Internet Trolls: Pushing your buttons, or pushing an agenda?

Patrick Putman


Chances are, if you spend any amount of time online, you have already encountered internet trolls. An internet troll is someone who deliberately starts a fight and insults others in online forums. They disrupt discussions in an effort to cause drama. They are practically omnipresent on social media.

Where to find internet trolls

Internet trolls are most often found in the comment section of articles and posts. They also like to frequent blogs and forums. Trolls always have an opinion on everything. They love to make inflammatory posts as a means to offend or antagonize. Trolls even appear to thrive on the chaos they create.

For some, the goal is simple. Trolling is a form of entertainment. The anonymity created by the internet can be empowering. But trolling may also be used to manipulate people into divulging personal information or changing behavior. Trolling can be a valuable tool for script kiddies and social engineering hackers.

Ulterior motives

Thousands of fake profiles are being created on social media. Internet trolls use these to spread misinformation and threaten our security. For example, Twitter is full of trolls and bots. They create fake stories ranging from conspiracy theories to fake news targeting political parties. Russian hackers have relied on trolling as a way to spread their false narrative. Their goal is to influence voters and skew election results. These stories also create divisions in society.

Trolling itself is not a crime. However, in some cases, trolling may create issues of libel or defamation. Trolls can attack credibility or intimidate a witness. But sometimes their activity becomes illegal. Especially when it turns into cyber-bullying, harassment or cyber-stalking.

Sometimes, a troll’s actions can have deadly consequences. Swatting is a trolling tactic that involves prank calling the police. The caller claims to be reporting a murder, hostage situation or bomb threat. Emergency response and S.W.A.T. teams are then dispatched to the given location. Unfortunately, the address usually belongs to the rival who has no idea what is going on. Earlier this year, a man was killed in the doorway of his own home during a case of swatting in Wichita, Kansas.

 Ignore them if you can.

When you encounter a troll, the best thing to do is ignore them. Do not engage them in debate or discussion. If one messages you, do not reply. Most internet trolls are simply trying to stir the pot. Trolls may not even believe the lies they are spreading. They love nothing more than to antagonize and bait others into conflict. Most trolls are just annoying and tiresome. But sometimes the troll may in fact be a social engineering hacker trying to manipulate their victim. Trolling may also be a precursor to a cyber-attack.

Anyone can make up stories and spread them online without consequence. That is why it is best to visit fact checking websites like snopes.com or factcheck.org. These sites are in the business of investigating stories for validity. They can help you identify fake news or misinformation spread by trolls.

Misinformation is one of the greatest threats that trolls pose to cybersecurity. Always remember, just because something is on the internet does not mean it is true. The internet is a great tool for networking or staying in touch with family and friends. But there will always be those who abuse it. It is important to keep yourself safe and vigilant.


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