In response to this thread I decided it was time to sit down and compile a clear definition of a troll followed by some examples, links and ways to deal with them. Please feel free to add your thoughts. I am not the original author of much of this material, in fact most of it is blatently borrowed from the sites linked at the bottom. I am merely the one who compiled the information for this thread.
An "Internet troll" or "Forum Troll" is a person who posts outrageous message to bait people to answer. Trolls delight in sowing discord on the forums. A troll is someone who inspires flaming rhetoric, someone who is purposely provoking and pulling people into flaming discussion. Flaming discussions usually end with name calling and a flame war.
A classic troll tries to make us believe that he is a skeptic. He is divisive and argumentative with need-to-be-right attitude, "searching for the truth", flaming discussion, and sometimes insulting people or provoking people to insult him. A troll is usually an expert in reusing the same words of its opponents and in turning it against them.
While he tries to present himself as a skeptic looking for truth ... his messages usually sound as if it is the responsibility of other forum members to provide evidence that what forum is all about is legitimate.
]He (and in at least 90% of cases it is he) tries to start arguments and upset people.
Sometimes, he is skeptical, trying to scare people, trying to plant fear in their hearts. Sometimes, Internet troll is trying to spin conflicting information, is questioning in an insincere manner, flaming discussion, insulting people, turning people against each other, harassing forum members, ignoring warnings from forum moderators.
Trolling is a form of harassment that can take over a discussion. Well meaning defenders can create chaos by responding to trolls. The best response is to ignore it, or to report a message to a forum moderator. Ubuntuforums moderators usually move troll messages to the jail and may even ban trolls after a few unheeded warnings. Negative emotions stirred up by trolls leak over into other discussions. Normally affable people can become bitter after reading an angry interchange between a troll and his victims, and this can poison previously friendly interactions between long-time users.
Finally, trolls create a paranoid environment, such that a casual criticism by a new arrival can elicit a ferocious and inappropriate backlash.
When trolls are completely ignored they sometimes step up their attacks, desperately seeking the attention they crave. Their messages become more and more foul, and they post ever more of them. Alternatively, they may protest that their right to free speech is being curtailed. Perhaps the most difficult challenge for a moderator is deciding whether to take steps against a troll that a few people find entertaining. Some trolls do have a creative spark and have chosen to squander it on being disruptive. There is a certain perverse pleasure in watching some of them. Ultimately, though, we have to decide if the troll actually cares about putting on a good show for the regular participants, or is simply playing to an audience of one -- himself. For this reason the staff here often intervene, either with a warning in a thread, jailing one or more posts, sending private messages to offenders, and even banning people--temporarily or permanently--from these forums.
As an idea, the next time you see a post by somebody whom you think is a troll, and you feel you must reply, maybe you could just write a follow-up message in the thread entitled "Troll Alert" and type something like this:The goal of the Ubuntuforums is to provide a place where people wanting to share experiences using Ubuntu or Linux in general can do so as well as give and receive technical assistance in a friendly, pleasant environment. Trolls disturb and disrupt community and are neither welcomed nor tolerated. There are lots of "free speech" forums available for political, religious, "not safe for work" and family-unfriendly sorts of interactions. If you feel the need to troll, please seek out one of these places.The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction and not to respond to trolling messages. It is well known that most people don't read messages that nobody responds to, while 99% of forum visitors first read the longest and the largest threads with the most answers.
Trolls often have many basic characteristics in common:
1. Low post count. Trolls usually do not last long enough on a forum to rack up a large number of posts. Be particularly suspicious of any poster whose count is not yet in double digits and who appears to be causing trouble.
2. Suspicious IP addresses. Puppet accounts will have IP addresses identical to that of the TiQ.
3. Suspicious E-mail Addresses. Accounts that are similar in nature to those of the TiQ can indicate a puppet account. AOL accounts, for example, are particularly suspect, because AOL allows multiple usernames for a single account.
4. Syntax and grammar. Trolls, particularly Deceptives, invariably have trouble hiding their writing styles. Puppet accounts, or serial accounts created after previous accounts have been thoroughly discredited, will display traits similar to that of the TiQ.
These links are the source of much (almost all) of what is contained here. They also go into much greater detail than I have.
This link is not a source, but a complementary site. If you enjoy this thread, you are certain to enjoy it.