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Internet Trolls Beneath The Bridge - Where They Come From, and Should You Head Butt Them?


When I was a child we didn't have the Internet or even video games, so although it sounds disturbingly primitive now and might make you squirm nervously, we had to amuse ourselves with things called stories. Some of these stories were labeled fairy tales; a genre that, though fanciful, contained allegorical narratives designed to teach a lesson or impart a universal truth. Some of these universal truths were hard to ascertain at the moment but became clearer as we reached adulthood and were exposed to the same Internet that made those quaint, silly, antiquated fairy tales obsolete. Now we learn our universal truths on Facebook by watching people eating in restaurants or taking vacations we can't afford in order to learn the harsh universal truth of I'm poor and you're not, or watching a video of an enormous, foaming at the mouth German Shepherd taking a nap with a litter of cuddly kittens, to learn about the universal truth of tolerance for others that we could easily eat, but choose not to.

One of these fairy tales was called The Billy Goats Gruff. In the Billy Goats Gruff three goats run out of grass and have to cross a bridge to find greener pasture. Nowadays the Goats Gruff would just go to the local dispensary in certain states, but those were harder times. Underneath that bridge lived an evil troll. In the post Internet world everybody knows what a troll is, but when I was a kid listening to this story I remember scratching my head and not being able to visualize a troll, so I had to accept that it must be something hideous and frightening. Anyhow, the first two goats gruff cross the bridge and avoid being eaten by telling the troll that there is a bigger, tastier goat following them who will make a better meal. Finally the third goat comes along, one who doesn't afraid of anything, and simply head butts that annoying troll off of the bridge, where the monster wallows around in the water and doesn't bothering anybody, ever again. Of course I didn't realize it at the time in the pre-Internet, pre Internet meme world, but this was simply a nicer way of saying that the goat unfriended the troll.

How was is that this evil troll; a savage ogre that seemed so undaunted, impassable, and terrifying thumping his chest mightily there atop the bridge, was so easily defeated? Are we really expected to believe in this wiser, more sophisticated post fairy tale world that one head butt into the water caused him to stay down there in the dark muck beneath the bridge, licking his wounds and renouncing goat meat forever, possibly becoming a vegan because of the humiliating experience? I like to think that the troll drifted downstream and found another bridge, one with more gullible goats who were easily convinced that being eaten by a troll was in their best interest. That is certainly what happens to the trolls we know today, who don't give up so easy, many times because they are being paid to eat gullible Internet goats and won't forego losing a payday because of trivial things like telling the truth, adhering to ethical principles, or respecting their fellow Internet users.

So this article explores the troubling questions of where Trolls really come from, should we be frightened of them, and should we expend the energy to head butt them off of our own Internet bridges, or simply walk on past?

They ain't exactly kissable, but are Internet Trolls more bluster than bite?

They ain't exactly kissable, but are Internet Trolls more bluster than bite?

Who (What) Are Trolls, and Where Do They Come From?

A simple definition for Internet Troll, formulated by the brilliant scholars at Indiana University - who get paid to surf the Internet and come up with profound conclusions about all the crap they find there, is as follows "...a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people..." Trolls definitely can be upsetting, but not all trolls stir the pot of goat meat for the sake of stirring the pot. I have no doubt that some trolls are sincere, that some are truly ideologically committed to the causes that they passionately defend. A handful, or maybe a thimbleful, really want to steer the confused, befuddled and misguided in an ideologically purer direction; to bring eyesight to the blind. Yes, a few trolls sincerely like to eat goat stew, even though most civilized beings wriggle our noses at the thought of such an unsavory, odiferous repast.

Some trolls are simply computer savvy teenagers doing what teenagers do best; making life miserable for everyone. As an example, the notorious 4chan site has been a hangout for disgruntled but clever troll youths who, if they had been doing their homework rather than bothering people, would probably be running their own Silicon Valley tech companies instead of pathetically wallowing in misery in their mothers' basements. Many trolls target video games relentlessly, leading the gullible and naive to their doom in some dark gaming dungeon. There are trolls in technical forums who deliberately give false information to the cyber-challenged who seek help there. In general, the types of Internet trolling that have been categorized by supposed experts in the field, who are probably also trolls themselves, are 1.) abusive and rude comments, 2.) creating controversial arguments, 3.) ridiculous self aggrandizement and conceit, and 4.) off topic attacks, which means spamming a post with comments that have nothing to do with the issue being discussed.

