Is Trolling Ever OK?

Ah, the notorious troll. Perhaps you've come across one — those people who deliberately try to get under your skin. Sometimes, that means trying to piss you off. In a game, that could mean verbally harassing or annoying you, if not playing specifically to get in the way. That's the most standard conception of a troll, anyway.

A troll could also be someone that convinces you of something silly or outrageous. A ‘good' troll manages to enrage or deceive the victim. A good troll also stays in-character no matter what.

I've written about all sorts of trolls in the past. Here is one that adopts a number of grating voices in Call of Duty. Here is one that pulls Xbox Support's leg by claiming to have an issue with an Xbox (and here are more trolls sending Xbox support questions.) Here is a troll that harasses women gamers for, well, being women.

If you notice, there is a difference in how I frame all of these trolls. The Call of Duty one and the Xbox support ones are posed as things we'd find funny as a spectator. The one targeting women, meanwhile, is posed as something awful. Commenters pointed this out with raised eyebrows, asking if I only disliked trolls when they targeted women.

I think there's an interesting conversation to be had here about what type of harassment is acceptable and what type isn't, and whether we are being selective when we designate one or the other. Might there be instances when trolling is 'okay'? Can trolling go far enough that it is no longer trolling, but rather a hate crime of sorts, but that we mask under the label of 'trolling' so that people can get away with it? The obvious example here is Anita Sarkeesian and the harassment she faces for her feminist project, but she is not the only one.

Might there be instances when trolling is 'okay'? Can trolling go far enough that it is no longer trolling, but rather a hate crime of sorts?

Being trolled can be funny....if it's not you; if you are merely watching a poor sap be a victim. In some ways I think we've normalized trolling, or have at least resigned ourselves to the idea of trolling being inevitable online (sadly!) "Don't feed the trolls" is way too common of an ethos.

Granted, just because something makes us laugh doesn't make it any less ‘wrong' to do. Should someone have to deal with a jerk that wants to ruin your experience? No, of course not. I fear that we are so used to trolls, that as funny as they can be, we lose sight of what a blight they are.

Might we also make concessions for a certain type of troll? In one of my Xbox support posts, someone asked the Xbox support Twitter account about the absurd questions they got. They said they didn't mind as long as it wasn't malicious. And many of those Twitter questions were rather harmless, in some ways, obviously not being serious.

Sometimes trolling is not so whimsical. Personally I saw the troll on World of Warcraft take up his, um, calling, out of genuine hatred. I will admit that making distinctions between trolls is kind of stupid, but I mention it because I don't think I am alone in how I see trolls. Some are more ‘fun' than others; some are genuinely alarming in what they do. All are people that in an ideal world, we wouldn't have to deal with.

I know an acquaintance that would often say he was an ‘equal opportunity troll.' I was sceptical of that idea at the time. I still kind of am. But I suppose that if you're going to troll, you might as well not discriminate about who your victims are.


Comments

    If there are 10 snipers on a hill in the distance on a game of Rush on BF3, I have every right to get my smoke grenades out and block their vision to the best of my ability for as long as I can. PTFO. They bring it upon themselves.

      I wouldn't call that "trolling".
      I'd call that "strategy".

    "perhaps you've come across one"

    If you show me someone who has never come across a troll on the internet... I'll show you a liar.

      Depends how long they where on the internet and what they do on it. They may also not have realised they've been trolled.

      Frankly I'm against it, I rarely find it funny. Somebody getting hit in the nuts, sometimes it's funny but it's not something I'm for.

        surely everyone goes to youtube at least once! The comments section (but for the top comments usually) are just filled with trolls. It's where you go to see the sess pool of society.

        :P http://youtu.be/60mhcguaAZM

    Nope not ever. No matter your justification. Trolls can go and get F'd. Ban them all and burn their computers.

      Harden up buttercup.

      If your too much of a sook to enjoy a good trolling stay of the internet, plain and simple.
      Love trolls, they make my day so often.

