Rethinking toxic online/intellectual behaviors & behavers

Recently, several Watercooler threads on “trolls” and “trolling” have become active:

However, it might be useful to decontruct the identity label “troll” and consider this with a more nuanced, empathetic vocabuluary: that of the toxic influencer, and toxic influence. The following articles offer such vocabulary and perspectives:

The above essays offer links to other essays or discussions. They discuss suffering of both toxic influencers and other members of the community; the dynamics of the relationships online or in the workplace; offer practical tips for moderators and community members and others, in changing the conditions and the behaviors for more positive effect and community health.

A few exerpts:

“toxic influencer” (sometimes referred as “intellectual bully”). A toxic influencer is a person that covers a useful role in a community, but at the same time creates a toxic environment…
…when dealing with abusers and bullies, I think there’s value in recognizing that it’s a consequence of some form of their own suffering . I’m asking to empathize with them, as it’s useful…
The Impact of Toxic Influencers on Communities · Intense Minimalism

… I wanted to help him so his behavior and reputation on the forum matched the amazing quality of his content.

But, the community doesn’t revolve around him. If he truly wants to help others then he has to do it because he cares about the our community and helping members.

Anatol Rapoport formulated a list of rules, or “best antidote [for the] tendency to caricature one’s opponent… and compose a successful critical commentary”:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
    How to deal with intellectual bullies in online communities. | by Alexandra | Medium

It seems to me comparision to some aspects of the N8FP and the 4NT could be made. I also wonder what the EBTs, in suttas or Vinaya, might offer on these perspectives. Certainly, how we speak to or of each other, how to teach, how to take correction or criticism, have been topics of advice and training rules in the Teaching and Discipline…

(Mods, if this thread should be just attached to one of the preexisting threads, if links should be altered, please, just do so.)

*This post is not directed to any paricular person or discussion on SC D&D, aside from being inspired by two threads linked above. But perhaps no Buddhist speaking or reading online is immune to these issues; here’s hoping we contribute to each others’ wellbeing. *strong text


Just a curiosity. The term “troll” in the sense of the internet phenomena is derived not from the mythical creatures with the same name but from the modern English usage, of “trolling” to describe the fishing technique of slowly dragging a lure or baited hook from a moving boat."

This is because internet trolling is all about posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, either for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.
In other words, they spend a lot of time aggressively fishing for trouble with provocation and dissimulaiton. A very sad hobby indeed! :frowning_face:

Internet Slang: Where Did The Word Troll Come From?



To my mind, the Yakkhas come closest in their behaviour to our internet trolls… Often misguided, contrary in behaviour… Bullies who should be called out when they cross the line.

At one time the Lord dwelt at Āḷavī in the haunt of the yakkha Āḷavaka. Then the latter went to the Lord’s dwelling and spoke to him as follows: “Monk, come out!”

“Very well, friend” said the Buddha (and came out).

“Monk, go in!”

“Very well, friend” said the Buddha and entered his dwelling. He repeated these demands twice, but on the fourth demand the Buddha said:

“I shall not come out to you, friend, do what you will.”

And, contrary to popular perceptions of Buddhism being a passive philosophy, the Buddha did not praise those who were equanimous and silent when others were being harassed in the forum.

Then Venerable Sāriputta thought, “Even in front of the Buddha Venerable Udāyī disagrees with me three times, and not one mendicant agrees with me. I’d better stay silent.” Then Sāriputta fell silent.

Then the Buddha said to Venerable Udāyī, “But Udāyī, do you believe in a mind-made body?”

“For those gods, sir, who are formless, made of perception.”

“Udāyī, what has an incompetent fool like you got to say? How on earth could you imagine you’ve got something worth saying!”

Then the Buddha said to Venerable Ānanda, “Ānanda! There’s a senior mendicant being harassed, and you just watch it happening. Don’t you have any compassion for a senior mendicant who is being harassed?”



The suttas provide us with general guidelines on how to deal with situations. An overly pre-planned approach to dealing with unpleasant situations such as “trolling” leaves less room for intuition and acting on the spot.

