The 30 Day Marketing Boot Camp for Freelance Writers

How to Hunt and Kill a Blog Troll

By 
on May 31, 2010 in Blogging
28
0

If there's one thing I hate about blogging, it's blog comment trolls. The topic recently came up in my post on SocialImplications.com -- "Gurus" and Other Social Media Monsters. Someone asked about tracking trolls. I gave them some tips. It's something I've been wanting to cover in detail here, given that this blog has been the target of trolls in the past, and I'm sure some of you have had similar issues. So today let's talk about identifying trolls, and exterminating them.

What is a Blog Troll?

A blog troll is someone who comes to your blog specifically to cause trouble. It's usually a repeated effort rather than a one-time thing. Tom Hespos recently published a great post detailing some of the different types of trolls you might encounter in 6 Trolls that can Wreak Havoc in an Online Community. More importantly than what a blog troll is though is what it isn't. The following do not necessarily mean someone is a troll:

  • They disagree with you (even if passionately, and even if often).
  • You think they're being "mean" to you ("mean" is subjective -- just make sure they abide by your published comment policy).
  • You don't like them (because really, who cares?).

History with Blog Trolls

In one of the more pathetic examples of trolling I've seen, Yo and I actually shared one. They would come to this blog, to her blog, and to our joint blog then tied to the Freelance Theater project. It didn't much matter what was said. The troll (who thought they were sneaky and anonymous as they hid behind a proxy), would comment often just to bash us personally because they disagreed with our stance on a particular issue we'd covered in the past.

On one hand that kind of trolling is really sad, because clearly they had nothing better to do. On the other hand, it's kind of flattering when a troll is that obsessed with you and what you have to say. Either way though, it's destructive to a community, and we don't allow it here -- while I don't mind people bashing me, I expect them to take credit for their words.

It took a bit of time and comparing notes between the site stats, but we were able to identify the troll even though they were hiding behind a proxy's IP address (meaning you can't identify them through their own). The trolling was in turn tied to a reasonably known person in the niche. Their own image would have taken a hit had those comments gotten through with their own name attached.

Then again, that's a part of what makes trolls trolls. They're cowards. They often hide behind a certain level of anonymity as they say things they wouldn't dare say publicly. There are exceptions of course -- ones who are proud to take credit for their trolling. Those trolls are easy to identify and get rid of though. So let's focus more on the semi-anonymous ones.

Tracking Trolls: Beyond IP Addresses


Advertisement

Every time someone comments on your blog, that comment is tied to their IP address. Therefore, if they commented once under their real name, and later under a fake name while trolling, they could be easy to catch. You just run an IP search (you can do this from the comments page in your WordPress admin if you use that platform).

Sometimes it's not that easy. Some people change their IP address regularly instead of using static IPs (depends on their Internet service provider). Others use Web proxies. These are websites you visit before going to the end site you want to see. You enter the site's URL there (just like you normally would in your browser window directly). Then, when you're taken to the site, your behavior is tracked under the proxy's IP address rather than your own.

Does that make it harder to track trolls? Sure. But it's far from impossible. Remember, trolls aren't as smart as they like to think they are. Oftentimes, they think by masking their IP address, they're free and clear. Fortunately they have a harder time masking other things, and sometimes they're downright idiotic.

The Quick Snag

Let's talk about the dumbest of all blog trolls. These are the ones who fill out their blog comment fields out of habit. Once they're using a proxy, they don't even think about anything else. They post personally identifiable information, and don't even realize it until it's too late. While it's pretty unlikely they'll slip so badly that they'll publish their full name, they might publish one of the following:

  • Their real email address (they're so used to them being kept private from the public readers that they forget the email address is still visible to the blog owner -- sometimes their email address includes their full name, and other times you'll know who it is because they've commented before or you know their email address for other reasons);
  • Their website address (let's face it -- some trolls just can't seem to pass up a free link, even if it means getting caught).

Yes, some less-than-genius blog trolls really do leave this information. But what if they don't?

Habits are Hard to Break

No matter how hard a troll tries, there's one thing that often gives them away -- their habits. Have you ever moderated your comment queue, and you immediately know who a comment author is by reading it (without having to look)? I have. Some commenters are very set in their ways, and their comments are easy to identify. That doesn't usually change with a false name and proxy.

