Thursday, April 27, 2017

Troll Tactics

By Lauren Panepinto

At Spectrum this weekend we had a panel called Fight Club, during which we discussed a bit about social media and how to deal with trolls. It's important for artists (of any gender) to know when someone is trolling them, so that they don't waste their precious art-making time dealing with voices online who are only there to be destructive. Ain't nobody got time for that. So I thought I'd list some of the most frequently-used troll tactics, so you can recognize them and avoid/block when you have to, and engage with caution when you have the time and energy to battle some trolls.

First, let's define terms: there's a difference between a troll and an ignorant person, or a jerk. You cannot be a troll by accident. Trolls know they're trying to mess with you, frustrate you, and waste your time. If your whole day is shot because of them, that's their true victory. The only way to prevail is to deny them attention.

From Urban dictionary:


One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board or to someone's social media accounts with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.
The important point here is to realize a troll is more than just a jerk. A troll is trying to actively eat your time so that you don't get anything done other than focusing on the trouble they're causing. 
Sometimes it's hard to tell if a person is a troll or just a person who may be decent but confused and coming off as more aggressive than they realize. Many artists find themselves reluctant to block someone that they're not 100% sure is a troll because they don't want to lose that fan. But I'm here to shed some light on the most common sneaky trolling tactics, so you can recognize them sooner. And if you do not consider yourself a troll, but find that you do these things often, you should realize that it is very possible that people are interpreting your comments as trolling, and you should be aware that you're coming off like a troll and you should probably take a look at how you're interacting online.
The New York Times did a pretty in-depth look at people who become internet trolls and why, so check it out. And here's 99U's Confessions of a Former Troll.
And here's some tactics of the common Internet Troll, so you can recognize them sooner, and block them before they wreak havoc on your pages.



(ex: Mansplain, Geeksplain) When a person that thinks they are superior to you and will proceed to inform you of all the details possible of a subject you already know quite well. A "Mansplainer" will tell women that they know what a woman feels better than the woman does. A "Geeksplainer" will find out your favorite fandom, then proceed to tell you all about it in detail as if they were the expert, and you weren't a fan at all. In an art context, this would be someone who is not even an artist trying to tell Donato how to paint a figure.


Repeated and relentless questioning, often times after the question has been explained in detail multiple times. The sea lion will insist they are acting perfectly civilly, but they are really just trying to delay you as long as possible and derail the conversion. The name comes from a webcomic frame (see below).


Bringing up incendiary and controversial topics to overwhelm a post and/or moderator, who has to deal with finding and policing every post.

—grammar police

Not caring about the content of your post or comment, but insisting your spelling and grammar must be perfect or you can't possibly make a valid argument.


Someone who returns as much as possible to keep commenting on a thread. Even if you do block them on social media. They'll make new accounts and keep making comments to follow you until you are convinced they are right.


When someone posts on your page but they repeat the same thing over and over, just to destroy the ability to have a conversation with anyone else. Usually it's something like "lol" or something NSFW, or just childish and taunting.

—hate monger

That person that goes straight for the incendiary words and name-calling—or right for the death thrusts and rape threats—even when the thread or comments didn't warrant that level of response. Drives all your sane commenters into a rage frenzy and the conversation immediately turns into a melee. I mean, you KNOW this one is a troll. Don't engage, just delete and block as quickly as possible.


…So those are the most prevalent types of troll attacks that come through our community. There's many more on this website. Definitely check it out, and if you notice people using these tactics, prepare to block them!

Depending on your gender, your race, and the topics of your artwork, you may or may not get trolled. It's not a given, nor a necessary sign of success, so if you are not getting trolled, please do not believe that it doesn't exist. Please do not assume that because trolls haven't targeted you that a troll attack is not as bad as people report. Although I've never been targeted to the extent that Gamergate targets have been, I've still gotten more than a few death threats and rape threats. You can't stop it from happening, but you can keep yourself as safe as possible.