“In the same way, prince, when wise nobles or brahmans, householders or contemplatives, having formulated questions, come to the Tathagata and ask him, he comes up with the answer on the spot. Why is that? Because the property of the Dhamma is thoroughly penetrated by the Tathagata. From his thorough penetration of the property of the Dhamma, he comes up with the answer on the spot.”

Oh thank goodness! I was looking for this exact sutta story just yesterday (on equanimity when there should be compassion) for a completely different reason, but couldn’t find it no matter how hard I searched, and now you have provided it for me here! Magic. Thanks!


Thanks for these very helpful articles. This quote from the extreme minimalism article stood out for me.

A lot of people stopped participating… and moving to other forums.

When people are just dominating the conversation and making the atmosphere generally hostile and unpleasant, it is natural that other people would rather just walk away and not get involved. I don’t think this effect can be underestimated.

A phrase I’ve been turning over in my head for some time now:

Do we have community of users, or users of a community?

A community of users is friendly and engaged, diverse and respectful even if there is disagreement. But users of a community need a place to push their views and agendas, and they don’t care for, nor do they nourish the community. Users are selfish and self absorbed, whether aware of their effect or not. They also require a community, they want the presence of others—but just for their own needs.


Oh my, this translation by Bh. Sujato sounds even harsher than Bh. Bodhi’s one…

I always felt uncomfortable with the tone and content of some of the scoldings by the Buddha in the suttas. I don’t have any troubles imaging that a Buddha could be somewhat different in its way to express compassion and equanimity than the average person, but I have real troubles to imagine that he would use these kinds of sentences and tone.

Do you believe it is the way he could have expressed himself?
Or could it be a translation loss? Or something else?

(Just curious to see what other people here think on this matter :pray:)

In a recent video by Ven Sujato, he taught about conceit. If you know you are good and you are too humble to admit it to yourself, this is a form of conceit. Then the venerable went on to give the lord Buddha as an example, that when the Buddha declared his superiority, this was not conceit but simply a true statement.

Doubt is described as a fetter, but acknowledging it is equally described as a virtue when there is a lack of certainty.

The teachings never ceases to throw paradoxes our way. For example, we have:

There never was, there never will be, nor is there now, a person who is wholly blamed or wholly praised.

So, when guilt is so common that it does not spare anyone, it is a cause for tolerance and inclusivity. Tolerance has no meaning apart from acknowledging evil. The attempt to eradicate evil, seems to be equally evil.

Then we have in the very next verse:

But the man whom the wise praise, after observing him day after day, is one of flawless character, wise, and endowed with knowledge and virtue.

So, we are back to square one.

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Thank you for clarifying etymology & metaphor.

Yet the characterization of toxic behaviors as some people’s hobby or as an identity to be seen as Other (and extraordinary), someone’s essence thought never-me, is something which maybe is better re examinined, imo… There’s no essence there, I think.

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It was amazing for me to read MN50. It revealed the heart of a troll.

MN50:12.1: Then it occurred to Māra Dūsī, ‘I don’t know the course of rebirth of these ethical mendicants of good character. Why don’t I take possession of these brahmins and householders and say, “Come, all of you, abuse, attack, harass, and trouble the ethical mendicants of good character. Hopefully by doing this we can upset their minds so that Māra Dūsī can find a vulnerability.”’ And that’s exactly what he did.

And that troll became Venerable Mahāmoggallāna. Reading MN50 gave me peace enough to let trolls be the owner of their own deeds.


Of course, each apparent “person” is the owner of their own deeds. :slight_smile: Whether any other person lets them be or not.

I see a rosebud, I see aphids. Observing this, examining this, the rosebud is stem, petals, other unapparent bits,… there’s a bush, and ground, and aphids are travelors, transitory. Examining this, I notice I compose metaphor, but that’s irrelevant to a rosebud, or aphids.

:slight_smile: hello, friend.


This is powerful. :pray:


Hello, friend. :pray:

In the garden I am having conversations with spidermites who insist on killing all the plants in their suicidal greediness. Spidermites and aphids are garden trolls. I’m happy letting them own their own deeds, but still have to relate to them mindfully.

