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October 6, 2020

Privacy Tip of the Week: Learn to Identify Internet Trolls

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Any frequent internet user has probably heard of the term “internet troll.” It describes a person who deliberately shares inflammatory (and often off-topic) comments with the intent of angering others. The act of trolling is a type of online harassment that can poison any and all websites. Aside from being annoying, trolls can actually cause some serious damage. The best way of protecting yourself from them is to learn to identify and avoid internet trolls.

  • Where do you find trolls?
  • How do you identify trolls?
  • What are the risks of trolling?
  • How do I avoid trolling?

Where Do You Find Trolls?

You can find internet trolls anywhere on the internet, as the name suggests. However, they’re most effective on websites where users can communicate with one another. As such, there are a few places where they’re extra common. They include:

  • Anonymous Forums: The power of trolls is especially strong when they can remain anonymous. They can post whatever they want, be as terrible as they want, and can’t be tracked down or confronted with their actions. These forums include Reddit, 4Chan, and Quora.
  • Twitter: Twitter is a fast-moving platform for conversations on a large scale. Because of this, trolls can thrive by taking advantage of trending topics and disrupting them with false information and abusive comments.
  • Comment Sections: Most people know not to read the post comments on their favourite social media platforms. Many comment sections are already filled with passionate followers. Add a troll into the mix and those passions can be stirred to hatred, turning people against one another. Once their work is done, trolls simply bow out and enjoy the chaos.

How Do You Identify Trolls?

One huge part of avoiding internet trolls is learning to recognize them. Many people misinterpret a genuine interest in debate for trolling, simply because they don’t like the views being discussed. However, there are a few key elements that make a troll:

  • They refuse to acknowledge evidence. A troll’s only interest is in stoking outrage, not learning information or making conclusions based on facts.
  • They’re condescending. Trolls only want to make you mad so instead of bringing up relevant talking points, they’ll say things like “calm down,” “what aren’t you understanding,” and other comments designed to cause anger.
  • Their comments are off-topic. They post content that is completely irrelevant in context and aims to annoy and disrupt an existing conversation. For example, they’ll share comments that are racist, sexist, and homophobic on a Facebook post about cats, simply to get a rise from other commenters.

What are the Risks of Trolling?

Many people think trolling is a (mostly) harmless activity done by a few rude people. However, there are some serious consequences that can affect you and others, which many don’t know about.

  • They increase hate online: Many countries ban or at least punish hate speech. However, thanks to the anonymity of online forums, trolls can stoke up hatred against any minority group in a matter of minutes and face no consequences. Prevalence of hatred online often trickles into the real world, and the effects, both real and digital actively, harm the target groups physically and mentally.
  • Sextortion: Many trolls reach out to people online claiming to have nude photos or other sensitive content related to their victims. They demand money in exchange for not publishing the images. Many “sextorters” also dabble in hacking so it’s hard to tell if they’re telling the truth or not.
  • Dating scams: Trolls are predators. Often, they prey on those with “weaknesses” like people looking for love online, who may be lonely or vulnerable. Many trolls create fake dating profiles, pretend to be “dream suitors,” and groom their victims to do any task they ask, like sending them money or nudes. In the case of nudes, dating trolls often then become sextorters, as discussed above. 
  • They cause misinformation: A lot of the misinformation seen online is actively generated and shared by trolls as a way of creating chaos. However, we have seen firsthand how misinformation can actively harm internet users who believe it, by trying dangerous medical procedures, participating in dumb challenges, and more.

How Do I Avoid Trolling?

Often, trolls are unavoidable. However, you can reduce your exposure in a few ways:

  • Don’t read the comments. Comment sections on almost all social media platforms are rife with trolls. If you don’t want to see or deal with them, avoid the comments.
  • Limit your time online. The less time you spend on the internet, the less opportunity you have to run into trolls.
  • Identify trolls. If you know someone is trolling, you can ignore them easier because you know they just want to get a rise out of you.
  • Don’t engage. If you know someone is trolling, don’t engage with them. They only win if they get a reaction from you.
  • Verify your sources before sharing. Trolls proliferate because their content is often shared rapidly. By making sure the content you share is from a legitimate source, you can reduce the spread of trolling.
  • Report trolls. Many social media sites monitor for trolls, but with millions (or even billions) of users, they can’t catch them all. Reporting them helps speed up the process of getting them removed from websites.

Now you know how to stay safe from trolls online. But do you know how to protect yourself and your privacy from hackers, snoops, advertisers, governments, and internet service providers? Use a VPN of course! You can download HotBot VPN now from the Play Store and App Store, or for Windows devices, and visit our website for more tips on staying safe online.

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