Message board trolling or just eccentricity? Not SDMB related

The SDMB is a unique message board in that we’re a general discussion type of board. Sure, many of us have our favorite forums, but this doesn’t tend to be the type of place where a person will turn to for just a question or two and then not return.

Other message boards are different. It would be perfectly normal behavior to sign up to ask a question or two with no intent of becoming a board regular. I’m a regular on several travel forums and I try to offer advice based on my experiences in addition to asking my questions about potential future travel plans.

However, every now and then, I run across questions or situations which seem so odd, I seriously wonder if we’re all being trolled. However, I’ve met some very eccentric people over the years and sometimes people really have eccentricities and they’re being serious.

Here’s an example from a couple of years ago. I’m not naming the board and the particular thread was from a couple of years and is long buried under thousands of other posts. A person was going to a city well known for food yet mentioned they weren’t interested in visiting any restaurants because they were bringing their own food. They were bringing some odd combination of staples, I don’t remember exactly what, but it was something like peanut butter, canned tuna, bread, and sunflower seeds. The entire thread ended up as a train wreck. But, people genuinely tried to help the person by offering suggestions on budget eating or else asking for clarification as to what was acceptable in their diet. In addition, they tried to point out how impracticable it was to haul heavy jars of peanut butter thousands of miles.

I detest deliberate trolling. I had a former coworker who just loved to troll fans of a particular sports team and he’d come into work gloating how he got fans of that team worked up over his trolling while he was having a few cocktails and laughing his ass off.

Of course, sports and politics are a bit different. People have strong opinions and often see the other side as evil. I’m certainly passionate about both sports and politics, but I’ve never made a post just to ‘stir shit up’ and get a rise out of people’s responses.

So, what do you think? Outside of hot button issues, do you think people in general are more often trolling or just very eccentric?

I’m gonna mangle a quote I’m sure,but this might fit.

Never attribute to malice, that which can be explained by stupidity.

Or…most are dumb, some are assholes.

It’s complicated. Let’s say Person A posts something in good faith, quite sincerely believing what they post, but it is read as unmitigated woo or glurge or batshit-insane incomprehensibility. Some people may suspect this is a troll.

The responses may come in as mocking and contemptuous: is that trolling? Certainly there are trolls whose modus operandi is to post inflammatory replies rather than inflammatory OPs. But in order for it to be trolling they’ve got to inflame the board as a whole, not just be taunting the OP. Now suppose no one but the author of the reply sees the OP as mock-worthy, and the tone of their reply does indeed piss off everyone who comes to the thread, and they regard it as a threadshit. Troll?

In both cases, the labeling of the poster as “troll” is dependent in part on whether we find their opinion stupid and annoying. And we don’t want such a subjective notion of “troll”… so is there a way to distill out, separately, trollishness, and define it in a way that ignores their content and focuses exclusively on their posting behavior?

I suspect that there isn’t, not really. (I mean, we could make one, which would end up being more of a definition of jerkishness than trollishness, but it would leave lots of trollery outside of the definition)

The perception of trolling is a combo of the perception that the opinion someone is espousing is clownfuck stoopid in one sense or another PLUS the perception that it was posted in order to get a rise out of people. The clownfuck stoopid part involves the additional perception that it wasn’t being sincerely tossed out there by someone who actually believes that shit. Making that assessment requires a lot of imputed and projected mental processes that we don’t actually have proof of.

I’m one of the eccentric. I do piss people off sometimes. (I think I’m more often taken as sincere but batshit but I have occasionally been accused of trolling). I occasionally reply in other folks’ threads and my replies on some specific subjects are sometimes taken as deliberately inflammatory.

My inclination is to assume good faith (i.e., this fucking idiot actually believes this) until there’s compelling reason to think they’re trolling.

So poster is visiting a country (for whatever reasons) but isn’t interested in going to restaurants. Other posters spend the thread trying to convince the OP that what he/she really wants to do is go to restaurants. Sounds like there were plenty of trolls, but the OP wasn’t one of them.

As far as I can see on THIS forum, if you don’t hold the popular/accepted opinion then you must be a troll.

A troll is someone trying to stir up shit, not merely people who disagree with you. I cannot see any way in which those other people were trying to stir things up. They’re just trying to convince someone. If getting into a big argument with someone is trolling, then this board is, what, 80% trolls?

On the other hand, I can see a way this guy could have been trolling. I can easily imagine someone who wants to troll foodies making a big deal about going to this great foodie place, but then making a big deal about not trying the food. It’s 100% predictable that they will start clamoring to try and convince you to try the food, and start to get irritable if you are stubborn in your responses.

I mean, food is an emotional issue to a lot of people. See our threads about how offended people get if you don’t try their food if they are the host. It’s one of those low importance topics that it’s easy to get people riled up about.

Still, unadventurous eaters exist, as do people really big on thrift. The latter especially might want to brag a bit online about it. And either one might get upset at people suggesting they try other things. And, of course, I have no context other than the OP, so I can judge how likely those possibilities (or even some I’ve not considered) are.

I’m not saying he’s definitely or even likely a troll. Just that I could see a troll acting that way. And I do think it’s useful online to at least be aware of possible trolling, lest you get sucked up in it unaware.

Just don’t be a jerk about it unless you’re sure.

The food part is a red herring. It goes for any subject. Let’s say that someone posts a thread asking for book or movie recommendations but says that they aren’t interested in science fiction, and people throughout the thread try to convince them that they are wrong and they really need to be reading science fiction. That may not be exactly “trolling,” but it is threadshitting and being a douchebag. I don’t know the exact details of the OP in the mentioned thread, but if someone asked about interesting things to do in x that weren’t about food, and people were trying to tell the poster that they were wrong for not making their trip about food, then the responders were threadshitting douchebags. Refusing to change your tastes/interests to suit what other people demand that you should change them to isn’t being “stubborn.”

I like the word phrase 'round here for the highlighted behavior: “fighting the hypothetical”. (Most applicable in MPSIMS “what if” questions, but there’s a degree of that possible even in GQ with “ground rules” in the original post that responders don’t agree with.)

A small degree of good-faith hypothetical-fighting is alright. Sometimes completely necessary if the OP’s ground rules make answering a question or holding a discussion legitimately impossible. If an original poster sticks to their guns about these unreasonable conditions, it’s pretty much a death-knell for the thread, but it may turn into a snark-fest (or the poster may find themselves discussed in the Pit… because that kind of posting behavior is often assumed to be trolling.)

OTOH, commenters attacking an OP’s conditions not because they’re unreasonable or impossible, but merely because they don’t like them… that’s an oblique form of threadshitting.

An orthodox Jew I know quite well (he was once my post-doc) travels quite a lot and lives mostly on canned tuna and peanut butter. When I read the OP I immediately thought of him. Maybe your guy didn’t want to say why.

Thanks! That is good information. I’m going to assume the person in that post was just guilty of giving too much information. Usually, new message board posters fall in one of two categories. Either they’re too vague, “I’m visiting Chicago this summer and want to know some good hotels and some things to do.” Or, they fall into the data dump trap and fill their questions with too much irrelevant detail that detracts from their real questions.

I always try to assume, ‘Not a troll.’ unless obvious troll is obvious.