If you have been targeted, check out these resources:

Feminist Frequency: Online Safety


  1. In the meme with Bob Ross there is a 'n' missing, it should be spelled as follows: Trolling is an art. Whenever the next word starts with an a, e, i, o or u, then the 'a' gets the addition of a 'n' = an.

    Hope this helps. Will return a bit later to see if you have fixed this, but until then enjoy having a terrible day. -signed LOL!

  2. Does not attracting trolls mean you're a bad artist? :-)

    I think this problem is only experienced by people who hang around popular genres and fandoms. You need to find smaller fandoms/genres where there are less jerks. Then again, those aren't the most profitable venues I suppose.

    1. It has a lot to do with the subject matter of your art, as well as whether people can tell your gender and race.

    2. "You need to find smaller fandoms/genres where there are less jerks." No. People should never edit the genres they enjoy working in because it attracts more dicks. This reads as victim blaming 101. The problem is not participating in a genre. The problem is the assholes. We should instead work harder to let the assholes know their voices are unwelcome.

    3. But popular genres DO attract more assholes, statistically speaking.

    4. I just had a conversation this weekend at SFAL about this very thing. An artist I know was working on a popular videogame/comic property, and was getting nasty comments about the way she chose to depict characters and was feeling self-conscious about it. But the sad truth is, most people don't bother with nice comments. It's only the angry people that take the time. So when you have a property with a HUGE fanbase, statistically speaking, it's going to feel like there are a lot more jerks. In reality, it's probably just the same amount of jerks, but all the happy fans are quiet.

    5. Another part of the problem is that it is impossible to tell online whether you are dealing with 12-year-old boys or grown men. We have the tendency to assume the latter. Assume the former, and suddenly one's thinking about how to deal with trolling becomes a lot more clear...

    6. Or with teenage girls or adult women. Trolling—and bullying and cruelty overall—isn't a uniquely male activity. People somehow feel entitled to be deliberately mean to each other online (and, increasingly, in person these days), regardless of gender, race, religion, political affiliation, nationality, or ethnicity. Unfortunately.

  3. So, one either agrees with you or they get to choose between being a troll, a jerk or ignorant. Let it to morally and intellectually superior officious PC professors -who obviously survived Dachau- to educate us on how when a male explains something in argument he is "mansplaining"...

    By your very definition Lauren, in an attempt to insulate sensitive artists from minor inconvenience as if they're children, you think you're superior to us and proceed to inform us of all the details possible on a subject we already know quite well. It's a good thing society doesn't need a term as asinine as "womansplaining" because there are better, shorter terms.

    1. If that's the message you're getting from this post, that I'm only saying that anyone who disagrees with you is a jerk or a troll, then you're clearly reading what I write looking specifically to cast it in the worst light. Maybe you should look at your own motives for posting comments on my articles at all.

    2. I find many people, especially artists, believe in absolutes and any opinions contrary to 'their' belief system you are eventually labeled as 'evil':

      Personally, I find environments of questioning and confirmation is more enlightening then regimentation and unquestioning. However, once a conversation devolves into name calling rather then relating towards the 'topic' you're in a spiral of ego.

    3. OF COURSE the first crappy comment comes from Michael Syrigos. Par for the course it seems.

      Here's the problem Michael, it's not about letting you 'choose' to be a jerk, you actually ARE being a jerk. You are literally telling Lauren what she thinks (as if you know her intent better than she does), and throwing both direct, and indirect, insults at her. Not one part of your comment is constructive in any way or promotes civil conversation.

      This seems to be a trend for you. I know this because I'm the guy who has to moderate the comments everyday, and I see your name pop up repeatedly. In fact, the only time you ever have anything remotely nice to say is when you're asking one of the pros for more info. Just take, take, take.

      The funny thing is, I probably agree with the point you're stubbornly trying to protect. I'm sure many of us do. But you're doing it in the worse way possible. Paul's comment above for instance is contradictory, but still polite and informative.

      I sit back here and watch this happen all the time. As a rule, I don't moderate people's comments over opinion, but it's getting annoying. You're free to disagree and converse all you want. In fact, I encourage it. But if you can't do it without being rude, Michael, your comments won't be welcome here any more.

