Social media trolls have become a dangerous and often unavoidable part of our online lives. They bully, lie, and try to confuse social media users, and some are even paid to do so. While they may seem like a mere annoyance, they have the ability to influence opinion on some of the world’s most important issues. One group, who call themselves Team Ninja Trollhunters, have decided to fight back, but they’ve had to be smart in doing so.

Before the dawn of the internet era, trolls were mainly the concern of Scandinavian fairy tale characters. Unfortunately for us, they have since swapped caves for keyboards and have a real impact on both our online and real-world lives.

Trolls can be found on various social media platforms.

While internet trolling may be perceived as harmless fun, the nature of online discussions often takes a negative turn, leaving no topic or post immune. Whether it’s a post related to elections, sports, LGBTQ+ rights, or climate change, trolls can be found lurking in the comment sections of widely-shared content on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These trolls engage in bullying, spreading misinformation, causing confusion, silencing experts, and intentionally provoking angry reactions from individuals who are simply seeking meaningful conversations about important matters. However, people are growing weary of this ongoing conflict, leading a group of Twitter users to take action by offering advice on how to combat this issue personally.

Who are the individuals responsible for tracking down social media trolls and what methods do they employ?

This global and anonymous group call themselves Team Ninja Trollhunters, or TNT for short. They are careful not to reveal too much personal information in order to protect themselves from the very worst elements of online harassment and abuse – and they do often receive threats – but they have said that members come from a wide range of countries and professions, with more than half having a scientific background and an average age of around forty.

So how do they do it? One thing they always avoid is directly interacting with trolls. A spokesperson for the group said:

“Do not squander your time. Their intention is to ensnare you and create an hour-long state of bewilderment, as that is what trolls desire… I am not attempting to persuade the troll. In the majority of cases, trolls lack factual evidence. Instead, they rely on uncertainty, misinformation, discord, and perplexity.”

As changing their mind isn’t an option, TNT go for the next best thing – silencing them so that they cannot achieve their goals. The best way to do this is by reporting the user and getting them blocked. Unfortunately, it is not currently against twitter rules to spread false information about the climate crisis. We also shouldn’t hold our breath in hope of this changing anytime soon, especially since Elon Musk bought the company in October 2022.

There are however some things that even Musk can’t be seen to allow, such as racism, clear and direct misogyny and homophobia, and aggressive bullying. Therefore, TNT members look through the other tweets of the trolls spreading climate misinformation and try to find instances of these rule violations. If they find them, they report the tweets and hope that the user is banned from the website.

Twitter does not prioritize misinformation or disinformation. However, if someone engages in racist, hateful, or misogynistic behavior, those actions can be reported and Twitter will address them accordingly. This is the main focus for the TNT Member.

Elon Musk has made it more challenging to combat Twitter trolls.

Musk has adopted a lenient approach towards monitoring hate speech, falsehoods, and bullying on the platform, making it easier for trolls to express themselves. This is due to the introduction of ‘Twitter Blue’, which allows anyone to obtain a verified account, a privilege previously limited to journalists, politicians, celebrities, and similar individuals. To become verified on Twitter now, one simply needs to pay a monthly fee of $8. One of the main benefits of verification is that your tweets gain greater visibility through Twitter’s algorithm. This includes replies to other users’ tweets, where verified accounts’ responses are prioritized for other users to see. Regrettably, many individuals who are willing to pay Musk for this service are often the ones who engage in trolling.

Just stop oil tweet
A tweet from climate activists Just Stop Oil.
Troll replies to just stop oil
Verified accounts, who’s replies are pushed to the top, ‘trolling’.

The rise of the social media troll farm

TNT has achieved considerable success with their strategies thus far. They assert that they have effectively eliminated 600 significant accounts that were responsible for extensive harm and the dissemination of harmful falsehoods. However, this accomplishment is unfortunately only a small part of the vast amount of disinformation present online. The recent revelation of “troll farms” is particularly alarming. These are groups of trolls, financially supported by individuals with an agenda to spread disinformation, who are committed to influencing public opinion. For instance, a study conducted in 2021 revealed that troll farms reached 140 million Americans per month on Facebook leading up to the 2020 election. Another example, which came to light in 2023, involves an Israeli company that proudly admitted to interfering in over 30 elections worldwide.

If you suspect encountering a troll on the internet, refrain from engaging in arguments or acknowledging them. It is futile to attempt to change the perspective of someone who is unwilling to listen or may have ulterior motives. To effectively deal with a troll, attempt to identify any rule violations in their other posts and report them.