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Taking on trolls: how to identify and defeat online bullies

Sep 04, 2020 · 3 min read

Taking on trolls: how to identify and defeat online bullies

Trolling is a form of cyber harassment. Notorious bullies, or trolls, have poisoned everything from Twitter to mailboxes with torrents of verbal abuse, making life hell for politicians, school children, journalists, and anyone else they target for harassment. Let's take a closer look. What is a troll? How do you spot one? And how do you deal with them so you can breathe freely online?

What is an internet troll?

Trolls are users who communicate using off-topic, inflammatory messages to enrage individuals or groups and start an online war. Some trolls wander the web alone, looking for a fight to pick, while others storm forums in packs to disrupt conversations and push their agendas.

Where you might find online trolls

Trolls are everywhere, from small chat forums to Twitter and Instagram. They love to cause chaos between groups, inciting hate and posting controversial comments to provoke people and drag them into an argument for argument's sake. Trolls rarely get angry themselves, and once they’ve successfully aggravated everyone, they disappear as quickly as they appeared.

Here’s where you might encounter a troll:

  • Anonymous online forums: Trolls love anonymous forums like Reddit, 4chan, Twitch, and Quora, as they can post anything they like without anyone tracking them down. While some forums enforce a strict code of conduct, most aren’t moderated regularly, which means that trolls rarely face any repercussions.
  • Twitter: Trolls use Twitter to get attention by disrupting trending conversations. Hijacking trending hashtags and mentioning celebrities are all part of a troll’s plan to infect a thread with poisonous remarks and rants.
  • Comment sections: Places like YouTube, news sites, Facebook, and Instagram all have comment sections ripe for trolls to feed on. Certain comment sections can be full of passionate music fans or those with strong political opinions, which gives trolls the perfect opportunity to drag them into a pointless debate with slurs of hateful or controversial comments.

How to spot a troll

What’s the difference between a troll and someone who genuinely wants to debate a topic? The differences are subtle, but you can always tell by the following signs:

  • Off-topic comments: Disruption is the aim of the game here. A troll deliberately posts irrelevant remarks to annoy and disrupt others.
  • Condescending tone and refusal to acknowledge evidence: This one is a dead giveaway that someone wants to argue just for the sake of it. If you notice provoking comments like “Why are you getting so angry?” or “Calm down”, you know it’s a troll trying to dismiss your argument and annoy you further. Ignoring hard facts is another sign of a troll, since they’re not looking to draw any conclusions from their ‘argument’.
  • Seeming oblivious: Places like YouTube, news sites, Facebook, and Instagram all have comment sections ripe for trolls to feed on. Certain comment sections can be full of passionate music fans or those with strong political opinions, which gives trolls the perfect opportunity to drag them into a pointless debate with slurs of hateful or controversial comments.

Trolling examples

Trolls don’t just prowl comment sections looking to pick a fight — they plant themselves in online dating scams, create fake social media accounts, and have even been known to use sextortion. Let’s take a look at some of the worst-case scenarios of trolling:

  • Social media trolling: Beware of fake social media accounts – there could be a troll crouching behind it. It’s easy to use a fake profile picture, gain a few hundred (possibly fake) followers, and troll innocent people. Trolls will use those accounts to post hateful slurs under other people’s photos or find their way into heated debates to push their own nasty agenda. As with sextortion, social media trolling is heavily targeted at females, although no one is safe.
  • Online dating scams: Trolls create fake accounts just to exploit and take advantage of those hopeless romantics. They have roped hundreds of people into online dating scams, where they ask for nudes and large sums of money while expressing their undying love for their victims. Trolls of this kind are expert at grooming victims, seeking out their vulnerabilities and constantly digging for their backstory or anything else they can later use to manipulate them.
  • Sextortion: Some trolls may try to scam you by threatening to post sexual images of you unless you pay. Some trolls even drag your family and friends into their twisted game. Sextortion trolls usually turn out to be hackers. In a recent sextortion case, the perpetrator tricked scores of women into downloading malware onto their devices, which was then used to steal images and other sensitive information that could be used for blackmailing. Device security is critical!

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Zen Bahar
Zen Bahar successVerified author

Zen likes to use her cybersecurity knowledge to help protect the privacy and freedom of others, otherwise, you can find her playing with paints in her studio in London.


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