14 Classic "trolls" that drive the Internet insane

Updated July 11, 2018

The internet has facilitated communication like no invention in the history of mankind. We could pretend that it’s all sweetness and light; as if it’s fostered a new-found sense of respect and understanding between people from all walks of life, with avatars linking arm in arm like a digitised daisy chain. In reality, we all know that you’re exponentially more likely to encounter an argument than a love-in online, complete with death threats and obligatory Nazi comparisons. So, we’re left with a choice: do we sink into despair at the state of humanity in the 21st century, or accept that there are gangs of unreasonable, argumentative "trollers" online and have a bit of fun with them? This is a guide for those who choose the latter.

Be a militant atheist

Matters of belief are a fervent ground for unrestrained, blood-curdling disputes. Theists – on one side – decry non-believers for being heathens/blasphemers/sinners (delete as appropriate) and atheists – on the other side – often argue that fundamentalist beliefs of any type are ultimately damaging. The best way to exploit this situation? Be Richard Dawkins. Be an atheist, but do so unapologetically, zealously and offensively. This creates an obvious issue with any theists, but the beauty is that the majority of atheists are respectful of other people’s beliefs (they just don’t share them), so they will be mad at you too. It’s like throwing a single piece of food to two wild animals – they’ll both go for it, but it won’t take long for them to turn on each other.

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Deny climate change

Climate change is real, and anybody who thinks otherwise clearly misunderstands the ample evidence. However, the fact that those people do exist provides a fantastic opportunity to create a furore online. It can be as simple as outwardly denying any aspect of the story. Claim that temperatures or CO2 concentrations have been higher in the past, that there is no evidence to suggest it’s because of human activity or anything you want. People will get mad. See Resources for an example (and note the number of irate comments).

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Defend free speech, for bad people

Free speech is all well and good with everybody until you suggest that it should extend to racists, terrorists, homophobes, sexists and any other group of people the masses don’t agree with. But who is anybody to determine what somebody else is allowed to say (and by extension, say what they should think)? Objectively, there is no way to say that any person’s viewpoints on any issue are correct or incorrect, so why should some be allowed to express themselves and others not? Claim that free speech has to be for everybody, including neo-Nazis and the BNP, and watch the debate descend into a full-blown flame war.

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See no problem with Greedo shooting first

In the 1997 special edition re-release of the first Star Wars film, George Lucas stirred controversy by altering a scene in which Han Solo pre-emptively shoots Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina. The change made it so that Greedo shot first – thereby removing the entire impact of the original scene (that Solo knew he was going to shoot first and didn’t give him the opportunity) and inflaming nerd-rage all over the world. Use Lucas’ argument, that Han shooting first makes him look like a cold-blooded killer, and that he was never meant to shoot first (see Resources).

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Release a top ten on any subject

Top ten lists are popular but guaranteed to stir disagreement. Simply release a top ten on any opinion-based topic, such as music or films. It doesn’t matter whether you go with the overall consensus or be completely selfish in your choices, people will be angry. “How dare you release a top ten of guitarists without including Yngwie Malmsteen? Are you demented?!” or “No way is Citizen Kane the best film of all time!” will follow almost immediately. Soon, some people will agree with you, and the argument is born.

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Be unintentionally racist

Racism is obviously a hot-button topic, but rather than using the troll-like approach of being outwardly racist, you should make an argument which implies racism but doesn’t confirm it. You can even throw in “I’m not being racist, but…” to start things off. Then say something unfair about any race/group of your choice, preferably something that stupid people actually think. For example, “have you ever noticed how black people always complain about discrimination but nobody else does? They must just like moaning for the sake of moaning.”

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Choose between Kirk and Picard

One thing that you can say about “geeks” with some certainty is that they are very, very passionate about their chosen subject. In the world of Star Trek, the classic debate is: who is the better captain, Kirk (from the original series) or Picard (from the Next Generation)? The general consensus appears to be that whilst Kirk is the more interesting character, Picard is the better captain objectively. Based on this implicit assumption – support Kirk (it’s better to lack evidence and solid logic if you’re being purposefully annoying), but really, either will stir a fuss.

Related: 10 Historical lies that Hollywood made us all believe

Misinterpret a holy text

The thing about religious texts is that there are usually numerous ways to interpret messages, which creates splintered sects all with differing opinions. They are all attempting to understand the true message, and it’s very close to their hearts. So starting an argument is easy, choose a Bible passage, a quote from the Quran or any other text, and plausibly misinterpret it. Any plausible interpretation is hard to dispute (since you’re using the only piece of “evidence” the religious care about), so it’s guaranteed to spark a heated debate.

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Criticise a rival football team

The choice of football team to “support” is ultimately ideological yet inherently meaningless (usually based on nothing other than inherited preference or geography), but football’s “geeks” are extremely passionate about their choice. Starting an argument is simple, pick a place with two rival teams, pretend to support one and level some criticism at the other's squad, management decisions, board of directors or anything else you can think of – even their kit.

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Offer evidence that either men or women are superior

Men and women have inherent biological differences, but people still wear their gender as if it’s a badge of pride. Use your own gender (it’s easier to incite anger that way) and just offer any piece of evidence that you are superior. For example, men are better at mentally rotating 3D objects or judging angles (as hunters, men had to judge terrain and angles regularly) and women are better at recognising landmarks (as gatherers, women had to rely on this skill). Cite one without the other. You can say men are therefore better at something like driving, or that science confirms that men are more likely to get lost than women.

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Post slightly incorrect or ambivalent facts

Facts are widely available thanks to the internet, which makes somebody getting them wrong even more irritating to pedants. Simply posting a widely-believed myth (such as “Hitler was a vegetarian”) or an ambivalent “fact” which is difficult to prove either way (“David Beckham is the most successful sportsman of all time” or “modern society is destroying the concept of survival of the fittest”) is destined to provoke a dispute. People love to display their knowledge, so you’ll soon be corrected by people who disagree, and they’ll be corrected by those who happen to agree.

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Show love/hatred for a divisive politician

Politics basically revolves around arguments, because it’s extremely difficult to ever say one approach is “right” without relying on personal opinion. A simple way to exploit this is to criticise or sing the praises of any divisive political figure. Margaret Thatcher’s death is a prime example, with the event provoking a fresh round of debate amongst the public despite the huge time-frame that had elapsed since she was in power. Call Obama a feckless socialist in the presence of Americans or say Tony Blair is the best British politician of the last 100 years and just wait.

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Tell Americans that Russia saved the allies in World War II

The US’s entry into World War II was a vital moment in the conflict, and this has led many Americans to repeat the familiar phrase, “we saved you asses in WWII.” However, Hitler’s biggest military setback was as a result of Stalin’s “Operation Bagration,” so it could be argued that the Russians were in fact the allies’ saviours (see Resources). Make that your argument, and wait for the proudest Americans to notice.

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Defend animal testing

Animal testing is a tender issue because people who love animals object to anything resembling harm, but it is obviously preferable to testing things on humans. Here (as usual), it’s better to side against the people with an emotional involvement, preferably on an animal-friendly site. Point out the harm that would be done to humans otherwise and wait for the online fury.

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About the Author

Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.