Notably, the article being discussed was about the similarities between chimp and human genomes; and the immediate follow-up comment to this one (by 403Forbidden) said, “5 million years later, and we’re still throwing poo at each other…I think i see how we’re 99.4% alike…” How insightful! X-D
This is version 0.6 of a troll HOWTO, sort of a companion piece to jsm’s excellent troll FAQ. As a draft, comments and criticism are always welcome, if not appreciated 🙂
Section 1 – Trolling techniques
There are techniques used by successful trolls to elicit the maximum amount of responses from unthinking /.ers. This section is dedicated to explaining how to use these in the course of your trolls. Remember though, a great troll can break any or all of these and still be successful…
Because you’re posting as an AC, your troll will generally be ignored in favour of posters using their accounts, and so getting in early is essential. A good guideline is to get into the first 20 posts, so that people reading the article will see the troll before it is swamped out. One way of increasing the speed with which you get your troll into play is to prepare them beforehand, and then quickly customise them for the current article. This is easier than it sounds since /. typically repeats stories with small variations and runs lots of similar stories.
Note that this is why Jon Katz stories are pretty worthless as trolling material – by the time you’ve found the article and prepared a troll there’s already 50+ posts on it, most of them flaming Jon Katz anyway 🙂
Once you’ve got your troll in, you need people to actually read it. You also want replies – /.ers are more likely to read your troll if it starts a large thread. You also want to remember that some people have set their comment thresholds to values higher than 0 – to get the attention of these you either want to get your post moderated up (see Style, below) or get a reply which gets moderated up to 4 or 5, in which case your troll becomes visible to all.
An alternative to the time-honoured tradition of AC trolling is that of creating a “troll” account. This gives you the advantage of posting at 1 rather than 0, and slashbots are more likely to take you seriously, especially if you at least sound reasonable. If you do this, try to avoid posting stuff where it is obvious you’re a troll under the account – post it anoymously instead – some slightly more canny readers actually check your user info before they reply. Not many though 🙂
The ultimate goal of the troll account is to secure the +1 bonus, which is currently received once you hit 26 points of Karma. To get there, employ the techniques of karma whoring that we see every day on /. and watch the karma roll in. And of course once you get the +1 bonus, the world is your oyster in terms of /. Posts made at a default of 2 hit even those people with the threshold of 2, are more likely to get moderated up even further if they are at all coherent, and people tend to lose their critical thinking abilities in the face of the +1 bonus. Milk it for all it’s worth.
To get people reading it a troll needs to be easily readable. Make sure you break it down into easily digestible paragraphs, use HTML tags where appropriate (but always make sure you close them properly) and use whitespace appropriately.
Generally a troll shouldn’t be too short, otherwise it’ll get lost in the crowd. A workable minimum is a couple of medium paragraphs. Conversely, it shouldn’t be too long, or no-one will bother to read it. Keep it to a happy medium.
Whilst spelling is important if you want the troll to be taken “seriously”, key spelling mistakes can draw out the spelling zealots, especially if you mis-spell the name of a venerated /. hero, like Linus Torveldes or Richard Strawlman (thanks dmg). Related to this is the use of the wrong word, explaining an acronym as being something it isn’t or making a word into an acronym even when it isn’t.
The subject line needs to draw attention to your post without making it obvious that it is a troll. A simple statement of the main point of your argument can work here.
Once you realise that most moderators don’t bother to read past the first paragraph or two, you can use this fact to craft trolls that can be moderated up as “Insightful” (note that I mean this in the /. sense rather than the real-world sense). Start off fairly reasonable, making statements that are /. friendly and not being too controversial. As the troll goes on, make it more and more controversial, building it up for the coup de grace in the final paragraph.
As we all know, a post with links is considered “informative” by the /. crowd. Moderators love it, and they rarely check the links, so be sure to include as many as possible. And make them wrong – a link to the Perl website should instead point to the Python website instead, and vice versa. The other alternative to incorrect links is “useful” links to places like http://www.linux.org and http://www.microsoft.com i.e. places /.ers could never have found on their own 🙂
The ideal troll requires no feeding – it runs on its own, generating flamewars between clueless /.ers for your amusement. But often a troll requires some help and so you should consider feeding it. Feeding is best reserved for people making either completely clueless responses, people making responses with holes in, or those wonderful people who write a 2000-word point-by-point rebuttal of your troll.