Many habitual Internet users; those who frequent chat rooms, online forums, Facebook threads, etc., were often puzzled by the quick and unrelenting frequency with which Internet trolls were able to respond to posts that conflicted with their fanatical political beliefs. Do these people have a life? Do these people have a job? - participants in online discussions would ask themselves, puzzling over how these seemingly omnipotent, omnipresent hobgoblins could respond so rapidly to every contrary comment.

As it turns out, many Internet trolls do have jobs, jobs that bring home a steady paycheck - an honest income, one might say, if it wasn't for the sleazy, underhanded source of that money. In June of 2013, National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden released copied documents that presented troubling but revealing glimpses into how the governments of the United States of America and the United Kingdom spy on, and covertly influence the political opinions of their citizens; in many cases by using your friendly neighborhood trolls.

The reporting of Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden's media contact...

...highlighted some of the key, discrete revelations: the monitoring of YouTube and Blogger, the targeting of Anonymous with the very same DDoS attacks they accuse “hacktivists” of using, the use of “honey traps” (luring people into compromising situations using sex) and destructive viruses...namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

— Glenn Greenwald

Astroturfing and More

Ha! As if there was any integrity on the Internet to begin with.

Besides the questionable, somewhat laughable reference to Internet integrity, there are some legitimate concerns that the Snowden documents address. One such insidious technique identified in those pages, one used by governments, corporations, and political parties to influence Internet content, is known as astroturfing. According to, an astroturf campaign is one " one that mimics spontaneous grassroots mobilizations, but which has in reality been organized." In other words, suppose I write a post critical of US military involvement in the Middle East. This incites a flood of comments questioning my patriotism, written by people pretending to support American intervention in the region, on the grounds that the United States is protecting freedom at home by killing terrorists abroad. If these critics are not really flag wavers with a strong belief in the right of America to project its military power overseas, but instead are being paid by a government agency, or perhaps a weapons manufacturer seeking to sell arms to the government, then this would be an example of astroturfing. Astroturfing certainly falls within the Greenwald criteria above as being a method " control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse."

Astroturf, by the way, is a type of fake grass once popular in sports facilities and this, perhaps not coincidentally, leads us back to our Billy Goats Gruff story. Our innocent Goats Gruff could conceivably chew on and digest this fake grass without any immediately observable ill effects, but over the long term it could lead to toxic build up and sick goats.

In regard to the "honey trap" troll technique mentioned above, I always wondered why so many hot chicks try to friend me on Facebook. Fortunately I am not a vain man, I don't have an exaggerated or deluded sense of my appeal to what appear to be, by their profiles, women in their late teens and early twenties. I might have friended one of these lovely ladies back in the beginning, simply because I was new to Facebook and trying to find an audience, but I became suspicious when further voluptuous beauties tried to friend me - a graying, paunchy middle aged man with no money. Yes, in my own secret fantasy world I still fancy myself a stud muffin, but come on - what business would an attractive 20 something have with an eroded, graying, penniless slob like me? Fortunately I didn't fall into the honey trap, but sex sells. The weakness of the flesh makes honey trapping effective even though, in all likelihood, the "honies" attempting to extort silence out of those who might be critical of government and corporate polices are really just bald men with bad breath, using photos of attractive women as bait.

Former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden leaked information about the existence of paid Internet trolls, among other things.

Former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden leaked information about the existence of paid Internet trolls, among other things.

Hilary Clinton and Astroturfing - From Baghdad to Dubuque

Not surprisingly, Astroturfing is rearing its ugly head in the 2016 United States Presidential election cycle. Although I am quite certain that all candidates reach deep into the war chest to try to win the all important social media battles, sometimes by less than ethical means, there have been so many accusations made in the media against Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton in particular that the apparent pattern raises the question of whether her millions of devoted followers really exist at all, or are they just paid creations of her campaign machine?