For example, the troll might be well known to you for their passionate take on an issue. They might use the same word or phrase often (such as a word they like to call their opponents in that debate) -- one that almost no one else uses. That can give away a troll's identity.

So can their grammatical habits. For example, I tend to overuse parentheses. Others might use semi-colons constantly or ellipses. Or they might use certain general phrases all the time or make the same typos constantly. If the troll is someone you know reasonably well, chances are good that you'll pick up on these subtle things. At the same time, the troll probably doesn't even realize what all of their usual habits are, so masking them all would be extremely difficult.

Whois Your Troll?

What if you aren't sure who the troll is from the post content, and they didn't leave personal info that makes them easy to identify, but they did leave a link to a website you don't recognize? This goes back to the fact that some trolls just can't seem to resist that free link they get for commenting. They won't leave a site they know you'll recognize as theirs, but they do take the opportunity to link to another site they own or are affiliated with.

These trolls fall into that fun little "I think I'm devious, but I'm really a dunce" crowd. If they were dumb enough to link to a site they own, here's a tip that might help you find them:

Do a Whois search on that website.

A Whois search will give you the domain name registrant's information -- name, address, phone number, email address, etc. as long as they haven't used a private registration service (many don't). Even if they do use private registration, you might not be out of luck. Run an IP search on the domain name. When you get the IP address for the server it's hosted on, you can do a check on that IP address to find other sites hosted on the same server.

If they use shared hosting (common for bloggers), there might be a lot of sites on that server -- most not belonging to the troll. But take a look anyway. You might just find a recognizable site or two in that list -- sites you know the owner of. The odds that they'd be two people in your niche with sites that happen to be on the same server are pretty slim.

You can do similar searches for links they include in their comment body too.

A Troll by any Other Name


Advertisement

I've found that trolls often have another interesting little habit. They use the same troll name repeatedly. Rather than come up with identity after identity, they use the same name or handle (sometimes set to look like a real full name). If you're getting slammed frequently by a troll, you might not be the only one. Do a search for that name or handle and see if the troll appears on others' blogs as well.

Even if the troll was able to mask their posting habits on your blog, they might not have been able to on others. You might pick up on something by reading them. More importantly, check the links they left (if any). If they're trolling in multiple niches, they might have left a link to a site you recognize while trolling in a different niche.

Troll Termination

Getting rid of trolls is actually pretty simple. While you can't always identify them by their IP, you can ban IPs from commenting on your blog (in WordPress you can automatically force their comments to be flagged as spam, or you can force them into the moderation queue for review).

This won't stop all trolls on the first go-around. Some will just switch proxies for example. So ban the next IP too. It takes very little time for you to do that, and eventually the troll will get fed up and they'll take their ball and go home. If you're really lucky, they might get annoyed with the proxies being banned, so they'll slip up and post using their real IP address.

If you want to, you can also stop trolls from even visiting your site by banning traffic from their IP address, but that's a bit beyond our scope today.

Trolls vs Time

It's not always worth the time it takes to track a blog comment troll, so I don't recommend actually following all of the steps above every time you encounter one. Reserve the more thorough troll-hunting for ones causing big problems -- following you around to multiple sites, posting so frequently that dealing with the comments is a time drain itself, etc. Otherwise you risk letting the troll win. After all, what they want is attention. In the end, there's only one real rule to live by:

DON'T FEED THE TROLLS.

Like this? Please share.
Tweet about this on TwitterGoogle+Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInBuffer this pageShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail to someone
Short URL: http://3bm.co/pN08gE
The following two tabs change content below.

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


key to writing success
Your key to a more successful writing career:
Join the FREE All Indie Writers community. Register today for access to the writing forums, and be one of the first to gain access to new e-courses, coming soon!

The 30 Day Marketing Boot Camp for Freelance Writers

28 Comments

  1. Yo Prinzel
    Yo Prinzel May 31, 2010 Reply

    Hahahaha–remember the Freelance Theater script our troll wrote? It was sooooo cute! Although I didn’t feel that it captured our personalities or attitudes at all, it was kinda sweet that someone spent that much time thinking about us and creating words they thought we would say.

    I think I kinda miss her :)

    • Yo Prinzel
      Yo Prinzel May 31, 2010 Reply

      Also, she appeared on a lot of other blogs bashing us too–remember? She was very, very busy spreading her love.

