There was a frequent contributor to my Facebook page. (I won’t name names.) At first he often criticised Islamism, aspects of Islam and the behaviour of some Muslims. Nonetheless, not long after his baptism into the page, he began weaving short Leftist asides about evil America, the evil multinationals, the evil “war on terror” and so on into his comments. (See the end-note at the bottom *.)
As time went on the contributor posted more and more Leftist stuff and less and less anti-jihadist comments. Until it came to the point that he no longer criticised Islamism, Islam or even Islamoterrorism at all and simply criticised multinationals, bankers, the “far right” and whatnot. More to the point, he started rationalising, justifying and explaining not only Islamism but also Islamoterrorism. Then I realised that this man had tried, unsuccessfully, to take the page for a ride. More specifically, he perfectly fits the - or a - definition of a “troll”. More precisely, he fits the description of a “concern troll” or a “false flag troll”. Accordingly:
“A concern troll is a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the user claims to hold. The concern troll posts in Web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group's actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed ‘concerns’. The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group.”
With this particular troll, his general position was often expressed in this kind of way:
Yeh, I agree. Islam and Islamism are bad things but whatabout….?
Or, more fittingly and more often:
Yeh! Islamic terrorism is bad but whatabout…?
The problem is (as I suppose most people have noted) that when some people use the word “troll”, all they really mean is “a person I disagree with”. The troll is not abusing anyone, putting up false flags or anything like that; he’s just disagreeing with the admin or with a particular poster on the website or Facebook page. Consequently “troll” functions like “racist” or “Islamophobe”: it can be used as a device to stop debate.
The word “troll” can of course be acceptably used. I personally use it for those people who don’t respond to the posts/links they are supposed to be “commenting” upon but instead say what they want - and came - to say regardless (as well as often using cut-and-pastes into the bargain).
I don’t even think that abuse is necessarily trolling; as long as it's relevant and includes comment on the actual post or link being discussed. The same is true about “provoking readers into an emotional response” – no problem; as long as it’s relevant.
Trolls are supposed to post “inflammatory” stuff. But what does that mean? It can be used, and has been used, to mean posting stuff which the admin disagrees with. The very act of disputing the admin is deemed to be “inflammatory” or “abusive” or “racist” or ‘Islamophobic”. Again, this is thought- and debate-stopping stuff.
However, the main vice of trolling, to me, is just being off-topic; and I’ve been guilty of that myself. (Sometimes you can’t resist a dig at something or a joke that’s not strictly speaking relevant to the discussion.)
Of course the problem with accusing others of trolling is that others can accuse you of trolling too. In the end, it’s often less about trolling and more about political or ideological differences. That is, just because you post a comment that is controversial, at least according to the group or admin, that doesn’t mean you are trolling. The word “troll” is therefore often an ad hominem attack; just like the words “racist”, “fascist”, “Islamophobe” and, yes, sometimes, “Leftist”.
(*) I do believe that, at least in principle, you can be a socialist or a Leftist and still be against Islamism, Islam, and the behaviour of Muslims (as Muslims). In many respects, in order for the socialist or Leftist to be politically or ideological consistent, he should be against these things! But he almost always isn’t. Perhaps, strictly speaking, I’m only really talking here about the Far Left or the extreme Left. That is, Trotskyists, Communists, Maoists, “progressives” and such like – groups like Hope Not Hate, the SWP-UAF, Antifa, Respect and so on (all the red fascists). Nonetheless, since moderate socialists/Leftists almost always see themselves as belonging to a “broad church” which includes the Far Left, it’s often the case that moderates replicate the positions, specifically on Islam, Islamism, etc., of their far-left brethren. In fact it’s worse than that because the Far Left provides all the rationalisations, ideology and “theory” on Islam, Islamism and Muslims (as Muslims), which the moderate Left often swallows without too much thought.