In the battleground state of Iowa, Hilary's detractors claim she buses supporters to her rallies in advance, after first "vetting" them to make sure they will ask the right softball questions, shout the right slogans, and applaud on cue. Her "casual" meet and greets with the people of the heartland are allegedly staged from beginning to end. So-called "grassroots" Tweeters have been mobilized to attend "pro-Hilary" training sessions. Her opponent Bernie Sanders has been heckled at events by Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists funded by billionaire George Soros, who also is an important Clinton campaign supporter. In her first Presidential run in 2007, Ms. Clinton was caught using paid trolls to comment on blog sites. Four or five of these "grassroots" trolls were found hunkering down under the same bridge; posting from the same IP address identified with the Clinton campaign, within minutes of one another. Trapped red-handed trying to muck up the goat meat, a Clinton aide blamed the embarrassing incident on "over-eager staffers and volunteers."

A report in the Daily Mail revealed that 2 million out of Hilary's 3.6 million Twitter followers are fake or inactive accounts. Her official Facebook account lists 685,000 followers, 46,000 of whom name Baghdad, Iraq as their hometown. Hilary cannot buy votes in Baghdad, which is outside the United States for some of the geographically-impaired out there who were wondering, but she can certainly buy all the likes and retweets that she desires there. Social media marketing firms sell likes by the Iraqi crude oil barrel full - the likers consisting of low paid workers toiling away in "click farms." $400 dollars will buy 10,000 followers down on the farm, 100 bucks will purchase 1,000 retweets, $300 will get 10,000 Facebook likes. All of this is old hat for Hilary - in 2013 Clinton's State Department spent $630,000 buying Facebook fans. The US State department was especially popular in Cairo, Egypt. Your tax dollars working for you.

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Even though Hilary Clinton might not be the ugly troll thumping its hairy, splotched, leathery chest atop your Internet bridge in an attempt to frighten away your timid goats, she is definitely the Queen of the Trolls hiding in the darkness beneath, directing activity and keeping the pot warm for any stray kid, billy or nanny that might be lured below.

The Queen of the Trolls, Hilary Clinton, basks in the glow of admiration provided by her legions of Twitter and Facebook admirers, most bought and paid for.

The Queen of the Trolls, Hilary Clinton, basks in the glow of admiration provided by her legions of Twitter and Facebook admirers, most bought and paid for.

More About Troll Tactics, and Should I Head-Butt?

So, as it turns out, that hideous and annoying little troll - the one that has been stalking your every click and comment, haunting you from the dank bowels of the fetid water beneath your once cheery cyber bridge as it chews on the roots of grass for nourishment, might not really be out to get you after all. It could be that it's nothing personal between you and it - your troll is simply a soldier of fortune out on a search and destroy mission to dispose of whoever the CEO, candidate, or government agent signing the paycheck requires.

The troll's job is basically to scare you into backing off. The troll wants to silence you into submission. The intention of the troll is not so much to dissuade you from your beliefs as it is to wear you down - to make you think twice before posting another article or blog post that is contrary to its paid for world view. The key to success as a troll is to simply yell louder and longer than the other guy.

The troll claims to be troubled by your lack of original thinking. Of course, the troll's thinking is dictated by the opinions of journalist or talk show host talking heads, but the troll cites these borrowed ideas as if they were uniquely its own. Trolls have a keen, practiced way of deflecting your point; they use the word "gainsay" a lot to sound really smart, to appear as if they have thoroughly destroyed your opinion without actually having done so. For example, if you say "billionaires enjoy enormous taxpayer bailouts," the troll might come back with something like "but the bottom 45 percent of wage earners don't pay taxes." This doesn't really address the issue of whether billionaires get bailouts or not and whether that is good or bad, but it has the effect of tongue-tying the opposition as it searches for a response to an issue that wasn't even on the board.

The troll is quick to tag you as a "humorless liberal," but then will resist any attempts at light-hearted, conciliatory banter, perhaps believing that what you have could be contagious, and it is best to keep a proper distance.