Know your audience
Always keep in mind the kind of things advocated on /. so that you can play on and against them. This is why anti-Linux, creationist, gun-loving, pro-corporation trolls work well – the vast majority of /.ers hold the opposite viewpoints. And if a few people agree with you, so much the better – it merely validates your viewpoint in the eyes of readers.
Be arrogant. You, as a troll, know that you’re right. No other explanation could exist. The wronger the “fact”, the more assertively you should state it. Make it clear that you are better than everyone else – you know the truth and they are just too stupid to realise it. Use plenty of sarcasm, and use “quotes” to show it to people too dumb to realise.
Being offensive in your initial troll can be counter-productive – it causes moderators to mark you down as flamebait in general. But if you’re feeding, then you can get away with calling /.ers all kinds of things. Make broad generalisations about /. readers – call them “long-haired Linux zealots”, “socialist open-source bigots” or whatever. Stereotyping is encouraged – people always want to think that they’re an individual, and will point this out to you given half a chance.
Great for articles with a political or social bent, this kind of troll expresses complete indifference to the topic at hand, wondering who on Earth cares about it. An alternative method is to say that the topic only concerns a certain group of people – criminals, idiots, hackers (always use this instead of crackers) or whatever group you want to offend.
Appear to take the same stance as the people you’re trying to troll – claim you’re as much a fan of Linux as the next man, but… This way you can make all kinds of claims in the sure knowledge that you actually know what you’re talking about. A great phrase to use here is “In my experience”. Remember to act like all the things you’re pointing out are unfortunate but true.
The common touch
Always accuse /.ers of being elitist. This is an easy thing to do seeing as a lot of them are. Claim that is their grandmother couldn’t use it, then they are just into it to feel better than Joe Sixpack rather than “doing it for the average user”. This is always great for working into anti-Linux trolls – attack command-line tools and poorly designed desktops.
The 31337 touch
The opposite of the above. Claim that technology or whatever is only for the elite of society and that any attempt to open it up for everyone is wrong, an attack on intellectualism and possibly even dangerous. If people were meant to understand these things then they would, and it’s their fault if they’re too stupid to learn.
Never be afraid to contradict yourself, even in the space of a single sentence. The phrases “I am a top programmer who codes in VB” or “I am a supporter of open source who uses NT at work and 95 at home” will be sure to get a response from some weenie smugly pointing out the contradiction. Confuse the issue more by engaging in contradiction when you are feeding – this will confuse /.ers who will then make even more stupid replies, leaving them even more wide open for response.
If you’re feeling brave, give the reader clues that this is an obvious troll. The classic example here is dmg’s stock phrase “I am often accused of trolling (whatever that is)”, but also feel free to use phrases like “I have not read the article, and I don’t know much about XYZ but I feel I must comment”. If anyone responds to a troll with these kinds of clues in it, feel free to bask in the glow of knee-jerk /. responses.
If you’re unlucky someone will accuse you of being a troll (surely not!) and try and ruin it for you. If you don’t want it all to end there, then be sure to counter it by accusing them of being small-minded and petty, saying that it’s easier for them to say it’s a troll than to accept that people have different opinions. Be sure to say this in the subject line, especially if their subject was the infamous “YHBT. YHL. HAND.”
Given that /. has its community of regular trolls (hi guys!), it’s only polite to publish your troll on one of the so-called “hidden” forums for all to see and admire. This way, you get to bask in the praise of other trolls, they get to contribute to your’s if they want to, and you get an easy way to find the troll later on when you want to check on its progress 🙂
As for when to post it, that’s a matter of opinion really. You can either post it straight away or leave it will after people start biting. Remember that the troll forum is also frequented by non-trolls, and sometimes you may get a self-declared “troll-buster” try and expose you. But remember, /.ers always post before thinking, and often it doesn’t matter at all.
There is no real current forum at the moment thanks to various spammers hitting the sids, but try trolltalk, the original troll sid started by 80md and osm way back in the day. Generally all postings are done there as an AC, with your name at the end of the post. Include a link to the troll somewhere in the text, which ideally will be directly to the post and its replies – click on the #XX link in the thread to get there.
