What is trolling?

Trolling and online harassment continue to be problematic for users across various online channels. Whether it’s through social media platforms, blogs or forums, the Pew Research Center found that 73 percent of adult Internet users have witnessed some form of online harassment at least once. Trolling, by definition, is the act of deliberately instigating emotional reactions from others through inflammatory or offensive interactions online. Internet trolls target victims for a variety of reasons, and trolling topics can range from politics and current events to celebrity gossip and sports.

A poll conducted by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, along with Rad Campaign and Lincoln Park Strategies, found that women, minorities, millennials and Democrats experience online harassment the most. The study also found that 63 percent of respondents said they had experienced harassment on Facebook, which was substantially higher than any other online channel. Furthermore, 61 percent of participants knew the person who harassed them online.

Why do trolls troll?

Trolling Callout Box

Motivations for trolling can range from innocent joking to revenge or criminal activity. A study titled “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun” found that 5.6 percent of participants said that they “enjoyed trolling others.” Furthermore, participants who fell into this category also exhibited narcissistic personality traits in their offline lives.

With psychological implications in mind, trolling occurs for a variety of reasons. The anonymous nature of the Internet can encourage trolling behavior by giving the perception that trolling has no consequences.

In discussion-based platforms, such as social media or other online forums, trolls may also feel more confident carrying out offensive online behavior if they feel as though their comments will be accepted by the majority of their audience. Often times, trolls harass others simply because it’s much easier to do so from behind a computer screen as opposed to face-to-face.

From trolls to criminals

While online arguments between Internet users tend to be more annoying and hurtful than they are dangerous, trolling behavior can escalate to criminal activity through methods like doxing, swatting and cyberbullying.

Doxing (or doxxing)

Doxing is a form of trolling that consists of trolls posting some or all of the personal information (name, address, phone number, Social Security number, birth date, etc.) of their victims online for public view. Typically, doxing is used as a scare tactic or threat by inciting fear in victims, while encouraging others to join (i.e. making it possible for the troll and others to visit the victims’ residences, harass victims via phone call or text message, etc.). Doxing is especially concerning because it can lead to fraud, identity theft and physical harm to the victim.


Swatting is another type of trolling where trolls call in fake emergencies to the police that would require law enforcement to raid a victim’s home. This type of trolling is carried out for simple entertainment at the victim’s expense or as an act of revenge directed at someone who would be negatively affected by a raid (i.e. drugs, illegal activities, etc.) A prominent security expert fell victim to this type of trolling after exposing an illegitimate online service for hackers wanting to deliberately knock websites offline.


Cyberbullying is the act of using online platforms to carry out bullying behavior (i.e. posting mean or embarrassing photos, threatening comments, etc.). This type of extreme trolling occurs for reasons ranging from amusement to revenge. More than half of teens and adolescents have been bullied online, and about half admit they have engaged in cyberbullying behavior.

What should you do?

What if you encounter a troll? Follow these tips to help you determine the best way to respond to trolls on your personal pages:

  • Address it. Directly addressing the trolls can sometimes help deescalate the situation. If trolling comments are centered around rumors or controversies, it could be beneficial to confront the comments with facts. Some of the best responses to trolls have been debunking rumors and false claims through humor. Just make sure to remain professional so that you don’t become a troll yourself!
  • Report it. If the trolling is severe enough, social media sites allow you to report abusive behavior. These platforms will also allow you to block other users participating in trolling behavior. If you are experiencing trolling online, but not on social media, you can also contact the site’s moderator to report the offensive behavior.
  • Ignore it. Sometimes the best way to handle trolls is to merely ignore them. Trolls thrive on the attention they receive from users on public platforms. Ignoring their comments and encouraging others to ignore them as well can prevent the trolling from escalating.