The troll will rapidly pounce on your fat finger spelling errors, probably made on a tiny phone used by aging, blurry eyes like mine - and will flaunt your misspelled words or accidental grammatical miscues as proof of your complete imbecility and ignorance.

The key to success in battling the troll is not to give in to it. The mistake to be avoided is to head-butt that nasty troll off of your bridge. Unfriending or unfollowing the troll makes you look like a sissy, as does reporting the troll to the site administration, an action which should be avoided except in the cases of threatening or obscene posts. Deleting or tattle-telling are small victories for the troll, giving them the moral high ground because you obviously do not believe in free speech, whereas in the troll's deluded fantasy world it does.

Stand up to the troll. Take your time, carefully dissect the troll's words and expose the logical fallacies they contain. You are safe behind the Great Anonymous Wall of the Internet. If it takes you three days to come up with an appropriate and clever response, take the time. This is not a face to face debate that requires immediate responses. Try to befriend the troll - sometimes this reduces the amount of noxious smoke bellowing out of its misshapen nostrils, or sets the ugly beast off balance. Or simply ignore the troll, pretend that it doesn't exist, pretend that you don't see its foul leavings littering your comments section.

Trolls are bullies. If you resist their bombastic brow beatings, eventually they will go away and look for easier targets. Don't let them block your cyber-bridge - the grass is deliciously, delicately green there on the other side and you have the right to graze where you want, unimpeded by hairy, smelly, sweaty, loudmouth cyber-fiends.

Keep your cool with the troll, don't let them get under your skin and, whatever you do, don't let them smell your fear.

Keep your cool with the troll, don't let them get under your skin and, whatever you do, don't let them smell your fear.

Share Your Troll Block

A Modern Version of a Timeless Fairy Tale


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 20, 2016:

Thanks for the beautiful comment Kim. It is a shame Elizabeth Warren is not running, because I think she would make a fine President. Perhaps she is giving Hilary "her turn," which I think is unfortunate, but who really knows. The hide button sounds like a good bridge sweeping technique. I appreciate you dropping in!

ocfireflies from North Carolina on January 19, 2016:

My Sweet Mel,

I have discovered the "Hide Post" button on FB which I use instead of engaging in confrontation. If I see that the sludge is all this "friend" posts, then I just go on an head-butt them off my bridge.

I, too am a big fan of Elizabeth Warren.

And even though, I am not one of those hot babes, nor have ever seen you in person, your ability to always keep me entertained never ceases.

Something, I believe is a quality that makes any person worthy of time and admiration.



Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 18, 2016:

It is true we shouldn't take the trolls too seriously, Lawrence, and I am guilty of doing that at times. Better to let them spew their venom and thank them for reading. Thanks for dropping in.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 18, 2016:


I know you referred to the US elections but much of what you talk about goes on a lot with other subjects here.

I think we need to be careful on whom we call 'trolls' but rather take the points they make and logically answer what they say without getting 'riled'

I agree about taking time with answers as a wrong word harshly said can't be undone!

Great advice


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 10, 2016:

You are welcome Stella. Best to stay off those bridges where the nasty trolls are altogether. I appreciate you dropping by!

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on January 10, 2016:

Mel, I had to read the Three Billy Goats Gruff, to my son every night for years. No other story would do. We have more trolls in Washington than ever before. I just stay in my own world. Thanks for the education in trolls.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 10, 2016:

Thank you Suhail for taking the time to stop by with your dog and read!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on January 09, 2016:

A very informative and educating hub. I learned a lot from here. Thanks for sharing.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 08, 2016:

That was poetically vivid, Svetlana. Thanks for that, you gave me a couple lols.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 08, 2016:

Non engagement probably is the best strategy, Say Yes to Life, but I can't help it, they always provoke me into a debate. They get my goat, if you'll pardon the pun. Thanks for reading!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 08, 2016:

Deb, the more I think about it politics is just another form of religion with its own set of catch phrase mantras, and its fanatics can be just as bad as the worst religious terrorist. Thanks for reading.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 08, 2016:

Thank you again Dana. Yes they are just in it for their own money and power.

Lana Adler from California on January 08, 2016:

Yes! I second that. Only non-engagement disarms the trolls. Everything else just seems to increase their thirst for goats' blood.

