Social media trolls have become a dangerous and often unavoidable part of our online lives. They bully, lie, and try to confuse social media users, and some are even paid to do so. While they may seem like a mere annoyance, they have the ability to influence opinion on some of the world’s most important issues. One group, who call themselves Team Ninja Trollhunters, have decided to fight back, but they’ve had to be smart in doing so.
Prior to the rise of the internet, trolls were primarily a worry for characters in Scandinavian folklore. Regrettably, they have now transitioned from residing in caves to operating behind keyboards, exerting a tangible influence on our digital and offline existence.
Trolls can be found on various social media platforms.
While internet trolling may be perceived as harmless fun, discussions often take a negative turn, and no topic or post is exempt. If you browse the comment section of any widely-shared post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, whether it pertains to elections, sports results, LGBTQ+ rights, or climate change, trolls are bound to be present. They engage in bullying, spread misinformation, sow confusion, silence experts, and aim to provoke angry reactions from individuals who simply wish to engage in meaningful conversations about important matters. However, people are growing weary of this conflict, and a group of Twitter users have taken it upon themselves to address the issue and offer advice on how to combat it personally.
Who are the individuals responsible for identifying and addressing social media trolls, and what methods do they employ?
This global and anonymous group call themselves Team Ninja Trollhunters, or TNT for short. They are careful not to reveal too much personal information in order to protect themselves from the very worst elements of online harassment and abuse – and they do often receive threats – but they have said that members come from a wide range of countries and professions, with more than half having a scientific background and an average age of around forty.
So how do they do it? One thing they always avoid is directly interacting with trolls. A spokesperson for the group said:
“Do not squander your time. Their intention is to ensnare you and engage in a lengthy process of bewildering you, as that is what trolls desire… I am not attempting to persuade the troll. Frequently, trolls lack any factual evidence. Instead, they rely on doubt, disinformation, division, and confusion.”
As changing their mind isn’t an option, TNT go for the next best thing – silencing them so that they cannot achieve their goals. The best way to do this is by reporting the user and getting them blocked. Unfortunately, it is not currently against twitter rules to spread false information about the climate crisis. We also shouldn’t hold our breath in hope of this changing anytime soon, especially since Elon Musk bought the company in October 2022.
There are however some things that even Musk can’t be seen to allow, such as racism, clear and direct misogyny and homophobia, and aggressive bullying. Therefore, TNT members look through the other tweets of the trolls spreading climate misinformation and try to find instances of these rule violations. If they find them, they report the tweets and hope that the user is banned from the website.
“I cannot reword”
Elon Musk has made the battle against Twitter trolls more challenging.
Musk has adopted a lenient approach towards monitoring hate speech, falsehoods, and bullying on the platform, making it easier for trolls to express their opinions. This is due to the introduction of ‘Twitter Blue’, which allows anyone to obtain a verified account, a privilege previously limited to journalists, politicians, celebrities, and similar individuals. To become verified on Twitter now, one simply needs to pay $8 per month. A significant advantage of verification is that your tweets gain more visibility through Twitter’s algorithm. This includes replies to other users’ tweets, where the responses from verified accounts are prioritized. Unfortunately, many individuals who are willing to pay Musk for this service are often the ones who engage in trolling.
The rise of the social media troll farm
TNT has achieved some success with their methods thus far. They state that they have effectively eliminated 600 key accounts that were responsible for significant harm and the dissemination of destructive falsehoods. However, this accomplishment is unfortunately just a small part of the vast amount of disinformation present online. The recent revelation of “troll farms” is particularly worrisome. These are groups of trolls, financially supported by individuals with a vested interest in spreading disinformation, who are committed to manipulating public opinion. For instance, a study conducted in 2021 revealed that troll farms managed to reach 140 million Americans per month on Facebook leading up to the 2020 election. Another example, which came to light in 2023, involves an Israeli company that proudly admitted to interfering in over 30 elections worldwide.
If you believe you have encountered an online troll, refrain from engaging in arguments or giving them any attention. It is futile to attempt to change the perspective of someone who is unwilling to listen or may have ulterior motives such as being paid to deceive. To effectively deal with a troll, attempt to identify any rule violations in their other posts and report them.