Trolling according to some Wikipedians is any deliberate and intentional attempt to disrupt the usability of Wikipedia for its editors, administrators, developers, and other people who work to create content for and help run Wikipedia.
Trolling is a violation of the implicit rules of Internet social spaces and is often done to inflame or invite conflict. It necessarily involves a value judgment made by one user about the value of another’s contribution. (Because of this it is considered not to be any more useful than the judgment ‘I don’t agree with you’ by many users, who prefer to focus on behaviors instead of on presumed intent). Not to be confused with large warty monsters thought to dwell under bridges, in caves, etc.
Trolling is not necessarily the same as vandalism (although vandalism may be used to troll). A vandal may just enjoy defacing a webpage, insulting random users, or spreading some personal views in an inappropriate way. A troll deliberately exploits tendencies of human nature or of an online community to upset people.
There are many types of disruptive users that are not trolls. Reversion warriors, POV warriors, cranks, impolite users, and vocal critics of Wikipedia structures and processes are not necessarily trolls.
The basic mindset of a troll is that they are far more interested in how others react to their edits than in the usual concerns of Wikipedians: accuracy, veracity, comprehensiveness, and overall quality. If a troll gets no response to their spurious edits, then they can hardly be considered a troll at all.
All of these types of trolling below identify behaviors that some Trollers do engage in. It does not follow from this that all, most, or any given person engaged in these behaviors is a Troller. It also does not follow that a person who has not engaged in these behaviors is not a troll. An important part of the definition of “trolling” is that it is always something someone else is doing.
The archetypal example of trolling is the deliberately inflammatory edit or post — saying something controversial specifically to cause a flame war. Inflammatory edits usually come from users who have a minority or controversial opinion and who sincerely believe that this view is inadequately represented by Wikipedia, and therefore will seek reasonable ways to properly represent their views; trolls, however, will generally not seek consensus but will instead insist on a position without any regard for compromise.
Not all edit war trolls will choose subject matter that is obviously controversial. The defining characteristic of a troll in this case is not the content of the edit, but the behavior in discussing the edit, and the refusal to consider evidence and citations or to accept consensus or compromise.
People who passionately believe in what they are writing also sometimes behave in a way that may make them appear to be a troll. Many non-trolls refuse to compromise, and, at times, compromise may not even be the best solution.
Uploading inappropriate content
Some articles are created and some pictures are uploaded with the sole purpose of offending the readers or other Wikipedians. In such cases as copies from w:shock sites, this is more appropriately treated as vandalism. However, if an article with clearly inappropriate content is aggressively defended pretending that it is a genuinely encyclopedic article, this may qualify as trolling.
Misuse of process
Deliberate misuse of processes is a favourite troll game. Examples include continual nomination of articles for w:Wikipedia:Articles for deletion that are obviously encyclopedic, nomination of stubs for w:Wikipedia:Featured article candidates, baseless listing of users at w:Wikipedia:Requests for comment, nomination of users who obviously do not fulfill the minimum requirements at w:Wikipedia:Requests for adminship, “correction” of things that are already in conformance with the w:Wikipedia:Manual of style, and giving repeated vandalism warnings to innocent users. When we say that something is “obvious” or “baseless”, we mean that anyone acting in good faith would agree with that characterization. Beware that sometimes, something may seem obvious to you but quite non-obvious to others. Characterizing someone as a troll who simply disagrees with you can cause disputes which can be very damaging both to Wikipedia and to your own credibility.
Usually, even if the behavior clearly breaks policy, this is just someone unaware of policy. Look at the user’s response to being pointed towards the relevant policy. If they accept the policy, or seek to change the policy at the appropriate location, they might not be a troll. If they declare the policy “wrong” (but make no effort to amend it) or simply ignore it, it’s possible they are a troll. Remember that “policy” on Wikipedia is not a black and white issue. It is sometimes very difficult for a new Wikipedian to understand the complicated system of authority which Wikipedia uses, and these systems are not really detailed anywhere (or even set, to some extent). If a user challenges that an alleged policy really is a policy, perhaps it’s best to utilize the help of other users. Encourage the newcomer to use the village pump, and point them to the IRC channel, where experienced users may be able to help get the newcomer acquainted with the system.
Such people are best avoided, as they can become VERY offensive if confronted!
Another form of trolling can occur in the form of continual questions with obvious or easy-to-find answers. Of course, sometimes what is obvious to one person is obscure to another. If a user seems to be asking stupid questions, try to give them the resources to help themselves. You can also send them to the help desk. If they persist, politely explain that you would love to help but you are rather busy. If they continue asking the question even after you have clearly answered it, or begin complaining that you will not help them, there is a chance of them being trolls. Or they could just be lazy or confused. Of all the kinds of trolling, this is the most important kind not to get bent out of shape about. Remember: Wikipedia is a source of knowledge. Be friendly about providing knowledge to people. That said, in extreme cases, this can be a method of trolling, and it is not inappropriate to ask someone to leave you alone once you have made a reasonable attempt to answer their questions.
Some trolls are critical of the project, its policies, its users, its administration, or its goals. Often, this criticism comes in the form of accusations of cabals, ilks, or campaigns that are typically invested in a particular POV, invested in maligning a specific user, and other similar claims. Often, racist trolls, when confronted, will accuse Wikipedia of Marxism or political correctness. Criticism of the project, made constructively, is welcome from contributors when shared in an appropriate place. It is unwelcome when cross posted to a wide variety of places (c.f. MeatBall:ForestFire), or clearly inappropriate locations, such as article pages and established policy pages. This is very similar to posting any controversial issue — if it is done to improve things and foster discussion, it can be a great benefit. If it’s done with malice and in bad faith, it can be a problem. Of course, a new user who gets treated roughly can easily interpret that as Cabalism, especially if there seems to be no appropriate forum for these complaints. What criticism is ‘constructive’ is very much in the eye of the beholder.
The nature of trolling is to be disruptive, and one of the most disruptive things that can be done is to find new ways to cause trouble that are not quite against the rules. No matter how great your definition of trolling may be, a dedicated troll will find something you have not thought of yet.
This, then, is something of a catch-all category — if a user is being continually disruptive, and no amount of politeness, consensus, mediation, or anything else is reining them in, they are trolling. When a user, in a conflict of any sort, insists on the letter of a rule while grossly violating its spirit, this is often a sign of trolling.
In these borderline cases, however, it is more important than ever to try to assume good faith, and to seek consensus not only in your opposition to whatever you think is being trolled about but on the issue of whether or not someone is a troll. A good start when you are faced with creative trolling is to come to this page and propose an amendment to the types of trolling section. If people agree that it is trolling, then you can go back to the conflict with this on your side. Failing specific additions to this page, however, the arbitration committee should be the only ones to ban users for “creative” trolling.