Flamebait is a message posted to a public Internet discussion group, such as a forum, newsgroup or mailing list, with the intent of provoking an angry response (a “flame”) or argument over a topic the troll often has no real interest in.
The most popular motive is the desire for attention and for entertainment derived at the expense of others. Posted flamebait can provide the poster with a controlled trigger-and-response setting in which to anonymously engage in conflicts and indulge in aggressive behavior without facing the consequences that such behavior might bring in a face-to-face encounter. In other instances, flamebait may be used to reduce a forum’s use by angering the forum users.
Resolving a flamebait
It is often hard to determine who is really responsible for the degradation of a reasonable discussion into a flamewar. Someone who posts a contrary opinion in a strongly focused discussion forum may be easily labeled a “baiter,” “flamer,” or “troll.” Therefore, it seems especially important to make the rules and focus of a discussion forum public to avoid misconceptions about its accepted use.
Taking the bait or feeding the troll refers to someone who responds to the original message regardless of whether they are aware the original message was intended to provoke a response. Often when someone takes the bait, others will point out to them YHBT for “You have been trolled,” or reply with “don’t feed the trolls.”
The conclusion to a flamewar precipitated by flamebait is often determined by recourse to Godwin’s Law.
“Do not feed the trolls” and its abbreviation DNFTT redirects here. For the Wikipedia essay, see “What is a troll?”
An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and usually irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the intention of baiting other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.
The contemporary use of the term first appeared on Usenet groups in the late 1980s. It is thought to be a truncation of the phrase trolling for suckers, itself derived from the fishing technique known as trolling. The word likely gained currency because of its apt second meaning, drawn from the trolls portrayed in Scandinavian folklore and children’s tales; they are often ugly, obnoxious creatures bent on mischief and wickedness.
Prior to DejaNews’s archiving of Usenet, accounts of trolling were sketchy, there being little evidence to sort through. After that time, however, the huge archives were available for researchers. The most likely derivation of the word troll can be found in the phrase “trolling for newbies,” popularized in the early 1990s in the Usenet group, alt.folklore.urban (AFU). Commonly, what is meant is a relatively gentle inside joke by veteran users, presenting questions or topics that had been so overdone that only a new user would respond to them earnestly. For example, a veteran of the group might make a post on the common misconception that glass flows over time. Long-time readers would both recognize the poster’s name and know that the topic had been done to death already, but new subscribers to the group would not realise, and would thus respond. These types of trolls served as a Shibboleth to identify group insiders. This definition of trolling, considerably narrower than the modern understanding of the term, was considered a positive contribution. One of the most notorious AFU trollers, Snopes, went on to create his eponymous urban folklore website.
By the late 1990s, alt.folklore.urban had such heavy traffic and participation that trolling of this sort was frowned upon. Others expanded the term to include the practice of playing a seriously misinformed or deluded user, even in newsgroups where one was not a regular; these were often attempts at humor rather than provocation. In such contexts, the noun troll usually referred to an act of trolling, rather than to the author.
In academic literature, the practice was first documented by Judith Donath (1999), who used several anecdotal examples from various Usenet newsgroups in her discussion. Donath’s paper outlines the ambiguity of identity in a disembodied “virtual community”:
In the physical world there is an inherent unity to the self, for the body provides a compelling and convenient definition of identity. The norm is: one body, one identity. … The virtual world is different. It is composed of information rather than matter.
Donath provides a concise overview of identity deception games which trade on the confusion between physical and epistemic community:
Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group’s common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they — and the troll — understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll’s enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group.
Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling — where the rate of deception is high — many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one’s online reputation." (Donath, 1999, p. 45)
The term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used to discredit an opposing position, or its proponent, by argument fallacy ad hominem.
Often, calling someone a troll makes assumptions about a writer’s motives. Regardless of the circumstances, controversial posts may attract a particularly strong response from those unfamiliar with the robust dialogue found in some online, rather than physical, communities. Experienced participants in online forums know that the most effective way to discourage a troll is usually to ignore him or her, because responding tends to encourage trolls to continue disruptive posts — hence the often-seen warning: “Please do not feed the trolls”.
Frequently, someone who has been labelled a troll by a group may seek to redeem their reputation by discrediting their opponents, for example by claiming that other members of the group are closed-minded, conspirators, or trolls themselves.
Recently, many websites have openly welcomed and encouraged trolling amongst their members.
A concern troll is a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose point of view is opposed to the one that the user’s sockpuppet claims to hold. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group’s actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed “concerns”. The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group.
For example, in 2006 Tad Furtado, a top staffer for then-Congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH), was caught posing as a “concerned” supporter of Bass’s opponent, Democrat Paul Hodes, on several liberal New Hampshire blogs, using the pseudonyms “IndieNH” or “IndyNH.” “IndyNH” expressed concern that Democrats might just be wasting their time or money on Hodes, because Bass was unbeatable.
A recently declassified World War II manual on sabotage recommends such techniques to derail any effective action: “Advocate ‘caution.’ Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow-conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on… Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.” OSS Simple Sabotage Manual, pdf
Although the term “concern troll” originated in discussions of online behavior, it now sees increasing use to describe similar behaviors that take place offline.
For example, James Wolcott in Vanity Fair accused a conservative New York Daily News columnist of “concern troll” behavior in his efforts to downplay the Mark Foley scandal. Wolcott links what he calls concern trolls to Saul Alinsky’s “Do-Nothings,” giving a long quote from Alinsky on the Do-Nothing’s method and effects:
These Do-Nothings profess a commitment to social change for ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity, and then abstain from and discourage all effective action for change. They are known by their brand, ‘I agree with your ends but not your means.’
In a more recent example, The Hill published an op-ed piece titled “Dems: Ignore ‘Concern Trolls’.” Again, the concern trolls in question were not Internet participants; they were Republicans offering public advice and warnings to the Democrats. The author defines “concern trolling” as “offering a poisoned apple in the form of advice to political opponents that, if taken, would harm the recipient.”
It could have been worse.
You could have been RICK ROLLED