In Internet slang, a troll (/?tro?l/, /?tr?l/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
This sense of the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, but have been used more widely. Media attention in recent years has equated trolling with online harassment. For example, mass media has used troll to describe "a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families," (Troll (Internet), Wikipedia).
Regular Internet trolls are found on any and every forum, discussion group, and even on sensitive victim groups, PTSD groups, etc. The only commonality is their desire to spread discord and vitriol throughout any discussion group. An Internet troll has no interest in real discussion or in considered dialogue. They get their kicks out of either encouraging violent arguments or out of seeing themselves as people who can divert a conversation and control it in the direction in which they wish.
Sadly, there are also Orthodox trolls. In fact trolling, either by Orthodox or non-Orthodox commenters is so bad that the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate has requested some help on the subject.
Believers should be protected from “trolls” by law, both on the internet and in real life, the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to the Council of Europe says.
Sadly, among those who are Orthodox trolls are an overly high proportion of converts (with some exceptions). Back in 2011, Father Vsevolod Chaplin wrote:
Some call me “vicious”, “nasty”, and “unforgiving” … amongst other things. I note that they don’t have the decency to sign their posts. This tells you something very important about the konvertsy. As a friend pointed up a couple of years ago, “It’s always the Sunday of the Pharisee for them; it’s never the Sunday of the Publican”. Such an attitude is profoundly un-Orthodox… yes, it’s definitely very Sectarian in its smug unsmiling Calvinistic pietism… it shows that these children have NEVER converted in their heart-of-hearts. Reading the Fathers until your eyes ache isn’t going to do it… memorizing the Canons isn’t going to do it… quoting the Scriptures backwards and forwards isn’t going to do it. Tithing, dress codes, and striving for “purity” are only going to put you on the Path to Regress… not the Road to Heaven.
His comment is important because he is the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for Church and Society. This is not simply a local parish priest, nor an uneducated recent convert. This is a person who, when he writes, writes with a certain degree of Orthodox authority.
I am a convert, so I could easily be accused of the same. But, I have also suffered from the trolls. And, I can confirm the statement of Fr. Vsevolod. It does not matter how much I try to make the statement a neutral statement. Nor does it matter whether I try to back up what I state with studies and facts. They do not matter. For an Internet troll a fact is nothing more than an opinion, a study is a political document.
Worse, there is not only an increase in Internet trolls, there is also an increase in belief in what they state. In other words, Internet trolls have been successful in convincing all too many that a fact is nothing more than an opinion, a study is a political document. Orthodox Internet trolls have even damaged relationships between Eastern Rite Orthodox and Western Rite Orthodox, let alone between “cradle” Orthodox and “convert” Orthodox.
We are called to be one family. We are called to be the Church. I, too, feel the temptation to be a troll. I have not always expressed my opinions in the most appropriate of ways. Having said that, we need to be aware of the permanent trolls among us who live for the recognition than an angry reply gets them.
Let’s try to not be trolls. And, when we are trolls, let’s make sure to repent of it. Yes, we have all been trolls. Let’s just make sure not to repeat that too often.