If someone is trolling an article, you will get support from others in restoring the article. Eventually, the troll may give up, or a consensus may form for dealing with the troll more firmly.
Dealing with inappropriate content
While in Usenet, chatrooms, and other online communities, it is probably best to ignore trolls; this does not work with content uploaded to Wikipedia. Even if you ignore it, it remains in the database and is visible from the Internet. Inappropriate articles that do not qualify as speedy deletes should be taken to AfD. However, one should keep every debate strictly factual. A heated deletion discussion, possibly fueled by inflammatory comments by the troll or his sockpuppets and allies, may increase the troll's motivation.
The value of slow reverts
At Wikipedia, one of the most effective ways of dealing with persistent misuse is through slow reverts, that is, permitting the abuse to stand for a period of time (usually a day or so), and then reverting it. The lack of any kind of immediate response denies satisfaction to the troll and leaves them with nothing to do, and the eventual revert removes the effect of their contribution. It allows time for the troublemaker's editing patterns to become clear and to come to the attention of other Wikipedians. This is a sort of "Don't feed the trolls (too much)".
The main problem with slow reverts is that they are difficult to perform on frequently edited articles, since there may be intervening edits.
Dealing with misuse of process
Unlike trolls who vandalize articles, the majority of the damage caused by those misusing process is fairly indirect. Generally it is best to simply state your opposition and leave it at that. In many cases someone else has already gone through an explanation, and you can simply say you agree. If a nomination or listing is obviously going to fail, "piling on" explanation after explanation or personally attacking the nominator is not going to change anything; the listing or nomination will fail anyway. If the number of listings starts getting excessive (even if they are on separate pages), then you might want to use the dispute resolution process. Dispute resolution does take a while, though. If the number of nominations/listings is very high, the most damage will be done if no emergency block is put in place. But in general, let the process run.
Dealing with pestering and misplaced criticism
Depending on the location and severity, pestering/misplaced criticism is best dealt with by ignoring it or treating it the same way as any edit war. If it is occurring on your user talk page, ignore it, or revert slowly (once every few days). Don't feed the trolls.
Since the judgment that someone is a troll is a subjective one, it is always possible that someone will be misidentified as a troll due to his/her behavior. If you believe that you are being accused of trolling when you are being sincere in your editing, consider these possible solutions.
- "Don't do that, then." If people are saying you are a troll because you do X, do not do X.
- Assume good faith. An optimistic approach will keep you out of a lot of hot water—you do not want to be the first person to act in bad faith. People often really do have good-faith intentions and wish to resolve any disputes amicably.
- Back away. Let the issue go for a while, let tempers cool down, come back and try discussing the matter again calmly and reasonably.
- Consider methods of dispute resolution such as w:Wikipedia:Requests for comment and w:Wikipedia:Requests for mediation.
- Rephrase. Often one is accused of being a troll because one is phrasing one's views in a particularly hostile way. Consider: Are you openly advocating trolling on your user page? Are you cursing at people or engaging in personal attacks? Are you accusing those who oppose you of being in a cabal? If you stopped that, people would probably respond better to you.
- Concede. Sometimes, no matter how right you are sure you are, the consensus is going to go against you. When this happens, let it go. Maybe someday someone else will come along and raise the same issue, and the discussion can begin anew and this time turn out differently.
If, no matter how much you try to be reasonable, you are still being accused of trolling, you may be tempted to create a new user account and "start over". Please see w:Wikipedia:Sock puppet regarding this, and note that it is strongly discouraged. It is better to rebuild trust in your existing name than to appear to be evading a negative reputation. You are more likely to build up a reservoir of tolerance if you act in a consistent way that people can comprehend and anticipate—and keeping the same account name is part of that.
- w:Wikipedia:Disruptive editing
- w:Wikipedia:Trolling poll
- w:Wikipedia:Do not insult the vandals
- w:Wikipedia:Please do not bite the newcomers
- w:Wikipedia:Vandals versus Trolls
- WikiGnomes, WikiFairies, WikiElves, WikiOgres, WikiGremlins, and WikiDragons
- Troll (Internet)
- Wikipedia:Don't be high-maintenance
- Enemy of the State (1984, Orwell) The use of an external enemy (by a leader/authority/oligarchy) to maintain order and to dissipate dissense.
- meatball:WhatIsaTroll: What is a troll? In-depth analysis and references on w:MeatballWiki. See also MeatBall:TrollingTactic and many other linked pages.
- "Data Mining Reveals How the “Down-vote” Leads to a Vicious Circle of Negative Feedback" (2014 study supporting validity of WP:DENY)
- Pnina Shachaf, Noriko Hara: Beyond vandalism: Wikipedia trolls. In: Journal of information science 36.2010,3, S. 357–370. (this study is the first to analyze multiple trolls that are active on Wikipedia, mostly Hebrew WP)
- MIT Technology Review - How a Troll-Spotting Algorithm Learned Its Anti-antisocial Trade (2015 article about an algorithm that can spot trolls in online communities)
- Sutton, Robert (February 2007). The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. Business Plus. ISBN 978-0-446-52656-2.
- Doctorow, Cory (May 14, 2007). "How to Keep Hostile Jerks from Taking Over Your Online Community". InformationWeek. TechWeb Business Technology Network. Retrieved September 22, 2015.