Tuesday, July 24, 2012


How do you spot a troll?  There are a number of tip-offs.

Trolling is a popular sport these days.  The name of the game is simple, say something outrageous or get some one riled up by BAITING them online, so you can make them look foolish.

In the early days of the Internet, Trolling was a sport, done for fun, just to see if you could get people worked up.

So, someone would go on a discussion group and post something noxious, just to see the reaction.  It is like a kid throwing a big rock into a pond, just to see the splash.

Today, Trolling has gone pro.  And Professional Trolls have one thing in mind - to discredit your arguments by discrediting you.  So they turn every discussion into a personal attack, and try to get you all riled up to make you look unhinged.

How do they do this?  After a while, it becomes easy to spot:

1.  Personal Attacks:  As a reader discovered after commenting on a ridiculous article (obviously a plant) that argued that buying a new car and financing it over time was a better deal that buying a used car and paying cash, personal attacks are the first line of offense for the Troll.

"Well, obviously you are just poor and have bad credit!  So you can't afford a shiny new Scion, like I have!"

It is taunting behavior, like in the schoolyard - bullying.   And the goal is to get you to say, "Well, no, I have tons of money, I can buy any car I want!"

To which they reply, "Well, I see you enjoy showing off how wealthy you are!  While others struggle in this country!  Some of us can't afford to pay cash for cars like you can!"

And so on.  You can't win these "debates" so don't bother trying.

But they are not hard to spot - they turn the argument from the facts of the case, into an argument about you and your credibility.

2.  Nit-Picking:  This is usually the second line of offense for the Troll, and may be used in conjunction with a personal attack.  It can be a main attack, or just added in as a flanking maneuver.

For example, the Troll, in making his vicious personal attack (while ignoring the substance of the arguments) will toss in, as an aside, something like, "And by the way, you misspelled the word 'interest' in your message.  If you were really so smart, you would have caught this!"

The idea, again, is to get you all riled up.   Most folks, see messages like this and say, "Well, you are missing the whole point!"

But, yes, that is the point - to miss the point.   They can't argue, successfully, against your well-reasoned numbers argument.  So they focus on the trivial - a misplaced decimal point or a typographical error, or whatever.

For example, one fellow, in a debate, chastised me for "lying" when I stated that median income in the US is about $50,000 a year.   "Median household income is $51,000 a year!  Maybe you should go to college!" he said.

Was that an argument, or just someone trying to get me all riled up?  And it worked, too, at least for a while, as I foolishly felt I had to "respond" to point out that what I said was the same thing.

Just walk away from those sorts of "arguments" as the minute you try to "correct the record" they have you - and they will nit-pick your correction.

3.  "There are a lot of generalizations here..."  This is a phrase I see a lot these days on online forums - several times in fact.  The idea is to offer a blanket condemnation of the argument as being not specific enough - but in terms themselves which are not specific (your irony meter should be pegged, as this point).

There are a lot of generalizations?  Really?  Could you be more specific?  Or do you prefer to "generalize" yourself?

It is a non-argument argument - something that sounds officious and wise, without really saying anything.   And you can't "win" an argument with someone who says things like this, so just move on.

Unless you are Encyclopedic, the "generalization" Troll will never be happy.  And of course, if you are Encyclopedic, the Troll will say, "Whew! There is a lot of stuff here!" which is another Troll tag line.

You just have to walk away from the Troll.

4. The Straw-Man Argument:  You see this all the time in leasing debates or new car buying discussions.   A person compares the obscene cost of buying a brand new car, financing it, insuring it, and taking that horrible first-ten-minutes depreciation with the cost of an old clunker than "needs thousands of dollars of work."

It is a straw-man argument, in that they set up a man-of-straw, and then show everyone how brave they are to knock him down.

So, for example, they say, "Well, you can spend $5000 putting a new engine in your car, so you might as well just buy a brand-new car, it costs only $500 a month!  It's a lot cheaper!"

Or another one I've seen lately is this:  "Well, used cars are more expensive these days, and the interest rates are higher on the loan!   So you are better off just buying a new car!"

Both arguments take absurdest positions to compare to the desired outcome.  In the first one, is the idea of a clapped-out car needing constant repair, as opposed to, say, a late-model used car that requires little more than oil changes.  In the second, a new car is compared to a used car sold at a car dealer at a highly marked-up price.  New car salesmen often use this tactic, comparing the sale price of a new car to the windshield sticker price on a similar used car on their own lot.   Of course, they might just put that car there for the very purpose of making the new car sale seem "reasonable".

Again, you can't win with Trolls.  They will make one absurdest comparison after another, and Greek Chorus of other Trolls will chime in.  Just walk away.

5. "You Clearly Hate..."   This argument is interesting in that once again they fail to address the basic argument, but at the same time, they make it out like you have an "axe to grind" against the company or service involved.   Again, the message is clear:  You are emotionally unhinged.  And if you respond to this sort of thing, you validate their argument.

For example, I posted about how QuiBids sucks, and I got several responses along the lines of "Well, you clearly hate QuiBids..." or something to the effect of, "Well, you just hate it because you lost and don't know how to properly bid!

Of course, neither are true.  I never have "bid" on Quibids (it is not bidding, anyway) and thus never lost.  And I don't "hate" them, I am just pointing out how it actually works and the fact that most people are going to lose money on this gambling-like venture.  It is no bargain is all I am saying, and no, no one is getting iPads for $10.95 or whatever.

Again, you can't "win" at this sort of argument, as any response at all, is just proof that you "Hate" leasing or new cars, or Quibids, or Mitt Romney, or whatever, and that makes you a "Hater" (whatever that is!) and thus to be ignored.

* * *

There are, of course, other classic Trolling behaviors, and they keep evolving all the time.  And some are rather complex.  The counter-Troll is one of them.  Using separate accounts and usernames, the Troll sets up a posting that makes a ridiculous or stupid argument, and then use a separate screen name and account (the counter-Troll) to easily pick it apart.  It is the straw-man argument taken to its logical conclusion - arguing with yourself.

Why do they do this?  Well, as I noted before, Trolling is going pro.  The Internet, once a small-time thing, is now the main way most people get their news, information, and entertainment.  And the Internet was a threat to many established businesses.  The truly free-flow of information, for example, on car pricing, is a threat to the car dealer.  If people can add up what it costs to own a car, they would be shocked.  As I noted in another posting, it can cost $8000 a year to own a $20,000 car - and most people fail to realize that.

So many corporate interests hire Trolls to patrol the Internet and "shout down" any ideas that might give the consumer a "heads up" on a bad deal.

And a lot of these are seen in car discussions - as happened to our reader.  You try to point out that a buying a crappy econobox when you are 23 and paying through the ass for insurance, makes no sense at all, and you will be shouted down by a legion of harpies.

And that is one reason I started this blog, as I got tired of being Trolled.  And that is why I delete Troll posts, whether they trying to argue that QuiBids is "a good deal" or that leasing a car "makes sense".

Bad deals never make sense, no matter how much they are Trolled.   And most folks desperately want to be told that bad deals are good deals - either to validate a bad decision they already made, or to justify them entering into a bad deal - to get some piece of bling or candy as a result.

It is a shame, but the Internet really isn't a good source for information -  anymore.