      • Jennifer Mattern May 31, 2010 Reply

        I don’t remember, so I might have missed them. Funny thing was… if there were any merit to what she liked to spout, she’d be so busy with her own uber-successful freelance writing career she wouldn’t have time to follow us around all day. Sometimes the stupid things people do amaze me (and amuse me!). :)

    • Jennifer Mattern May 31, 2010 Reply

      lol Me too… almost. It was really a tough call between publicly naming names and just silencing her. But I think shutting her up (anonymously at least) was the right choice on that one.

  2. Lauren Nelson May 31, 2010 Reply

    Awesome information. Hope I don’t fall into one of these categories for you all. We may disagree on some subjects, but I love your blog :)

    • Yo Prinzel
      Yo Prinzel May 31, 2010 Reply

      Disagreement is one thing–and it is not a troll thing :)

    • Jennifer Mattern May 31, 2010 Reply

      lol Absolutely not Lauren. We’re all big boys and girls here, and we can handle disagreement. That’s a valuable part of any conversation. It shows people are able to think for themselves, and I doubt you’ll ever see me (or any of our contributors) fall into the “woe is me, you’re attacking me and being so mean to me” thing just because you don’t agree. And well, if I did, I’m sure Yo would slap me squarely upside the head until I took it back anyway. ;)

      And I enjoyed our exchange on the DS post recently. I never got back to it because I’ve been on the long holiday weekend (bad post timing on my part), and I’ve “mentally moved on” I guess you can say. But I believe your last comment pretty much summed it up — that we probably won’t ever change each others’ minds. And that’s A-OK with me. There’s nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree.

  3. Rebecca May 31, 2010 Reply

    I never heard of Blog Trolls. Who knew! I use Askimet Spam blocker from WordPress which does a good job of catching comments. So far, I haven’t had any blog trolls because of Askimet.

    • Jennifer Mattern May 31, 2010 Reply

      Most actual blog trolls won’t get flagged as spam by Akismet, because they’re real comments. Akismet focuses on things like the number of links, certain common words found in spam, etc. It won’t apply to most trolls, who really do take part in the conversation — they just go out of their way to act like asses on a frequent basis.

      If you haven’t gotten any yet, knock on wood. ;) The more hard stances you take (especially if you write about controversial topic areas), the more likely it is that you’ll have them. Here we cover a lot of controversial issues, so we’re probably more likely to attract them than other bloggers. If, for example, you use a blog as more of a personal journal, it’s unlikely you’ll get a steady troll. Trolling sometimes borders on online stalking moreso than spam.

  4. Jessie Haynes May 31, 2010 Reply

    I’ve yet to encounter blog trolls, but I have dealt with email trolls a great deal in the past. It seems impossible to reason with them, so I just ignore them now. I consider it a good time management decision.

    • Jennifer Mattern May 31, 2010 Reply

      When I’d get them at NakedPR, I liked to have a bit of fun with them. I used to get a lot of kids who would come and rant about assessments of social media tools (taking comments directed at a professional audience and twisting my words). That would be fine in general. But it got beyond heated. I’ve been called every name in the book, had them resort to personal attacks not even relevant to the discussion (what people with no facts to back up their arguments do), and I often had people comment from the same IP under multiple names pretending to be different people to lend support to their original comments. lol I think it’s hilarious that they’d even take the time to do that. But in that case, rather than delete them, I’d usually approve them and call them out publicly. Then they’d go hide in a corner. :) That was much more fitting to that blog and its audience though. Here my tolerance is a wee bit lighter.

      • Jessie Haynes May 31, 2010 Reply

        As I build my blog more, I’ll get more “controversial” with my posts…I say that because it seems you can’t have an opinion, at times, without starting a shit fest. Certainly, that will bring trolls. I believe in calling out people to stop them, but I’ll also not waste my time with ignorance. Like you said, “don’t feed the trolls.” I think it is best to look at it case-by-case.

        • Jennifer Mattern May 31, 2010 Reply

          Meh. I don’t mind an occasional “shit fest.” I’d rather post something controversial and challenge people’s views than stick to the status quo any day. It’s about getting people to think about things in different ways — to think critically — whether or not their opinions are ultimately swayed.

          • Jessie Haynes May 31, 2010

            I don’t mind a good shit fest, I just get frustrated when no real intelligent dialogue happens.

