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trolling the web

» What is a troll?
» Design Issues
» Content
» Newsgroup Selection
» Know Your Audience
» Following-Up
» The Successful Troll
» Troll RFC

« Beware of the troll
« Win online arguments!

« Mag homepage

Trolling the web: a guide
By Steve Spumante

There are some individuals out there who don't just enjoy winding up people on newsgroups and bulletin boards - it's their sad lifestyle choice! Using every known disruptive trick in the book, these troublesome types don't go out to the pub, meet members of the opposite sex or enjoy life. They spend their time hunched over their computers trolling.
Here's how they work:


The object of this post is to bring together a definitive document to cover the phenomena of the Usenet Troll. To many a troll is nothing more than an annoying method of defeating the killfile whereas to the heavily killfiled, trolling can be a virtual Godsend.

What I want this document to focus on is how to create entertaining trolls. I have drawn on the expertise of the writer's of some of Usenet's finest and best remembered trolls. Trolls are for fun. The object of recreational trolling is to sit back and laugh at all those gullible idiots that will believe *anything*.

Section 1: What Is A Troll?

The WWW gives this as a definition:

troll v.,n. To utter a posting on Usenet designed to attract predictable responses or flames. Derives from the phrase "trolling for newbies"; which in turn comes from mainstream "trolling";, a style of fishing in which one trails bait through a likely spot hoping for a bite.

The well-constructed troll is a post that induces lots of newbies and flamers to make themselves look even more clueless than they already do, while subtly conveying to the more savvy and experienced that it is in fact a deliberate troll.

If you don't fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.

The following extract is from a broader expansion of the defining comments given above:

In Usenet usage, a troll is not a grumpy monster that lives beneath a bridge accosting passers-by, but rather a provocative posting to a newsgroup intended to produce a large volume of frivolous responses.

The content of a "troll posting generally falls into several areas. It may consist of an apparently foolish contradiction of common knowledge, a deliberately offensive insult to the readers of a newsgroup, or a broad request for trivial follow-up postings.

There are three reasons why people troll newsgroups:

People post such messages to get attention, to disrupt newsgroups, and simply to make trouble.

Career trollers tend for the latter two whilst the former is the mark of the clueless newbie and should be ignored.


Section 2: Design Issues

A troll is no different to any other Usenet posting. That needs to be stressed.

Any article that you decide to write should be written with a view to it actually being read by large numbers of people. Simply X-posting to large numbers of irrelevant newsgroups is not creative trolling - it is just spam and should be avoided.

The experienced troller spends time carefully choosing the right subject and delivering it to the right newsgroup. With trolls, delivery is just as important as the subject.

Start the troll in a reasonable and erudite manner. You have to engage your readers' interest and draw them in.

Never give too much away at the start - although a brief abstract with hints of what's to come can work wonders.

Construct your troll in a manner to make it readable. Use short paragraphs and lots of white space. Keep line length below eighty characters. Use a liberal amount of emphasis and even the occasional illustration.

A good rule of thumb is that as your troll becomes more and more ludicrous put extra effort into the presentation - this keeps the mug punter confused. Let confusion and chaos be your goal


Section 3: Content
Make your subject a relevant one. Posting "Star Trek Sucks" into is not going to work very well and is liable to utterly destroy your hard earned reputation as a troller overnight.

You do not have to make the subject clear. Trolls are aimed at two audiences, the respondees and the lurkers.

The best trolls reveal their true subject only to the lurkers. In every sense those who reply to your troll are your tools. So choose a theme for your troll and stick to it.

Outwardly you need to appear sincere, but at the same time you have to tell your *real* audience that this is blatant flamebait. Your skill is shown in the easy way that you manipulate large areas of the Usenet community into making public fools of themselves.


Section 4: Newsgroup Selection

Choice of newsgroup is as important as the subject, tone and structure of the troll. You want to appeal to each group you X-post into to ensure responses from each group.

A well delivered troll will anticipate what those responses will be and thus ensure that contradictions will arise amongst the different groups that you are setting up.

Posting "USA Sucks" to alt.nuke.the.USA, alt.usa-sucks, aus.flame.usa
This is totally on-topic and obvious. A truly useless troll.

Posting "God Doesn't Exist" to all the alt.religion newsgroups
Here you are being too obvious. People recognise this sort of trouble making and have usually learned not to respond to it. However, if your troll is well written you can actually entrap a lot of newbies.