    Since "trolling" became mainstream i have considered there to be 3 distinct groups, The old hands who craft an account on a site and maintain it for several months they can be controversial but aren't usually sexist, racist, or intolerant.
    Then theres the people who try to be as controversial as possible posting gore, pornography, etc who try to be as offensive as possible be it religion, race, or gender and try to start violent arguments with anyone stupid enough to reply to them.
    And finally there are the 13 year olds enjoying the fact they are now old enough to have an account on the majority of sites, who simply cut and paste comments they have seen by the above trolls (generally followed by trolololololo)
    In my honest opinion the media incorrectly labels anyone who hurls abuse online as a troll, there is a difference between someone who sees something they dont like and tell the creator to "kill themself", and an actual troll who chooses a target and craft their messages in such a way to get as enraged response from that group as possible.
    I neither condemn nor condone trolling i admit i generally find trolls hilarious when i see them hook more and more people into arguing with them, I just stick by what i've believed for the past 6 years "Don't feed the trolls"

      Yeah - it disappoints me that a tech site would confuse trolling with other behaviours like bullying or harassment. Trolling as it was initially conceptualised was not abusive - the whole point was to get a reaction out of someone, usually by maintaining a controversial or contrary opinion on some topic. i.e. insisting that Hitler was Jewish on a white supremacist site, that most Starwars Episode 1 was better than the original trilogy because of Jar Jar is a more rounded character than Chewbacca, etc.

        " that most Starwars Episode 1 was better than the original trilogy because of Jar Jar is a more rounded character than Chewbacca, etc."

        Brilliant!

      I admire the the classic trolls because it takes effort. It's not simply being a douche as most trolls are now instead it requires time, thought and persistence. They need to monitor and reply to responses and maintain a facade that doesn't give away that they are trolling.

      I've people in online debates that I can never quite work out if they are trolls or not because how they position themselves which as far as I'm concerned how it is meant to be done. You should never quite know.

      I'd like to point out i'm 13 and I don't troll (unless im trolling the trolls :P)

    Depends on your definition of "Troll"
    I enjoy a good troll, though I tend to class them in with Devils Advocates. Someone having a "robust discussion' for the sake of it, or to get the opposition to accept that their argument is erroneous.
    The crap you see nowadays is just abusive, misogynistic, uncreative drivel spouted by lackwits who wouldn't know a good troll if they fell right the fuck over it.
    Being rude and stupid doesn't make you a Troll, it just makes you rude and stupid.

      This, pretty much. All too often today I'm seeing attempts to describe flat-out stupid or rude behaviour as 'trolling'. Uncreative drivel just about sums most of it up.

    ‘equal opportunity troll'
    I lol'd.
    Trolling is funny and hilarious when it doesn't lead to ruining someones life and everyone laughs, including the victim.

    Yeah, If its not mean. ESPECIALLY if its sacrilegious.

    When did "troll" and "bully" become synonymous? I guess mainstream media is responsible for that. It seems after that woman was abused on twitter, people just found the word troll and thought that was a new slang term for bullying. Wrong.

    Ridiculing the mainstream media for not understanding trolling would be an example of trolling.

    Calling someone a fa**ot, ni**er, c*cksucking whore isn't an example of trolling; it's an example of being an a**hole.

    Am I really reading an article by a woman who recently published an entire article excoriating the behaviour of a specific person (as linked in the article) use the following definition of troll: 'people who deliberately try to get under your skin'?

    By such a loose definition, Patricia Hernandez is a troll of the first water.

    As is Anita Sarkeesian.

    Something tells me this article follows the mainstream media in finding elaborate justifications to cover their real definition as 'someone who says something online that I don't like'.

    Patricia, on behalf of most of the gaming community all I have to say is toughen up sweetheart. All the articles I've seen you write lately are quite whiny. Yes, people on the Internet can be bullies or start shit (I don't say trolling because that's different all together) but none of us give a damn because you're not used to people being "mean" on the Internet. If you don't like it, grow up and be the better man and not pay attention to it. Giving attention to those who "troll" such as that girl gamer guy actually helped him in more ways than you know, he vowed to do even more in spite of you.

    I miss when Kotaku was good, not a hang out for political correctness articles.

      Hey hey! Someone who knows the difference between trolling, someone being an arsehole and someone being an idiot. Kudos to you good sir.

      All three are separate things, but they're all seemingly put under the banner of 'troll'.

      Trolls are deliberately offensive to normalise common racial, sexist and swear words. (Think now, I can say 'shit' without people going "oh hey!" - Try doing that in the nineties.)

      An arsehole is just that. Someone taking their frustrations out on someone else.

      An idiot is someone who's been proven wrong, and to avoid embarrassment of being known as an idiot, they say "lol trolled you".

    Only when it involves offending the religious.

    What is the difference between a troll who calls Star Wars Star Trek and a troll who says something racist or sexist? Nothing. While some may do so out of genuine hate, most are doing it for one reason - to get under their opponent's skin, to make them uncomfortable - whether as part of the meta-game or just to make others laugh. Claiming trolls who say racist or sexist stuff are somehow worse than the other kind is little more than acknowledging that in one instance you are the target and in the other you are not. Either you are ok with trolling or you aren't, there is no middle ground.