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on January 08, 2016:

Thanks for these tips. I find if you don't engage, trolls have no power over you.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on January 08, 2016:

Every time there is an election, the bullying one another gets worse and worse. Makes me like the person that sits on his laurels more, and his actions speak louder than words.

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on January 05, 2016:

I get sick of all the lies and empty promises. They all say what we want to hear to get elected and then...nothing. I've just come to the conclusion that they really don't care as long as they get what they want, which is, more money and power. Happy New Year Mel.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 04, 2016:

Dana, our two party system breeds a lot of apathy, and I think you have every right to complain, because if there is nobody but the same dull, uninspiring, hand-picked candidates on the ballot, why vote? We're probably going to get either a Bush or a Clinton in the White House again. Can you hear my yawn 90 miles down the coast? Probably not, because of the pitter patter of rain on the roof. Anyhow, if that's the race I probably won't vote either.

I hope you have a wonderful 2016. Thanks for reading!

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on January 04, 2016:

Brilliant writing and interesting hub as usual. Mel, I love your wit and humor as much as your topics. I'm afraid I stopped paying attention to the politicians along time ago. There is a saying "If you don't vote, don't complain." So, I stopped complaining a long time ago.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 04, 2016:

You are right Devika. This stuff doesn't make the news because the corporate owned media has its own agenda. Thanks for reading and a happy and successful 2016!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 04, 2016:

Calling you a troll right away Oztinato means you won't be back again to interrupt their self-congratulatory back scratching. Many thanks.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 04, 2016:

New information and it just goes to show about what we seldom hear or see on the news.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on January 03, 2016:

Great discussion here! Mel you've really delivered the posts here!

I am concerned with those who immediately label a person a troll once you join a site. It's a recognized "trolling" phenomena and is a wild "power trip" or devious psychological ploy.

Also,expressing a different opinion (strongly) is in no way "trolling".

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 03, 2016:

I hope that in 2016 your Internet paths are never impeded by trolls, Linda. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 03, 2016:

This is a very interesting hub, Mel. It's thought provoking, too. I appreciate your tips for dealing with trolls!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 03, 2016:

That is very true, Farawaytree, who is not so faraway up there in the high desert. Sometimes the ideas we represent might drive a wedge into a critically thinking mind, although I think the stubborn, set in his ways troll is probably beyond fixing. Thanks again.

Farawaytree on January 03, 2016:

Yes. Definitely. It's a good learning curve to put writing out there for public consumption due to the high level of intolerance. It helps us learn how not to take comments so personally.

Even when people disagree with you or say inappropriate things, they obviously took the time to read your opinions, and there is a seed planted in their minds from your writings that may or may not grow into a new evolution of ideas for them in the future...

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 03, 2016:

Thank you Faraway Tree. It really annoys me when people are barraged by name calling or threatened with expulsion simply because they don't agree with something. Running somebody because they are acting like an adolescent is one thing, but doing so simply because they have a different opinion in contrary to my principles. I fear for the future of free discussion in this country and others if we demand complete ideological purity from those we share the Internet with. I think we should have fun in open debate and not take it personal, or make it personal. Happy New Year!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 03, 2016:

Venkatachari, walking away from an Internet fight is probably the wisest course of action. Unfortunately, sometimes I see something that really provokes my sense of outrage (not necessarily offends, because I'm not easily offended), and I have to stick my nose in. My nose gets bruised sometimes. I appreciate your dropping in, Happy New Year.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 03, 2016:

They you dyopxa. I wish all the same to you and yours.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 03, 2016:

Thank you Larry. I'm glad you found it so. It has certainly provoked some interesting reactions. Happy New Year!

Farawaytree on January 02, 2016:

I love this!

I like to validate the opinion the trolls in the sense that they have a righ to an opinion, no matter how ridiculous. That seems to throw them off course. I politely suggest to them if we could agree to disagree.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on January 02, 2016:

Very interesting read. I know about internet spying and Snowden's revelations. But many things mentioned above are new to me. I never come across internet trolling. If anybody sticks at despising me, I immediately leave the thread and so do not know about such things as above.