8 Sure Signs You’re an Internet Troll


Photo: Doug Wildman/Flickr

They’re the scourge of the Internet, as common as cockroaches and even harder to exterminate. They’re Internet trolls, and they live to make the rest of us miserable.

The good news? Academics at Stanford and Cornell believe they’ve found a way to quickly identify trolls. The researchers examined comments at three popular, heavily moderated websites — CNN, IGN, and Breitbart — to determine characteristics that are common among users who were eventually banned because of the vile things they said. The idea is to come up with an automated method for banishing trolls so the rest of us can have a civil conversation for a change.

Their study, titled “Antisocial Behavior in Online Discussion Communities,” is filled with charts, acronyms, and academic-speak. So we took the trouble of translating its key findings into eight simple rules you can use to identify whether you are a troll.

Note: The study uses the terms “Future Banned Users” — for people whose noxious behavior eventually led to their being banished — and “Non Banned Users” (everyone else). For clarity, we’ve substituted the terms “troll” and “nontroll.” You’re welcome.

How do you know if you’re an Internet troll?

1. You post all the friggin’ time.

Per the study: Trolls “tend to post more frequently than average users (prior to getting banned): on CNN, a typical [troll] makes 264 posts, but an average user makes only 22 posts.”

Translation: Your keyboard runneth over. Please stop.

2. But almost never on topic.

“We find that the average text similarity of posts written by [trolls] is significantly lower than that of [nontrolls] … suggesting that [trolls] make less of an effort to integrate or stay on-topic.”

Translation: Every discussion, no matter how innocuous, is an opportunity to launch into a paranoid rant about Obama, Bush, the 9/11 commission, the alleged moon landing, the Holocaust, Benghazi, the World Bank, the Bermuda Triangle, or the Infield Fly Rule.


Photo: Stupid Systemus/Flickr

3. You get way more replies than average.

Trolls “receive more replies than average users, suggesting that they might be successful in luring others into fruitless, time-consuming discussions.”

Translation: You have no life.

4. You’re quasi-literate.

“We measure each post with respect to several readability tests, including the Automated Readability Index (ARI), which are designed to gauge how understandable a piece of text is. While posts written by [trolls] and [nontrolls] have similar word counts, those written by [trolls] have a higher ARI, and thus appear to be less readable than those written by [nontrolls].”

Translation: Ewe dun no how too rat gud, dew ewe?

5. You’re a $@#&%!! potty mouth.

“[Trolls] are less likely to use positive words … are also more likely to swear or use less tentative or conciliatory language.”

Translation: You probably shouldn’t kiss your mama with that mouth … or anyone else.

6. Your comments get worse over time.

“Not only do [trolls] enter a community writing worse posts than [nontrolls], but the quality of their posts also worsens more over time.”

Translation: You enter the discussion as an idiot; you leave it a drooling imbecile.


Photo: Eirick Solheim/Flickr

7. And get deleted more often.

“On average, the deletion rate of a [troll’s] posts tends to increase over their life in a community. In contrast, the deletion rate for [nontrolls] remains relatively constant. … Posts written later in a [troll’s] life are more likely to be deleted, regardless of whether they are actually worse.”

Translation: We’re all effin’ tired of your BS.

8. But at least you’re consistent.

“We can predict with over 80% [confidence] whether a user will be subsequently banned. In fact, we only need to observe 5 to 10 user’s posts before a classifier is able to make a reliable prediction. Further, crossdomain classification performance remains high, suggesting that the features indicative of antisocial behavior that we discover are not community-specific.”

Translation: If you’re a jackass here, you’re probably a jackass everywhere, and more likely to be banned. But not to worry: We’re sure you’ll find another virtual bridge to lurk under.

Post your nontrollish comments below or email Dan Tynan:

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