      Show some class, please.

    4. Oh shit, I thought his comment was totally self-aware.

    5. Here the ideas of "organizations" like Feminist Frequency are being promoted, or ideologies that ascertain by default that only men "splain" (along with all that mumbo jumbo) and I'm the bad guy?

      It's not my intention to make enemies, but I can't pretend to be Buddha either, you think it's easy sticking my neck out and risking career suicide by expressing the problem I think is there (look how you're all ganging up on the bad guy, the one crappy post cause I can never be right).

      I disagree with ideas whose purpose is to not only insulate opposing or varying ideas but also create a sort of algorithm in which anything that goes against an idea of the person or group is characterized as X, Y or Z. Look at the post and the various categories of people it describes and when you find how to break the loop and further a conversation with a person using this sort of protocol, you let me know huh. You can have the idea and I'll support it, but it leads down a bad path.

      I may be uncouth at times and I've been such in posts of this sort, but it's only because of the content and it's implications long term. If that makes me a jerk, hey great, at least I'm not faking.

      I post nicely because I respect who I ask and those aren't many. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and all I've got is what I can get myself, and I give only what I have and that's not much unfortunately, not likely anyone here has anything to learn from me artistically, so sorry if you feel I don't contribute, I won't again in any way, you have my word.

    6. Nobody is arguing with your ideologies, Michael. I am complaining about the way you present them. This blog consists of 19 professional artists who donate their time completely free of charge, day after day, year after year, for the benefit of others.

      So it's more than a little annoying when you come along and REPEATEDLY shit all over it. It doesn't matter if you're being "real" or not. It's impolite.

      And don't give me this "it's the content that makes me uncouth" nonsense. If you can't express your point without insulting people, then please refrain from commenting at all.

  4. This is a great article. I have been victim to a few for sure. Now I understand better

  5. Great article Lauren! Always excited to hear what Muddy colors has to say on important topics related to art! :)

  6. Ahh, the internet.

    We will do Fight Club again in the future because there was only much ground that can be covered about subjects that get people revved up—and it's all worth talking about. But the take-away (wonderfully expressed by Lauren and Cathy and less wonderfully by me) that we hoped the audience would take away is the importance of empathy and the unfortunate lack of it that many have when it comes to these sorts of topics. People get indignant or mad, express it, and usually get indignant or mad responses—and nobody listens on either side. Thinking about why the other side feels the way they do FIRST before immediately chiming in with a snarky comment will go a long way toward understanding, courtesy, and mutual respect. We don't have to agree, but we should be considerate of each other. As Henry James said, "Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind."

    1. exactly. I'd love that panel to be an annual series, maybe cut it down to single topics.

  7. Anger is pathology, not passion:

  8. Since protocol is about everyday existence, and not entirely exclusive to the art world or the internet, I'm intrigued by the concept of Idiot Compassion, a Buddhist concept, yes Buddha was a troll. |

    Idiot compassion, on the other hand is a result of self-engagement using another as a prop in our own emotional drama and for our own egoistic fulfillment.

    Idiot compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good to somebody. At this point, good is purely related with pleasure. Idiot compassion also stems from not have enough courage to say no.

    Chogyam Trungpa quoted in Idiot Compassion blog post

    It is interesting that he used the phrase “do good to somebody.” rather than “for somebody”. And Trungpa Rinpoche certainly knew enough about semantics not to have stated it that way by accident. Doing something “to somebody” implies an outside force or an infliction and imposition upon them rather than an alleviation of their situation.

    …idiot compassion, which is compassion with neurosis, a slimy way of trying to fulfill your desire secretly. This is your aim, but you give the appearance of being generous and impersonal.

    Chogyam Trungpa quoted in Recalling Chögyam Trungpa (p.191)

    The neurotic tendencies of idiot compassion are something I want to delineate later on, but for now here is a somewhat lengthier piece on distinguishing between the two.

