Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

When a discussion isn’t a discussion : living with trolls .


Wonderment by autistic artist Donna Williams In this internet age the word ‘friend’ has become progressively watered down. Today it can mean any acquaintance who adds themselves to your list. They may wish to be a friend and may be friendly, but friendship takes longer and not everyone has enough time to give to all. Then there are flamers who feign discussion but are actually so certain of their own virulent opinion that the questions they pose are purely rhetorical and no amount of answering will ever please them.

These are not merely people letting off steam. Some are well known for their hatred and support stalking and internet lynchings, often citing libelous misinformation containing blatant factual errors. Then there are trolls who post poorly researched controversial information in order to set out to bait people into responding. When the comments of trolls and flamers are deleted or they are blocked from posting, they often proclaim this as evidence of the righteousness of their behavior rather than facing that they were not discussing nor even open to discussion in the first place.

According to http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/troll.htm the definition of a troll is:

To “troll” means to allure, to fish, to entice or to bait.

Internet trolls are people who fish for other people’s confidence and, once found, exploit it.

With flamers, trolls, stalkers and abusers, a discussion is not a discussion, and pretence of caring is not real caring at all.

here’s some indications of “playful trolls” (from http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/troll-tactics.html )

  • a lack of buy-in to the list philosophy or values
  • generally low level of activity, with sudden spurts of interaction – or perhaps a new persona that has strong opinions on controversial subjects
  • a mixture of friendly posts with a confrontational style of interaction
  • the use of provocative language and sweeping generalisations about certain topics or categories of people
  • a lack of in-depth understanding of the topic
  • a lack of personal information
  • a lack of a genuinely unique perspective on the topic
  • a lack of humour
  • restarting topics that have already been done
  • use of language that encourages the dialogue to enter topics that are controversial and likely to upset some team members
  • the use of an attention-seeking gimmick (e.g.: “I was once exploited by an XYZ”)
  • they follow up their own articles if the group doesn’t respond to their posts
  • inconsistencies in the style and nature of the post and any proclaimed information (e.g.: claiming to be a child but writing with an adult style; claiming to be adult, but writing with a childish grammatical construction).
  • also note that trolls often seem to use free email services (such as hotmail.com) or have email addresses ending in .edu. However, trolls could be virtually anyone, and the email address is no guide as to whether the persona is a bona fide user or not.

then there’s the next level, “tactical trolls” ( from : from http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/troll-tactics.html )

  • They engage in off list email dialogues to gain the confidence and trust of influential individuals on the list.
  • They are friendly and humorous in the posts, to put you at ease with their persona.
  • They have a well-thought-through story such that the persona seems to be very real. They will give apparently personal and intimate information, particularly in off list emails.
  • They win trust by giving trust. For example, they may hint at something confidential on-list, but then only reveal the full story to someone off-list. By bringing someone into their confidence, they create a feeling of confidence towards them by the individual’s concerned.
  • In off list emails, they win allies and support for some of their views. Their offlist emails are subtly manipulative.
  • They ‘set up’ bona fide members to argue with each other. Any view, no matter how outrageous, can be made to sound rational when put in a certain context. By setting different contexts for different people offlist, they create a setting whereby they can raise a topic on-list, in a seemingly innocent manner, and then watch the two list members argue because they have interpreted the topic/message in very different ways.
  • In off-list emails, they use techniques borrowed from NLP and Speed-Seduction to make people have a great deal of affection for them. This naturally suppresses any suspicion there might be.
  • They use gimmicks that win sympathy and bring out the ‘nurturing parent’ in other list members, which also suppresses any feelings of suspicion. E.g.: being blind, handicapped, an orphan, rejected, bullied etc..
  • They build up a reasonable knowledge of the topic of the list. This enables them to take part for some time as apparently bona-fide list members.
  • They use language that is carefully constructed to be subtly invidious. This language is designed to identify two or more separate groups of people, and encourage list members to identify the negative traits of those groups. This creates argument and dissent between list members. Note that subtlety is often their main objective, so this language is difficult to spot.
  • They don’t enter into the argument directly, but facilitate an argument between list members, e.g.: by highlighting points that one list member has made, perhaps in a way that is more confrontational than the original intention.
  • They sometimes create a fictitious persona supported by a web-site, photographs and apparently personal data.
  • They may suggest meeting up in real-life, but the meeting doesn’t take place.

