A troll is a person who posts with the intent to insult and provoke others, Wood explains. The goal is to disrupt the normal traffic of a discussion group beyond repair. "A group is considered to be cohesively destroyed when two-thirds to three-quarters of the messages are a result of [trolls'] comments," Wood explains. They often target new users, who are more likely to take offense, hence the term "troll" (as in "trolling" for newbies).
Many trolls are characterized by having an excess of free time and are probably lonely and seeking attention, Wood says. "They often see their own self-worth in relation to how much reaction they can provoke," he says. Woods categorizes trolls in the following ways:
1. Spamming troll: Posts to many newsgroups with the same verbatim post.
2. Kooks: A regular member of a forum who habitually drops comments that have no basis on the topic or even in reality.
3. Flamer: Does not contribute to the group except by making inflammatory comments.
4. Hit-and-runner: Stops in, make one or two posts and move on.
5. Psycho trolls: Has a psychological need to feel good by making others feel bad.
Cyberstalkers can also assume many different forms, according to Wood, although they're basically characterized by a continuing pattern of communication that the recipient considers to be offensive. Other common traits of cyberstalkers are malice, premeditation, repetition, distress to the victim, an obsession on the part of the stalker, seeking of revenge, threats that make victims fear for their physical safety and disregarded warnings to stop.
As with trolls, there are several different types of cyberstalkers, according to Wood:
1. Intimate partner: The most common type of stalker, this is usually a man who has a history of controlling and emotional abuse during a relationship.
2. Delusional stalkers: This type of stalker builds an entire relationship with the victim in his or her mind, whether any prior contact has taken place or not. Such stalkers are likely to have a major mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or erotomania, which means they believe the victim is in love with them. The typical delusional stalker is unmarried, socially immature and a loner who is unable to sustain close relationships with others.
3. Vengeful stalker: This type of person is angry with the victim due to some real or imagined insult or injury. Some of these stalkers are psychopaths -- a person affected with an antisocial personality disorder -- who have no conscience or remorse. They may have paranoid delusions, often feeling that they themselves are victims and are striving to get even.
What to do
In many cases, victims feel they have very little ammunition -- whether legal, technological or tactical -- to stop the abuse. However, there are some things bloggers and other online contributors can do to try to avoid this kind of harassment or at least keep it from crossing into the physical world.
1. Know the trolls' tactics. According to Wood, the first rule for dealing with trolls is to avoid being deceived by them in the first place. Don't trust anything you receive or read without verifying the poster through known, reliable sources, he says. Also, ignore postings or private e-mails that are suspicious, such as those that praise, flatter or evoke a sympathetic response.
3. Maintain your privacy. Don't publish any personal information, such as your address or phone number. If you need to, use a Post Office box number. Wood suggests asking your state's motor vehicles and voter registry to put a block on your address and phone number. "Otherwise, any person may obtain them just for inquiring," he says.Some longtime bloggers, such as Bray and his wife Lauren Wood, a senior technical program manager at Sun, refrain from posting photos of their children on their blogs.
4. Block and ban. If you're experiencing abuse on a moderated blog, you can appeal to the administrator, who can try banning the troll. Be prepared to include a history of the troll's posts, including full headers.Some blog services offer technologies that enable you to block offensive participants. Using Wordpress, Silverstein can moderate the comments of anyone who hasn't contributed to the site before, which helps eliminate the hit-and-run type of trolls. "That allows me to weed out 90% of the abuse I get," he says.Another plug-in enables him to ban certain IP addresses. "That's especially good for the really crazy people, if they post one comment that goes beyond the pale," he says.
5. Keep a log. Be sure to keep a copy of anything you receive from the harasser, Lauren Wood suggests. If they contact you by phone rather than e-mail, take notes on what they say and how often they call, she says. "You'll need proof rather than, 'I think he was calling three times a day,'" she says. "You'll want a log that says, 'He called at 9:14 p.m.'."