    Last edited 09/01/13 7:12 pm

    I always find it funny when people don't get the difference between trolling and flaming. trolling is usually clever and often used to take conversations off topic and get to people arguing about different opinions while the original troll sits silently watching the argument. as Thom said "Starwars Episode 1 was better than the original trilogy because of Jar Jar is a more rounded character than Chewbacca" now that is a troll.

    someone who is flaming is abusive and harasses others. best example is 13 year olds on call of duty swear their heads off telling new people to commit suicide etc.

    People need to avoid calling flaming trolling and correct people who do.

    Quick question, and I'm serious here is it Trolling to stream a constant stream of static into an online games VOIP? Same goes for music constantly playing through the persons mic. They aren't using VOIP for in game stuff like "Sniper on the left rooftop", so does that make it Trolling?

    Because it does get an extreme reaction from people who can't work out how to mute people. I have seen people join a game and practically go beserk over this.

      No, that's called being 12. Or suffering from a severe case of autism.

    Only time I've really been okay with it was in cases such as Jack Thompson, or that guy from Oceans Marketing.

    I don't have a problem with trolling when it's funny, imaginative, well done, and not malicious. A good example of this would be the guy who contacted Xbox support re his "xbox", which was really just a PS2 with a piece of paper on top that said "xbox". That was pretty good. To use a tired old cliche, "trolling is a art form" (you wouldn't believe how much I want to correct that >_< ).

    As for the trolls who post things just to get a negative reaction from people, they're just morons who can't come up with something good. Just ignore them and they'll go away eventually (or learn how to do it properly). Again, another cliche; "don't feed the trolls".

    And lastly, people who harass other people online aren't trolls; they're bullies. Completely different, but dealing with them is the same as crappy trolls; ignore them. Eventually they might get bored and go away to harass someone else.

    Patricia - are you short? I ask this because a lot of things seem to go over your head. (including bridges).

    At the most basic level, you could say that if it's at all acceptable it isn't trolling.

    It's also very much in the eye of the beholder. For example, I fund a public server for a rather obscure PC shooter, and during a Steam promotion last year their were two people using it to boost some new achievements that were linked to daily rewards. I was also in the game looking for a decent match (as were others dropping in and out) so I gave them fair warning that they were not going to be given special treatment and proceeded to play. They grew increasingly irate that we were 'foiling' their plans, by killing them, and accused me of trolling.

    I was playing within the prescribed rules of the game, on a server which I fund for anyone to freely use. So was that really trolling? I say not.

    "Might there be instances when trolling is ‘okay’? Can trolling go far enough that it is no longer trolling, but rather a hate crime of sorts?"

    Stop relying on pissy definitions- it's all human negativity at various points on the scale. Stop trying to single it out because it's happening electronically. People are Arseholes.

    To quote a comment on youtube from the recent story you posted

    Kotaku is a joke. I followed them for years and watched them fall from independent news to pandering trash.

    Flopping your tits out while you play WoW isn't 'a fun way to get extra pocket money', its prostitution. I have no problem with prostitution. Go for your life. But don't pretend its something that it isn't. Don't cry over being objectified while taking money for your cleavage. And don't compare pvp to abuse.

    I dont agree with women been treated like that in a sexist way but these people he ganks act like prostitutes and give girl gamers a bad name.I also have to say why are you whining and giving him atention make a story and complain in a way that doesnt make you sound like you support prostitutes on twitch.tv as a youtube partner and livestreamer i think what he does may not be right but thay do act alot like prostitutes and it gives girl gamers a bad name.I hope i didnt cause any offence if you decide to remove this i will make alot of noise talking about this with other partners.Peace Avatar100400

    I troll the trolls. I'm a big player of BF3 especially the Metro servers. The hackusations that get thrown around are a joke especially when you are in no doubt a better player than the person you have just killed for the umpteenth time! I respond with a relentless trolling session that I will normally continue till I make them leave, or I find them and knife them again and again then listen to the crying that follows :-D

    "Trolling" isn't inherently a bad thing. Just like pranking, lying and fighting aren't inherently bad. All of those things can be good or bad based on the specifics. You have to judge peoples' actions on an individual basis and not semantics otherwise you're not being fair to them.

    This is a pointless question. It's like saying "I get mad when people hit women, but someone pointed out that I enjoy hitting the ball while playing golf. Does that make me a hypocrite?" Please stop writing fluff articles.

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