Chat Room and Forum Trolls: What Can Owners Do?

forum_trollsTrolling is an internet phenomenon that has become increasingly widespread as social networking sites, forums and chat rooms have become more popular. A troll is an individual who repeatedly posts derogatory comments to or about another person online, with the intention of provoking a reaction. They post anonymously to avoid being held responsible for their hurtful actions. For those being bullied by trolls, there is plenty of advice online. They are usually told to report the troll to the owner or moderator of the website on which the offensive posts appear. This article aims to advise website owners and forum or chat room moderators on how to deal with trolling and ensure the site remains a pleasant and welcoming environment.

How to spot trolling

To be able to spot a troll, it’s important to learn the difference between trolling and arguing between website users. Discussions that take place online can often get heated, as people feel confident enough to aggressively state their point of view behind the protection and anonymity of a computer screen. The difference between a troll and an argumentative user is that they will repeatedly pick on particular victims, and they will consistently post provocative comments whenever they join in a conversation on the site. Their aim is not to create a healthy discussion, but to intentionally aggravate others, which they perversely see as an achievement to be proud of.

When to take action

When a user reports another user for trolling, the website owner or moderator should look over the accused troll’s posts to determine whether they have been purposefully and repeatedly targeting the individual who reported them. If there are only one or two offensive posts, a polite warning to the author is the usual first step, in addition to deleting the posts. If the posts are breaking libel and defamation laws, it is reasonable to ban the user completely from the site, or at least to disable their account. A forum’s approach to tackling trolls should generally depend on what the forum members are happy to tolerate and what the consensus says is acceptable. However, when laws are being broken, it is the moderator or website owner’s responsibility to remove all evidence and take preventative measures to ensure it won’t happen again.

Dealing with repeat offenders

Sometimes it can be very difficult to get rid of trolls. When they set themselves a mission to cause offense to a particular individual or group, they use all their technical skills to achieve it. The most common way to overcome being banned from a forum or chat room is to set up a new account. Moderators can take measures to prevent this, for example banning anyone using the troll’s email address or IP address from creating a new account. Nonetheless, persistent trolls are willing to set up new email addresses to register again, or use a proxy server to hide their IP address. Unfortunately, when a troll is desperate to access a website and post inflammatory messages, they will find ways to overcome any roadblocks. In such cases, moderators should advise the well-behaved users to avoid communicating with the troll and to report any messages or new profiles that may belong to them. If the troll doesn’t get the attention and reaction they desire, they will hopefully get bored and move on.

Find out more

There are many sources online providing advice on how to deal with trolls, such as the Guardian’s Dealing with trolls: a guide, the BBC’s Q&A: Who are internet trolls – and how is the law changing? and online internet guide Knowthenet’s Trolling Overview. For legal advice on trolls, contact your local police, who will put you in touch with their cybercrime experts.