Ending the troll
Sometimes you just get bored with a troll, or people start posting genuinely thoughtful stuff in reply (it does happen). When this happens it might be time to own up to the troll with a helpful “YHBT. YHL. HAND.” post. Sometimes people will carry on a discussion of the issue, and if you’re really lucky (and it was a great troll) they will completely fail to believe you and carry on arguing. If that happens, pat yourself on the back for writing a great troll 🙂
The cheap $3 crack
Finally, when all else fails and your troll gets moderated down to (-1, Troll) within ten seconds of you posting it, the only honourable thing to do is to accuse the moderators of smoking the cheap $3 crack (again) and give up 😦
Section 2 – Types of troll
Probably the most popular kind of troll, the Maniac holds an opinion on something, and won’t budge from that opinion no matter what evidence to the contrary is presented. If challenged, the Maniac will simply get more and more agitated and abusive, deriding his opponents as “idiots”, “wrong-thinking”, “dangerous” and “subversive”. Generally the Maniac takes a position that opposes the prevalent /. beliefs, but a similar effect can be achieved by taking a typical /. viewpoint and pushing it to ridiculous extremes.
Maniacs can be crafted for practically every article /. posts, although some are more obvious targets than others. Civil liberty articles, especially on things like censorship, DMCA, UCITA that really get /.ers riled up, are usually extremely fruitful grounds for a well-crafted maniac. The other obvious type of article is anything which could possibly involve religion, especially evolution 🙂
Here are some fruitful avenues to explore:
The Right-Wing Maniac
Always popular, the right-wing maniac (RWM) is a God-fearing, gun-toting, flag-waving American, and proud of it. They don’t care about the rest of the world, unless it’s to “prove” that America is better than everything else, and they cannot stand liberal whining over civil rights. They hate the moral decay of America and want it to revert into a nation of heterosexual, Christian whites like it was meant to be. Woe betide anyone that dares to suggest otherwise.
There are two ways to approach this kind of maniac. The harder to pull off is the militant atheist, but this is quite common amongst /. posters and you would have to be very offensive to get this to work. Of course with religion trolls, the argument can go on for ever once it’s started… The more common approach is the Christian fundamentalist. They are ignorant, intolerant and bigoted in the extreme. For them the Bible is the inerrant word of God revealed to man – it contains no flaws and no contradictions. Thus they are strict Creationists – mentions of evolution or cosmology will set them off on vitriolic rants. Flaming denunciations of anyone daring to contradict the “Word of God” are the way to go, and any kind of proof can always be ignored by appealing to “secular humanist brainwashing”. And let’s not forget, the USA is the greatest nation on Earth because it has the righteous power of Jesus Christ behind it.
Pick a philosophy, any philosophy. This troll is a troll with a cause – they have found some kind of ideological truth, and are out to expose every other philosophy as a sham. Whether it be libertarianism, objectivism, communism or capitalism, this troll will point out the obvious “flaws” in any other philosophies, whilst spouting dogma about their own. And the best thing is – you don’t even need to know that much about what you’re spouting – making doctrinaire mistakes will get both sides of the argument flaming you, adding to the fun.
This is an old favourite and crops up in many forms, covering the gamut from OS maniacs (Linux zealots, MS-apologists or embittered BSD fanatics), language maniacs (Pascal vs. C, C vs. C++, C++ vs. Java, Perl vs. Python, VB vs. everything), application maniacs(GIMP vs. Photoshop, Netscape vs. IE, vi vs. emacs) and also includes people who complain about how technology should only be for the 31337 hackers.
Americans love their guns, and will always fight passionately for their Constitutionally guarenteed rights to bear arms and shoot people. Even the slightest hint of criticism of this will bring down the wrath of a thousand and one enraged gun-owners on you, so it’s always a great point to work into a troll 🙂
The Expert is someone who is “savvy” in their particular field, and is perfectly willing to give their opinion on any topic even vauguely related to their field. The Expert is most likely to be from a field which /.ers as a rule despise – the classic example is dumb marketing guy, but try consultants, lawyers, politicians, lobbyists, executives, journalists (just think Jon Katz). With this kind of troll sweeping statements with little content are the norm, along wire dire portents of future catastrophe and dark hints of “insider knowledge”.
Some possible angles to exploit:
The expert knows the computing industry from the inside – as a long-term pro, they can dispense knowledge knowing that they can “speak for the industry”. Their smug self-satisfaction is bound to annoy, as is any suggestion that things aren’t the way that /.ers would like it – saying “Linux requires the rock-solid guarantee of a trusted company like Microsoft” or “Apache cannot be trusted for mission-critical enterprise platforms” is guaranteed to get you denials explaining exactly why you’re wrong, in excruciating detail.