    We need to distinguish true compassion from “idiot compassion”. We sometimes over-react emotionally at the sight of suffering. We can be so distressed that we weep uncontrollably, faint or run away in horror. Our heart may be moved with pity but our emotions are so out-of-control that we can’t do anything to help! In other cases we might do something but because we lack right understanding of the problem or the person experiencing it, our “help” only makes the situation worse. These are examples of idiot compassion. True compassion balances loving-concern with clear wisdom. This wisdom enables us to stay calm and think clearly how best to help, without being carried away by our emotions.

  9. I come here to learn about art, not pointless feminist terminology.

  10. Thanks for the great post. I'd seen "Sea-Lioning" in action but never understood it as its own kind of trolling until now. It's a public service to have it named, and to have this cartoon to direct sea-lioners and their victims toward.

    For me, the grimmest result of global connectivity is having to come to grips with the pervasiveness of fallacious reasoning and psychopathology, which are so often intertwined.

  11. Thank you for this, Lauren. I'd never head of sea-lioning before. It's always good to learn something new.

  12. I would like to thank a couple of the people who left comments for volunteering to be a live-demo example of a troll.

    1. I am completely baffled that people can read something like this, feel like its directed at them, and then fail to even think about adjusting their behavior for even a second, or have the self control to *not* comment in the exact way that the post discussed.

      Like, there are so many points where one could pause and stop themselves from looking like the most textbook example of a troll and they just can't manage it. ^-_-^

  13. People worry and go insane. That's why we have prozac, ambien and other self medications. We're so worried about being right and validated, that our egos demand protocol and justice regardless of how small the slight is.....reminds me of grade school.

  14. Using the word "mansplain" is in itself trolling.

  15. Lauren cunningly draws the trolls out and into a trap :)

  16. It' a trap!!!

    How can you not look like a troll if you say anything other then congratulatory agreement? It's a trap!!!

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  19. When I heard of this panel over the PA at the show, I knew what it would be:

    Social Justice Warriors lecturing people on how to obey SJW dogma, so I passed. This article just confirms my suspicions.

    Isn't ironic in that one of the core components of the art world is the critique or constructive criticism, yet here we see a list of things which are meant to ostracize, demonize, marginalize if not reject those who engage in any form of criticism or disagreement. Don't believe me? Look at the responses to Micheal's cool headed and reasoned (IMO) replies.

    What this article lays out are a set of absolute ethical/moral guidelines without providing the philosophical groundwork which demonstrates why this social ethos should rule above all others, save for:

    Muh Feelings.

    Ah, the internet? Yes and that sentiment cuts both ways, and it always depends on whose ox is being gored.

    1. If you had attended the panel at SFAL then you would know that it it wasn't a lecture, but merely talking about topics (and we just scratched the surface before time ran out) that devolve into fights and trying to figure out ways to listen to each other. Repeated throughout was the simple truth: no one has to agree about everything or think the same way about anything. But trying to understand opposing viewpoints, rather than automatically engaging in knee jerk vilification, can ultimately—hopefully—help us find common ground. The only thing that Lauren's post here does is point out behaviors—regardless of the ideologies of those who use these tactics—that only succeed in ending conversations rather than promotes them.


    2. The article and the panel are really an embarrassment for fandom. Why jump into to this culture war that's plaguing both gaming and the Hugos? How is this a winner for anyone? What has this article/topic to do with art? With Sci-fi/Fantasy/Fantastic/Imaginative Realism? How has this culture war benefitted anyone commercially who has decided to join one side or the other? Has it benefitted Twitter? Target? Marvel? The NFL? ESPN? What's Spectrum/Muddy Colors going to do, "get it right this time"? That phrase belongs to a long list of phrases known as 'famous last words.'

      The topic, panel and article are all ideological indoctrination. Is that why people attend the show or read this blog?

