When is a troll not a troll and who decides?

A few things have caught my attention in recent weeks about the labelling of unwanted behaviours on Twitter as trolling by people who don’t like those behaviours. But when does challenge or disagreement become trolling? and who decides?

So first of all let’s define the verb to troll which is described in the Urban Dictionary as:

The art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue. Trolling does not mean just making rude remarks: shouting swear words at someone doesn’t count as trolling; it’s just flaming, and isn’t funny. Spam isn’t trolling either; it pisses people off, but it’s lame. The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that either a) truly believe in what you are saying, no matter how outrageous, or b) give your victim malicious instructions, under the guise of help.Trolling requires deceiving; any trolling that doesn’t involve deceiving someone isn’t trolling at all; it’s just stupid. As such, your victim must not know that you are trolling; if he does, you are an unsuccessful troll.

The online Cambridge Dictionary has a somewhat more measured definition: ‘to leave an insulting message on the internet in order to annoy someone’ and the online Oxford Dictionary definition is not dissimilar: ‘make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them’.

So now we get in to trickiness – my tweet that I believe to be fair and justified might be perceived to be antagonistic and offensive by the recipient. The definitions above suggest that intent to annoy is what characterises trolling behaviour, so maybe that should be our compass.

A few bizarre trolling accusations

When Anna-Marie Crampton was recently suspended from UKIP because of her anti-Semitic comments on a blog, she claimed she had been trolled. I’m not at all clear what she meant by this but presumably trolling in this case equates to being found out and held to account… Even more bizarrely, train operator, East Anglia got lampooned extensively on Twitter, and in the press, for accusing a follower of trolling them. Their social media usage policy (still live on their website) defines trolling as: ‘routinely contacting other users who are not your own followers via our feed’- I’m not even going to start trying to unpick that one, but suffice to say not many people would agree with that definition and it certain does not accord with the ones above.