The original definition of an internet troll is somebody who purposefully posts something inflammatory or purposefully incorrect online in order to gain the attention and ire of fellow internet users. However, these days it is used in a general way to describe anybody who posts malicious or offensive on the internet. Trolls tend to target places that are easy to sabotage or have a large audience that are otherwise sympathetic, like Wikipedia, or Facebook memorial and tribute pages for deceased people. Due to the anonymity of the internet it is very difficult to locate and prosecute offenders.
This has sparked linguistic experts at the university of Central Lancashire in England to begin development on an automated system to track and identify certain word patterns and vocabulary often used by these malicious users. From the article:
Claire Hardaker, lecturer in linguistics and English language at UCLAN, said: "Everyone has a unique way of writing, of putting certain words together, which is subconscious.
"Many teenagers say they are able to identify who sent a text to them - just by the style of writing and word habits or the way the words are written.
"Someone might be pretending to be someone else, but by analysing the way they write online, we can determine a probable, age, gender - even a probable region from where they come from.
"In its simplest form, people use different words for things - for example a bread roll. Some people would say a tea cake, some people would say a barm - it is these sort of elements that help to narrow down a search."
It is proving hard for authorities to trace so-called trolls and there have only be two people in England successfully prosecuted.
In related news, next Tuesday is Safer Internet Day, an annual event with the purpose of encouraging people to be safer online. Remember: don't feed the trolls.