Does being referred to as a troll or describing a person's behavior as trolling break the Be Nice policy?

Specifically, does it constitute name-calling and assuming bad intentions?

  • 1
    The problem you have here is the usage of language can have different intents. Some words are more offensive in American than in British. We can't just apply one rule to everything, instead you have to also take into account the intent of the usage of the language
    – Draken
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 14:33
  • 1
    What prompted the question? I've dropped comments before with something along the lines of "I suspect this may be a troll post" as part of the reasons for downvoting/flagging/closing and that's fine, but I don't see any situation that calls for directly addressing someone and calling them a troll in the process. If things break down that far you just flag and move on.
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 14:47
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    @Draken agreed. Troll is one of those words that changes meaning depending on context, geography and community Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 15:03
  • I'll concede that nationality affects perception, but I posit that "troll" is a word that has taken on it's own life in worldwide internet culture; it is pejorative and incites animosity rather than discussion. There are plenty of words you're not allowed to use on the internet even though they only pertain to minorities in one country. I don't think that's a good defense on Stack Exchange.
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 16:41
  • I asked this after noticing many instances of name-calling inciting uncivil discussions or even ending with users being suspended. Even if the term ended up being correct, I don't think it helped the situation.
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 16:42
  • 3
    @DoritoStyle: can you post linkes to questions/answer/comments that offend you? Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 17:13
  • Did someone actually call someone a troll? Or did someone ask if a question/answer/comment was trolling? To me, they are two different things. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 16:18
  • Specific Instances aren't important to me; I was hoping to establish some ideas in the Meta one way or another.
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 16:20
  • @JoeStrazzere I'm asking specifically about saying "this person is a troll/ is trolling", but I don't think asking someone if they're trolling is within the "assume good intent" guideline
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 16:22

6 Answers 6


If you find yourself asking a question like: "is calling somebody an X bad?", you can pretty much get the answer from "calling somebody a", regardless of what X is. Name-calling is not constructive and runs afoul of Be Nice.

(I realize that's not the exact language of the question, but I see it in answers and chat so I'm addressing it.)

It's ok to object to, and discuss, behavior. It's best to avoid perjorative terms in doing so, because that can lead to quick escalation from discussion to argument. Consider the following two comments:

You're trolling.

That doesn't seem constructive. Can you rephrase?

Lately this site has seen a lot of provocative posts, comments, and chat messages. Some of those people are very likely trolling. That's definitely not nice, and we appreciate it when people use their flags, downvotes, close votes, and delete votes to respond to that. It's...less helpful...when people engage with accusations instead. A true statement can still be a "be nice" problem.

By the way, the very best way to discourage trolling is to not engage. Don't answer their questions, don't comment, don't respond to bait in chat. A troll thrives on stirring up trouble; if you think someone is trolling, then feeding that person should be the last thing you want to do. So don't.

See also: Why should trolls not be fed?

  • PDFTT has been effective since the good old days of Usenet. just dated myself there. There were also simultaneous ignore strikes, but the acronym for the complete term is unfortunate. That said, I think that the frustration comes to those of us who see griefers coming in is that we really don't see any means to get them under control. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 16:34
  • Is calling someone a wonderful human being and kind person bad? Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 18:06
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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings and the context is that somebody felt the need to ask the question? Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 18:35
  • Which is why they say at Walt Disney World "Have a Magical Day" Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 18:37
  • Maybe it's because I'm old, but the word "troll" was taken from the fishing term, trolling, which is having multiple baited lines dragging behind a slow moving vessel. It came into 'net speak as a metaphorical act of throwing out bait in the hopes that someone would take it. Whether this was to bait someone into an answer or to bait them into a fight, the term itself was neutral. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 13:22
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    Whether a fishing term, or even a decades-old understanding of a net term, was neutral really doesn't have much bearing on current usage. "Trolling" in the Internet context has been a negative term to most people for quite some time. I don't think you're going to get much traction in trying to reform the word now, and I think it's pretty tangential for our meta. Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 15:31

The word "troll" has innocuous and descriptive definitions which can mean anything from someone posting for reaction all the way up to and including being synonymous to "griefer".

Posting a controversial topic is by definition trolling, because it will get reactions, and rather spirited ones. This is not in and of itself a bad thing, but the person is still being a troll.

When Trolling is a bad thing is when it degenerates to the point of being done to elicit a negative response or reaction from people. That does not, in fact mean that if someone reacts negatively, the person who posted was trolling. Many people will act offended to get a reaction. In that case, the person acting offended is trolling.

So, when you say is calling someone a troll not being nice. It depends on what kind of troll you are referring to. If someone is being a troll to spark discussion, it's not a bad thing. If they are being a troll by making fun of someone who just lost a family member, it is most certainly a bad thing.

IMO, "troll" is not an insult, it is a descriptive.

"GRIEFER", however is an insult as it is used specifically for someone causing a disruption in a negative form.

  • 1
    "Posting a controversial topic is by definition trolling" I disagree completely with that premise, from whence are you sourcing that?
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 16:49
  • re: IMO, "troll" is not an insult, it is a descriptive. It is a name for a description, and a reductive one at that. As I mentioned in my answer, you're then name calling about an action that assumes bad intent. I don't think there's a defense there.
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 16:52
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    I never heard the term "griefer" before. Learn sumpthin new every day... Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 17:16

does it constitute name-calling and assuming bad intentions?

At that point it is no longer assuming bad intentions, it is acting on it. The assumtion leads to questions asked to the "misbehaving" user, based on that they someone calls out an "internet troll".

Wether or not that is the right thing to do.... I wont go there.

I think it would break the "be nice rule" if the person in question actually says they don't want to be called one, anything else would stop us from being an functional community.

  • At best, calling someone a troll accomplishes nothing, at worst it upsets the user. What's the value to that?
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 16:44

In case I'm the one being cited: my usual use if the term is to explain why I'm dropping out of a conversation that appears to be deliberately structured to create debate rather than to lead to an answer. Debate is explicitly not what SE is structured for.

I agree it's probably not the most polite phrasing, and that the ideal would be for me to drop out without the parting comment and just flag and/or vote to close.

I'll work on it.

  • This isn't meant to single out specific cases; just to establish something in the meta about it :)
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 15:20

It just brings to mind an overweight ugly green chap hanging around a bridge and making people pay to cross.

I'd find it offensive, but I'm not green so no worries.


I am highly insulted whenever someone calls me a troll. Am I being overly sensitive? I think not, and here's why:

  1. Calling someone a troll implies that they don't want a constructive discussion. That is directly against the Be-nice policy of "assume good intent".
  2. It's also a reductive name, which is against the be-nice policy again for name-calling. Some would argue that it is not a name, but that it describes an action, but that only brings us back to my first point, it doesn't assume good intent.

Any cursory review of internet discussion can show that calling someone a troll is only going to upset them, and virtually never leads to constructive discussion.

I don't think the word has any use outside of inflammatory comments and it therefore has no place on Stack Exchange.

  • I asked this question in order to get feedback. If anyone has issues with my answer please let me know why.
    – user30031
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 16:43
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    I think it's a useful answer. I also think the word has legitimate uses to describe specific behaviors, and I'd point out that most trolls, even when they know that's exactly what they are doing, will pretend to take offense at the term because that is likely to prolong the useless digression.
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 8:20

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