This, if executed correctly, can be exploited to cause great offence to those more experienced troll avoiders on the groups you are attacking. Go for it!

Posting an article that appears relevant to every group but with no connection between those groups other than the fact that you've just trolled them.
The best trolls go out to an average of around eight or nine newsgroups. This will stop them from becoming spam as it's not quite enough to be a real problem. However, to get by on so few groups you have to include a couple of popular ones in the list.

When posting to say seven groups you should try to break down your theme into seven areas - each of which will be of specific interest to just one of those groups.

You then write an eight paragraph troll with a paragraph for each group and a spare one for yourself with which to lob in a gratuitous insult to everyone who was dumb enough to read your troll.

It is a matter of choice whether you choose newsgroups before or after writing the troll.

Some experts claim that newsgroup selection is the key to successful trolling and should be done first, others will write general trolls and then apply the standard Perl script that trollers use for Automatic Random Newsgroup Selection.


Section 5: Know Your Audience

Remember that you have two audiences. The people who are going to get the maximum enjoyment out of your post are other trollers. You need to keep in contact with them through both your troll itself and the way you direct its effect.

It is trollers that you are trying to entertain so be creative - trollers don't just want a laugh from you they want to see good trolls so that they can also learn how to improve their own in the never ending search for the perfect troll.

The other audience is of course the little people in those newsgroups that your are attacking. Get to know them. Every newsgroup has its smartarse who will expose your troll if given half a chance.

Research your targets and learn what their arguments are. Then avoid those arguments like the plague.

Drag them off-topic - the further off-topic the better. Remember, you are trying to waste their time.

Never take sides - remember that your goal is not to win an argument, rather it is to provoke a futile one that runs forever.

If, for example you were attacking Fast Food then you should also X-post to Healthy Eating groups, Environmental Protection Groups, Animal Rights Groups etc....

You want to try to ensure that you have the broadest possible range of opinions as this is the easiest way to sow confusion.

The more confusion the less the likelihood of your troll being exposed for what it is.

It can also be shown that the inclusion of just one totally off-topic newsgroup can have dramatic effects.

The list above is taken from a genuine troll which also included an Artificial Intelligence group, the result of which was to draw Computer Guru Professor Marvin Minsky into a flamewar concerning Ronald McDonald's exploitation of the disabled - an all-time classic piece of trolling - written by a practising veggie.


Section 6: Following-Up

"Even if this is true......"

That represents the perfect response to any troll. The mark of a gullible lunatic that will almost certainly believe anything you tell them. A total group embarrassment. Award yourself a Troll Gold Star every time you get one!

Other good responses include, but are not limited to....

"Although this is on-topic....."
"I disagree...."
"Yes, but....."
"Can you provide a source for this...."

Try not to follow-up to your own troll. The troll itself quickly becomes forgotten in the chaos and if you just sit back you can avoid being blamed for causing it.

Remember, if you do follow up you are talking to an idiot. Treat them with the ill-respect they deserve.

You should also learn to recognise follow-ups from your fellow trollers. Sometimes an average troll can be elevated into majestic proportions when several trollers spontaneously join forces via the medium of the follow up troll.

Ignore cries of wasted bandwidth! This is pure drivel that will always be posted by the anti-troll lobby.

These jerks fail to understand that trolls are the best way to drive people off the internet thus making available multi-mbs for the rest of us to download our porn.


Section 7: The Successful Troll

A good example of troll success is the famous "How I Envy American Students" troll.

This troll was written by an English brick-layer posing as an American student. He correctly posted it to all the college news- groups and then left american students to do all the work spreading it.

His troll ran for over a year, it is known to have generated in excess of 3,500 responses (an average of 1 response every 160 minutes for a whole year) and the greatest coup of all was when an innocent american student lost not only her internet account but was also expelled from high school for abuse of the computer systems.

Somehow she had managed to get the blame for causing the troll.


Section 8: Troll RFC

Applications are requested for a standard API to the existing troller's tool the "Automatic Random X-Post Generator" - now in pre-release beta.
Experienced trollers and recovered trollees are invited to submit items for inclusion in this FAQ.

We are indebted to the author,, for permission to reproduce this piece.

« Beware of the troll
« Win Usenet arguments!

« Usenet Anti Troll FAQ
« Trolling Lore

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