How to recognise trolls or fake accounts

This article is part of Fake news

Trolls or fakes are fake accounts on social media. They are created by a real person with malicious intent. But what are their intentions, and how can you recognise a troll?

What do trolls do?

The name ‘troll’ is not a coincidence. In myths and fairytales, the troll is usually a large, malicious monster who is an enemy to the main character. The same largely goes for the internet world: in that context, a troll is someone who spreads false or mean messages in order to elicit certain reactions. There is always a real person behind a troll, but they use a fake name and profile picture.

Trolls are generally used for two reasons:

  1. To provoke and elicit reactions. This is often the case on internet forums. The aim of the troll is to polarise and pit people against each other. Sometimes trolls do this for fun, but they can also have political or ideological reasons.
  2. To spread fake news. Trolls can also be used to spread disinformation. This is also meant to polarise, usually in order to amplify certain ideological positions. For example, armies of trolls spread all sorts of lies about Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential elections in order to influence the vote.

Fake accounts are also common in the reactions beneath articles. Sometimes nearly all the responses are posted by trolls in order to create a coordinated polarising debate.

3 tips for recognising trolls

  • When was the account made? If the profile is very recent, it’s very likely a fake. Troll accounts are created for certain reasons. Because people will quickly catch on to the fact that the account is unreliable, it is usually abandoned quickly after.
  • Does the account have friends and followers? Because troll profiles tend to be recent, they usually have a small network. The few friends or followers they have are usually also trolls.
  • What profile picture are they using? You can use Google Reverse Image Search to check where else the photo can be found. Trolls normally use stock images or photos that are simply stolen from other users.
Published on 19 October 2023