Avoid Online Trolls with These 7 Essential Tips

Considering the fact that I’m not up-to-date with political news as much as I’d like to be, it’s unfortunately the norm when my brain farts and I have no clue what’s going on with our government. I try to stay on top of it, I really do. Political darkness is a scary thing. Maybe that’s why a good friend of mine took it upon herself to fill me in over dinner one fine, Friday night.

“They’re killing babies!”

I had to hand it to her — that is one hell of a conversation starter.

“Well, at least they’re trying to,” she continued, recollecting herself and remembering to breath. “The government is passing a law that allows parents to legally kill their child before they’re three.”

Shaking my head, I stifled a knowing laugh. I knew exactly what she was talking about.  I responded with a simple yet witty, “Um. Negatory.”

“I’m serious!” she insisted. “It’s on the news.”

Leaning slightly forward, elbows firmly planted on the table with fingers laced, the interrogation began with my trademark inquisitive stare.

“Did you actually read the article yourself?” I asked.

“Well, no,” she said hesitantly. “But it’s true. Anna told me.”

“And where did Anna hear about this?”

Silence.

At this point, my friend ripped out her smartphone and proceeded to do some research on a very reliable source — Facebook.

Opening a link someone had posted, she shoved her phone into my face. The screen displayed an article titled “MSNBC host says newborn infants don’t count as ‘alive’ unless parents decide they do.” This was, of course, a fabricated article. With my own handy-dandy smartphone, I easily found credible sources that proved the article false.

It has recently come to my attention that many of us human beings are quite gullible. Myself included. Especially on days such as today (April Fools Day), I’ve seen false stories like these circulating my news feeds. And people are buying into them.

According to a study conducted by Dr. Elbillu G. Erauoy, renowned professor of History and Sociology at Oxford University, 73.7% of Americans – 86.2% of them being college students – will believe “any immediate material presented to them at any given moment without adhering confirmation of a second source” (“CitacionFalso,” 2007).

Believe it or not, this study holds significant truth – and no truth at the same time.

Not to be a troll or anything, but I made up that study and statistic entirely. I just threw together something that sounded intelligent and claimed to have a credible source. The parenthetical citation is Spanish for “false citation.” (You might want to check out where the source leads to.) I even made up the quote. As a matter of fact, Dr. Elbillu G. Erauoy isn’t even a real person. He’s just an anagram of the phrase “you are gullible.” (Just read his name backwards.)

I swear, this is the first and last time I will ever troll. It just doesn’t feel right. But I hope I did get my point across.

Granted, trolls can be tricky. But I have a few tricks up my sleeve as
well. I think it’s the journalist side of me. As a major in journalism, I’ve learned to become very skeptical of unfamiliar information.

Thanks Dr. Miller.

Here are some tips on what I’ve learned to look out for when approaching unfamiliar information:

  1. Exact wording in every article. Trolls copy off one another. Why? The easy answer is because they’re lazy. They often copy and past a fake article into their own blog and begin circulation. This is why you’ll often find the exact same article under various websites with a few miscellaneous details changed like the author.
  2. Unrecognizable website names.  Illegitimate sources take on fancy names but have no credibility. If you’ve never heard of the site’s name, move on to find the same information on a well-known and credible source. If the story is news-worthy, it will be on a nationally recognized news organization.
  3. Common sense. A three-headed baby born in India is great news, but what are the chances? If it seems far-fetched, chances are that it is.
  4. Research. This is obviously a big one I felt I should reiterate. Look for a credible source to back up info you found. While one good source is awesome, I would find two just to make sure the info matches. Even valid news organizations miss out on a few details sometimes.
  5. Troll articles are usually built on some type of valid base. A lot of the time, the false articles hold a grain of truth. This is meant to confuse you. For example,  there were a few articles going around late 2013 stating that Paul Walker’s death was a hoax. There was, however, a nugget of truth in this. A day before Walker’s death, there was an actual hoax that he had died. Go figure.
  6. The comments and reviews section are usually blind. Often times, the troll wins over quite an audience. This audience can be seen commenting all over the article. Obviously, these comments are solely based off the misleading information of the article. The point — just because others deem the information true doesn’t mean it is.
  7. Some troll for the good. Some troll to get a legitimate point across – like I just did a bit earlier. One of my favorite examples is the article “I’m 83 and Tired,” incorrectly attributed to comedian Bill Cosby. The blog post was actually written by a former Massachusetts state senator and U.S. Marine Corps veteran. While the incorrectly attributed version made a popular circulation via social media, I get what our troll was trying to do. The post details political and social issues in an interesting light, and it actually does have a fantastic message. Attributing this post to a popular figure was probably an attempt to gain this message a larger audience. While this doesn’t condone the troll’s actions, it does show a different light on trolls.

Congratulations! You are now a certified troll tracker. Although you can basically twist them into working as tips on how to be a troll, do us all a favor — don’t be that guy.

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