These people may escalate to “strategic trolls” (from : http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/troll-tactics.html )

  • They have various phases to their strategy, where each phase aims to achieve different things.
  • The first phase usually involves establishing multiple personalities who become recognised as integral members of the group – “friendly trolls”. Don’t be deceived by the title – they appear to be friendly but they have very different hidden motives. Establishing friendly trolls in a group is a process that can take many months or even years.
  • The second phase involves using new personalities to start divisive threads, in the manner outlined under “Tactical Trolls”. In the event that no list members respond to these threads, other phase two trolls will respond to them to keep the debate active.
  • If existing list members have not yet joined in the arguments, the third phase involves “offensive trolls” attacking their own personae from the first phase. As these trolls will have built up a lot of goodwill in the group, other list members will jump to their defence, and they are therefore drawn in to the argument.
  • In case other list members don’t join in, “defensive trolls” may join in and continue to give air time to the “offensive trolls”. The friendly trolls can also incite bona fide list members to join in using offlist emails.
  • Another phase may involve the friendly trolls starting to retaliate publicly, calling on the support of bona fide list members.
  • When things start to get out of hand, petrol will be poured on the flames to try and stir things up as much as possible and cause the maximum amount of strife and chaos.

Finally, the most demented of trolls is the “domination troll” who will usually make themselves list managers, to widen their audience and get the greatest satisfaction from their harm/vengeance (from http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/troll-tactics.html )

  • gratification from dominating the emotional lives of list members
  • gangland ware – where one group sets up a list and aims to defend it from other trolling groups
  • a genuine area of interest on behalf of the troll

Sometimes especially women with ASD are especially vulnerable to those in powerful positions who have decision making power over their lives and I have sadly heard of people being sexually abused and harassed by employers, lecturers, supervisors only to have to put up with this or lose their job, their course, their future. Perhaps its no wonder that only 6% of people with ASD have employment.

Abusers in power may claim to be helpful, caring or a friend only to gain private time with them, entrap them, toy with their responses, abuse them and, if afraid their behaviour may be disclosed, some may then even seek to hide the abuse by publicly demeaning their victims. In the internet age such abuse can then (even unwittingly) be perpetuated by others who were never party to the origins of the abusive relationship and take the abusers proclamations at face value.
The autism world is full of flamers and trolls from both sides of autism politics. Militants on both sides may be closed to real discussion and far more interested in their vitriolic conspiracies.

As a moderate I understand the passion of both sides. As someone assessed as a psychotic infant, a disturbed child and diagnosed as an autistic adult, I have been the physically ill self injurious child who can’t learn from being told or shown and behaves as if the household is a war zone. And as an autism consultant I have seen violent, self injurious children with autism and their battered parents and terrified siblings.

I have also met those who have grown up with developmental differences and been bullied for years and socially excluded for these and these people deserve understanding and self esteem too and if seeing themselves as part of a culture gives them that, then as long as they are clear they are people, not labels, why should it matter.

Autism is a spectrum and in that spectrum are severely ill, highly challenged people and others with significant challenges for whom the condition is more cultural than physical and all manner of people in between. Sometimes people progress, with treatment, from one end to the other. That progression may be slow and limited or dynamic and profound and others simply grow up to be bigger versions of what they were at age 3. With all the preciousness and autism circus rubbish going, its not surprising camps polarise and defend their labels and theories but when we lose humanity and learning in the process its time to chill out, stand back and get off our high horses.

If an adult can’t express themselves in public arenas without flaming people, they may be best to come back when they have learned to practice some impulse control. Those who can’t tell the difference between controversy and research, media melodrama and fact, flaming and discussion, trolling and caring, stalking and interest may need to consider their confusion between passion for their cause and reckless damage.

Here’s sound advice on how to manage trolls… I try where possible to stick with this ( from http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/troll-tactics.html )

  • ignore postings that you suspect may be from trolls.
  • don’t invest any of your self emotionally until you have verified beyond all doubt that the person you are dealing with is genuine
  • beware of off list emails that praise and flatter, or seem to evoke sympathy. If you feel yourself beginning to like someone, ask first: how much verifiable data do I have about them?
  • if you do get involved in anyone, seek out verifiable data. Trolls will provide some data that will lead to dead ends; real people will provide some data that is open-ended and leads to a myriad of sources which enable you to verify their genuine status
  • if you must respond to a troll posting, don’t get involved in the argument; limit it to pointing out that the posting may be considered as trollish, for the benefit of other list members.
  • Write to the listmaster to highlight what is happening
  • Write to the postmaster of the troll’s domain. Keep it simple, polite and to the point (they are very busy!). Include your evidence (e.g.: offensive emails) and the full email header information, so that the troll can be properly traced.
  • Listmasters can also make their lists restricted, and conduct a security analysis of each list application before allowing them to subscribe. This is probably easier to do in areas that have professional associations or qualifications.

… Donna Williams