      Readers are given a list of behaviors which apparently Ms. Panepinto, Spectrum and Muddy Colors want to include into trollish activity. Well excuse me, but who died and made you king? And anyone who is savvy in current internet culture know that all those behaviors listed by Ms. Panepinto -in her article- are drenched in the ideology of progressivism, third wave feminism and the Social Justice Warrior ethos. Why is there a need for Spectrum or Muddy Colors to enter this arena? Are we artists that awful that we need this lecture? If we are, you don’t seem to have a problem taking our money, now do you? Are you setting up a cleansing of the industry? Will there be a 'enemies list' of those who are acceptable and unacceptable? Will artistic content now come under scrutiny? Will artists be selectively banned from venues in fandom? How does one not know that artist will eventually be compelled into being PC or our careers will be placed in jeopardy? Please don't say that's absurd, we see it everywhere this war has taken a foot hold.

      Examples (aside from Gamergate and the Hugos):

      Here's another phrase from the list of famous last words you might not want to employ next: "It can't happen here." You know Dave Truesdale, no?

      Excuse me but this topic _is_ a lecture. I've seen all too often and to reject the listed behaviors or contest them will have the skeptic branded as sub-human (racist, sexist, misogynist, Xphobic, etc.) and a push will be made to silence them. I've seen it all to often, especially across the web with video after video in the growing assault on free speech in the western world. It's a real life Kobayashi Maru (a no-win scenario). The listed behaviors are subjective and can be thrown at anyone who disagrees with another (primarily on an ideological basis). You are delving into ethics and not stating the philosophical roots of your ethics. What you have presented here is personal relativism as a form of ethics, in essence, ethics based on your feelings and nothing more. Why should I or any other follow any ethical guidelines based on the emotions of any one person? What makes your feelings about any topic, superior to mine?

      For those following this discussion I suggest this more thorough exploration of it on the blog of philosophy professor Eve Keneinan. Give close attention to the section titled: "Why Moral Subjectivism Collapses to Emotivism"

    3. By your own admission you didn't attend the panel so your comments here are based entirely on your own false suppositions of what was discussed and how. The panel wasn't a PC screed but merely a beginning conversation with the belief that when people actually talk and listen to each other, conflicts can often be avoided and problems have a better chance of being solved. Including problems artists face.

      And, yes, I know Dave Truesdale and, no, I don't think his membership to World Con should have been revoked: he had the same right to be heard as anyone else on his panel or in his audience.

      If you or anyone else is interested, I've written about social media in the past on Muddy Colors:

      I believe the quote I give by Ryan Holiday is worth repeating: "Real empowerment and respect is to see our fellow citizens—victims and privileged, religious and agnostic, conservative and liberal—as adults. Human beings are not automatons—ruled by drives and triggers they cannot control. On the contrary, we have the ability to decide not to be offended. We have the ability to discern intent. We have the ability to separate someone else’s actions or provocation or ignorance from our own. This is the great evolution of consciousness—it’s what separates us from the animals."

      Lastly, I like to know who I'm talking to; and your name is?

  20. Would Michael's, Paul's, Wing's and Unknown's comments be considered trolling? Or are they just assholes? Is commenting with a lengthy testimonial about how a sorcerer healed your love-life trolling or just inappropriate advertising? Thanks for this article Lauren. I see artists get pulled into these no-win comment storms quite often and maybe this will help them end the pointless back and forth sooner.

  21. Trump brings this up all the time. Trolling is in the eyes of the beholder. This article is about etiquette. It's a question of when is discourse allowed?

  22. Actually, my comments have been pretty benign, just too many of them, and to certain extent in agreement. I don't believe every comment has to be construed as incindiary, but rather observational, just as this article is.

  23. Damn Ian all I gotta say. Bunch of you guys are super-trolls. Just to add, I don't think genre popularity is a very good indicatior for how many trolls you are likely to encounter. As a paleoartist, I'm part of a fairly small and niche art community when compared to Sff art in general. And let me tell you, it's fucking full of trolls! Anytime I post a new reconstruction of a dinosaur, a half dozen trolls who don't even paint chime in to tell me what I "did wrong" in the painting. Well, fuck-em, I'll post anyway for the people who enjoy my work or have polite constructive criticism. I'm never going to let the likes of you ruin the ride for me.


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