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21st January 2005 at 00:00
Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms

It's time to come clean. For too long, I have been dodging it, but after last week's commotions, I must tackle a most unpleasant business head-on.

The TES Staffroom has a troll problem. It's a minor infestation by some sites' standards, but tedious nonetheless.

These 21st-century trolls are only distantly related to the ugly dwarves of Nordic mythology. Rather than living in dank caves or half-way up a mountain, our trolls thrive in the artificial daylight of online forums.

Most chatrooms have them, though many won't admit it. It's rather like having lice - embarrassing, uncomfortable, infinitely annoying. The advice is similar: don't scratch. Trolls demand attention. Without it they move on or die. Their sole purpose and only pleasure is to annoy genuine posters.

One example was theyesman. Whenever anyone started a thread with a question, theyesman would be there within minutes, and post his trademark "yes". So when an unsuspecting prospective student teacher asked: "Anyone heard from Liverpool Hope yet
" there, 27 minutes later, was the predictable affirmative.

But there are worse types of troll. Some adopt multiple usernames, then engage in nonsensical discussions among themselves, but turn violently on any other poster unwise enough to intervene.

Others adopt usernames close to those of well-liked posters. Or start seemingly sensible threads that turn out to be wind-ups. Or just be offensive for as long as they can.

A small group of trolls was responsible for the latest kerfuffle: the likes of SWASTIKA, chickenhead, and fakeplastictrees played some dreary games before we swatted them.

Then came feguy2005 - who, having confessed to previous troll-like behaviour, but now claiming to be penitent - went on the rampage, pulling up long-forgotten threads (a tell-tale tactic of trolls) and starting gormless new ones.

Such antics provoked another thread, "How much force is it legal to use against a cyber forum interloper?" An answer from enw suggested "boiling in oil, public disembowelling, eye gouging. The usual PHSE discussion topics really".

inky has an interesting suggestion: "Perhaps our latest crop of trolls are Guardian saboteurs." And adds: " We tend to rise to their bait, and I suppose that's because a) we often come home with murder in our hearts and b) teachers are a load of old gossips."

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website. www.tes.co.ukstaffroom

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