How to Identify Trolls in Your Online Community

In case you’re still not sure if the trolls are coming to feed at your online community trough, they all share a few identifying characteristics and markings:

  • Trolls are anonymous. Most trolls use a nondescript first name, one that could be anybody — that is, if they care to use a name at all. Some are kind of lazy and don’t want to take the time to create a whole personae.

  • Trolls have throwaway e-mail addresses. As most places that allow comments require an e-mail address, trolls get around this request by using made-up e-mails. Most are from free services, such as Yahoo!, gmail, or HotMail, while others even troll in their own e-mail addresses — for example, Sue@youarealoser.com.

  • Trolls are there to get a rise out of people. They’re not polite and not ashamed getting in a zinger. They call names and make accusations and rarely do they sound anything but angry.

  • Trolls use anonymous proxies. Here’s the thing about trolls: They’re probably someone you know, maybe even a productive member of your community or a competitor. They don’t want you to find that out, though, because if word gets out that they’re trolls, it may lead to losing face among so many people.

    So trolls uses anonymizers, or proxies, that show a different internet protocol (IP) address than that which you’re used to.

  • All trolls make mistakes. They slip up with their e-mail addresses or their words and phrases. They might even forget to use their proxy. Eventually, trolls are caught and figured out, which leads to an embarrassing situation.

  • Trolls rarely add anything of value to the conversation. When trolls respond to a community discussion, they don’t add anything meaningful to the discussion. Instead, they joke, berate, and insult.

There are also the trolls who do it under the guise of being a productive member of the community. Some are only there to troll you or other community moderators. Every decision or comment you make is called into question. Not only do they question your authority at every turn, they encourage other community members to do it, too, citing free speech and how it is “their” community.

These types of trolls are off base. Truthfully, it’s not their community, it’s your brand’s community, and they’re invited to participate, just like someone who is a guest in your home. And just like a guest who is abusing other guests or treating you poorly at your own party, they should be asked to leave.

You have your guidelines and anyone who can’t play nice or follow the guidelines doesn’t have to stick around.

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