"Troll," in the context of forums and the like, describes somebody who is posting just to be confrontational or to raise hackles. Blatant trolling would be something obviously offensive to members of a forum ("The Solstice is an ugly piece of crap and will only sell twelve of them a year" is one example).
There are more subtle trolling techniques as well. One Internet dictionary (www.whatis.com
) gives a real example in which somebody posted about "the discovery of an ancient African carving containing a list of prime numbers." The poster listed some of the prime numbers supposedly on the carving, some of which weren't actually primes. People who saw the message, thinking he was serious, responded with corrections. The troll then announced that those who spent their time responding to him had been "hooked."
Trolling aims to elicit an emotional reaction from those with a hair-trigger on the reply key. A really subtle troll makes some people lose their minds. A troll is someone who posts to simply gain attention. Trolls contribute nothing useful and often make fools of themselves in the end.
How does one deal with trolls? Many people feel trolls should simply be ignored, and I think most would agree here. If you happen to see a post that says DNFTT, it means "Do Not Feed The Trolls". Ignore a blatant rant, or respond only once and be done with it. Feeding them makes them grow - even negative responses are responses.
The other option is to pounce on every last falsehood and fabrication. This can lead to a classic flame war - which does nothing for topic advancement and can change the flavor of a Forum or make other members quit with the negative atmosphere.
A "Flame War" is back-and-forth posting in an attempt to get the last argumentative post in. It, by definition, stops short of personal attacks or name calling (which can get you banned), but degrades a topic thread discussion in exhaustive, repeated pointmaking.
Remember, too, there is a middle ground. What some folks call a "trollish" post may actually be just spirited discussion, or provocative topic discussion. Truly offensive trolls are usually found and banned, with offensive posts deleted. But, it is sometimes interesting to see if a good "discussion" forms from a borderline "trollish" post. It can happen, and that's what we're all here for, right? Information and discussion.
Best bet: if you're caught by a troll, shrug it off, ignore it, report the posts, and get on to better discussion topics.