          • Jennifer Mattern May 31, 2010

            Yeah, sometimes that’s infuriating. But sometimes it’s just funny. And any excuse to laugh is a good one. :D

          • Jennifer Mattern May 31, 2010

            Oh, btw, I think I have an email from you I found while cleaning my inbox. I’ll get to it in the next day or so. Promise. Not ignoring you intentionally. Just trying to dig my way out of the heap. :)

  5. Jessie Haynes May 31, 2010 Reply

    Psh, I’ll forgive you for ignoring and change my plans to troll on bizhow2.com. For now.

    • Jessie Haynes May 31, 2010 Reply

      Or make that BizAmmo.com!

      • Jessie Haynes May 31, 2010 Reply

        And add “you” after ignoring…geez, aren’t I rolling with it today? Time off goes to the head, I guess.

      • Jennifer Mattern June 1, 2010 Reply

        Haha — I wish all my trolls would get the site domain wrong. ;) And that’s okay. BizAmmo’s on a break, so I won’t be checking anyway. Getting a design overhaul since I never finished the last one, and then Dan will be back with me to update it again hopefully. :) Have two blogs going through similar overhauls shortly.

        • Jessie Haynes June 1, 2010 Reply

          Always busy, busy, busy! I remember during my introductory years to blogging in the early 00′s, as I moved from personal blogging to niche blogging, I had plenty of trolls. Well, plenty of people that knew me in real life and decided to muck around in what I was doing. In those early blogging years, before a professional freelance writing career was even a thought and I was just a geek in love with my computer and the Internet, I handled things with no care to professionalism and simply a care for my audience. If it detracted from me writing a blog post to handle a troll, I didn’t let the comments through and I’d email them later. If I had the time, I’d allow their comments unedited. Then I’d reply to their deeply biased and fact-free comments to enjoy tearing them down. These were people that I saw face-to-face in middle and high school. They wouldn’t dare talk about it again and assume it was just the Internet and no longer important.

          Ah, Jenn, thanks for inadvertently bringing me back to those days when I ran my fantasy fiction blogs and celebrity blogs and reading blogs–just grabbed an account with a free blogging client and tore into my interests! I also started group blogs with my friends to discuss Buffy–hah, funny stuff. I remember one of my friends getting her own domain name and letting me have a subdomain–I was so stoked! FTP access was the key to my heart then. It wasn’t until I started reading AFW in 2007, I think, years past those blogs, that I discovered the glory of self-hosted WordPress.

          Nice stroll down memory lane ;)

          I’m glad you’ve got it good enough that you can work on all your own sites whenever you want. I’m putting some attention into my blog this week.

  6. Rebecca May 31, 2010 Reply

    Is it sad that I know nothing of the original troll drama you spoke of, but still have a fairly good idea who the blog troll bothering the two of you could be?

    Excellent post, Jenn. :)

    • Jennifer Mattern June 1, 2010 Reply

      Well, most readers wouldn’t know about it, because we were pretty good about keeping things off the sites publicly as soon as we realized what was going on. Yo’s right though. Their little Freelance Theater script was hilarious (a spoof of us basically, going on and on about snotty and stuck up we are because god forbid we have advice to share that they disagree with). Had that project been more popular at the time, I might have even let it slip through and had some fun with it. But for the few people visiting that separate blog at the time, it just wasn’t worth the hassle. I wasn’t feeling much mercy for trolls at the time.

  7. Sire June 1, 2010 Reply

    I don’t think I’ve ever come across a blog troll, just lucky I guess. I remember on one of my posts there was this low life who was nothing but an racist who was having a go at me for my ethnic background. I just let him rant on knowing the longer I let him go the deeper the hole he was digging for himself.

    I don’t think he was a troll, more of a moron than anything else.

  8. Wendy S. Johnson June 1, 2010 Reply

    I hate it when you get called a Troll simply because you had a different point of view then someone else.

  9. Chadwick Levell August 27, 2010 Reply

    What you need to understand is that all proxies are created equal using the exact same technology. None is better than any other and the web filters know how to detect them now. So they don’t’ work anymore.

    • Jennifer Mattern August 27, 2010 Reply

      Yep. Knowing that they’re using a proxy is the easy part, and that’s how we realized said troll wasn’t who she was pretending to be. It’s often the first step in knowing where else to look for information on trolls.

Add comment

By using this comment form you agree to the site's Comment Policies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *

CommentLuv badge