I’ve scoured the internet for cures and they are of two varieties:

  • murder and ban the trolls
  • support the non-trolls and inoculate the garden with troll-eaters

So I’ve ordered predatory mites in the hopes of welcoming both mites to the garden.

The lesson from MN50 is that trolls are what they are until they are burned by their own deeds (which may take 50,000 years). Oddly, their gift to the non-trolls is the practice of non-resentment.


The lesson I take from MN50 is this:

Then Kakusandha the Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha,
addressed the mendicants: ‘Mendicants, the brahmins and householders have been possessed by Māra Dūsī. He told them to abuse you in the hope of upsetting your minds so that he can find a vulnerability. Come, all of you mendicants, meditate spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will. Meditate spreading a heart full of compassion … Meditate spreading a heart full of rejoicing … Meditate spreading a heart full of equanimity to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, spread a heart full of equanimity to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.’

When those mendicants were instructed and advised by the Buddha Kakusandha in this way, they went to a wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut, where they meditated spreading a heart full of love … compassion … rejoicing … equanimity.

Demonstration of the 3rd and 4th Noble Truths.

Edit: Also this:

in the Hall of Justice before the assembly:
‘Friend, do you still have the same view
that you had in the past?
Or do you see the radiance
transcending the Brahmā realm?’

And I’m the one to whom Brahmā
truthfully admitted his progress:
‘Good sir, I don’t have that view
that I had in the past.

I see the radiance
transcending the Brahmā realm.
So how could I say today
that I am permanent and eternal?’

Thank you for the reference, good to reread.

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Surprisingly enough Bhante, the sutta was in my mind because I had just finished reading an extract from it in the section on Equanimity in Ven Analayo’s “From Craving to Liberation”!
The serendipity of the Dhamma is beyond amazing…
:pray: :innocent: :pray:


I guess we’ve all got to start the path somewhere :flushed:

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How about “harmful online verbal actors”?

I.e. those beings who commit harmful verbal actions online?

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I think we can absolutely drop the “perhaps”. :grin: I got online only at the end of eSangha, but I have heard it kind of imploded. I’d love to read an oral history of that. Sadly, the forum that was created to replace eSangha is slowly creeping into an alt-right breeding ground.

Sometimes it is useful to talk about “trolls” as individuals, but I think it’s also really useful—as others have said—to think about trolling behaviour. Because I think many people can slip into trolling behaviour without even being aware of it. Maybe not the most vitriolic kind. So, how to know when we are committing trolling behaviour.


Can we agree that trolling behavior is akusala behavior? How do we know when we are committing akusala behavior?

There is a quality of mindfulness for it, which then leads to practice, to nourish the kusala as we discern it, in our thoughts, speech, and behavior, and to not nourish the akusala. There is understanding deeply the skillful and the unskillful.

And what is the skillful? Avoiding killing living creatures, stealing, and sexual misconduct; avoiding speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical; contentment, good will, and right view. This is called the skillful.

Not rationalizing, “I can use wicked habits of speech for the good of others and myself”; that seems nonsense. Not neglecting each other, as mean spiritual companions. But in mutual care and diligent practice, so it might be said of our behavior,

… in speech and thought they say: ‘It’s good, sirs, that he draws his spiritual companions away from the unskillful and establishes them in the skillful.’
MN5 SuttaCentral

Surely we know techniques to do this, in which to train?

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I agree with every thing you said. I think that part of the problem with online interaction is that we don’t have all the feedback that we normally get when talking with someone. I think seeing how people react to our actions is one of the ways that we can see skillful and unskillful.

Lawful — This is a key difference of toxic influencers: they operate within the rules very well, both implicit and explicit ones. They use their intelligence and awareness, so they are very careful in never over-stepping the community rules in terms of abuse and mistreatment.
From The Impact of Toxic Influencers on Communities · Intense Minimalism

I thought that article was very interesting. It showed how messy samsara is. And how deep delusion can be. That someone (or we) can be following the rules and still be a bad actor in a situation.