With their tech-savvy (or law-savvy or whatever) experience, the expert is obviously the best person to point out what’s wrong with things or to give out useful “factual” information. In fact this probably works best with lawyer trolls – for all that /.ers protest “IANAL”, they certainly seem to think they could be, and any mistakes you make will send them rushing to prove themselves by correcting you.
Not really a “troll” in the strict Jargon File sense of the word, but they certainly should be included here 🙂 This category includes parodies, offtopic weirdness any all kinds of amusing stuff. Not really my area of expertise, this stuff is mainly done by gnarphlager and opensourceman. Thanks to gnarphlager for this section.
Offtopic trolls, like any other, come in almost as many colours as an iMac, but generally not as cute. But then again, a good offtopic “troll” can affect more people than a repulsive little gumdrop on your desk, because you need to have someone SEE your desk before they can react. Simple? Moreso than even my overblown prose could indicate. Some basic examples:
The serial troll
Write a story. Keep expanding it. It doesn’t matter what article you post it under, so long as it’s high up. If you want people to recognize you, pick a couple themes or symbols, and carry them on throughout the story. Other alternatives include back linking or including the entire story, but adding more each time. Be funny if you want. Or if you don’t feel like being funny, just be really weird. Someone will react.
The random troll
This has nothing to do with anything. Be it a stream of consciousness rant, or a description of the corner of your desk. Another favorite is a monologue, read as if spoken from any one given entity to another. The more outlandish, the better (a pair of socks talking to a mousepad, for example). If you really wanted to be artsy, work in an actual metaphor or legitimate meaning behind it, but it’s not necessary.
The vaguely related troll
Start out with a comment about the article. Have a definite opinion of it. Then, after a little while, disintegrate into randomness. All roads eventually can eventually lead to cheese (yum), Natalie Portman, cannibalism, toasters, squirrels, futons, you name it. All it takes is a little bit of creativity. Oh, and feel free to use other trolls’ motifs. Open source and all that 😉
If it’s funny for a fleeting moment, then it’s worth posting.
Puns. Puns are only less vile than mimes, but it’s hard to mime on /. So feel free/obligated to litter your offtopic and random bits with puns. Hurt the bastards. And if they’re sick enough to laugh at them, then they’ll eventually end up here 😉
Obscure cultural references and injokes are always good. SOMEONE will get them eventually.
Several drafts of a serial or random post are common, but true elegance is being able to come up with something on the spot that still makes the top 40 posts (on a post-heavy article)
Section 3 – Useful trolling links
The following links contain background information useful for trolls needing quick quotes and “expert” opinions to include.
General purpose links
ddi.digital.net/~gandalf/trollfaq.html – How to deal with USENET trolls – learn your enemy 🙂
http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/skeptic/arguments. html – A List Of Fallacious Arguments – Learn them and use them liberally
http://www.altairiv.demon.co.uk/troll/trollfaq .html – USENET troll HOWTO
http://www.baiting.org – Baiting.org
http://www.fieldingtravel.com/df/index.htm – Fielding’s DangerFinder – A guide to what and where’s dangerous
http://www.godhatesamerica.com/ – God Hates America
http://www.chalcedon.edu/creed.html – The Creed of Christian Reconstruction
http://www.demonbuster.com – How to cast out your demons and do spiritual warfare
riceinfo.rice.edu/armadillo/Sciacademy/ri ggins/thi ngs.htm – Things Creationists hate
http://www.icr.org/ – Institute for Creation Research
http://www.xenu.net – Operation Clambake – The fight against Scientology on the net
http://www.hom.net/~angels/ – Citizens for the Ten Commandments
http://www.bju.edu/rcnbc.html – The difference between Catholics and Christians
http://www.geocities.com/prazske00/biblequote s.html – Bible quotes by category
http://www.aynrand.org – The Ayn Rand Institute
http://www.reason.com – Libertarian site
http://www.freerepublic.com – Right-wing stuff
http://www.jbs.org – Excellent site for all kinds of right-wingery
http://www.dack.com/web/bullshit.html – Web economy bullshit generator
Crackpot science links
http://www.fixedearth.com – The Earth Is Not Moving
http://www.jir.com/index.htm – The Journal of Irreproducible Results