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How to tell if you're a comments troll

Etiquette in today's digital world can be tricky. Andrea Bartz, left, and Brenna Ehrlich are here to help.
Etiquette in today's digital world can be tricky. Andrea Bartz, left, and Brenna Ehrlich are here to help.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Andrea Bartz and Brenna Ehrlich are CNN.com's "netiquette" columnists
  • Take their quiz to find out if you're an internet troll
  • Are contributing to the online dialogue or just grunting unintelligibly?
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Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and soon-to-be-book Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they're not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as a news editor at Mashable.com, and Bartz holds the same position at Psychology Today.

(CNN) -- So you're surfing along on your favorite website when you see something that gets your plasma boiling -- so much so that that pulsating vein above your eye is about to burst.

The cause of this Web-induced stress could be an opinion that just doesn't jibe with yours. It could be that author's pompous head shot. Either way, your twitching fingers scroll to the bottom of the page -- past whatever useless garbage you have just consumed. You're going to the comments section -- that oh-so democratic zone of the internet.

But be careful, impassioned Interneteur -- at this very moment you have the potential to transform from a perfectly pleasant person into that most loathed and feared Web dweller: the troll.

While you should feel entitled to join the discussion, and while we've all "trolled out" at one point or another (the anonymity of the 'net certainly lends itself to oozing venom, like a snake doing battle with a mongoose), it's best to pause before pressing "post."

Ask yourself: Are you contributing to the online dialogue or just grunting unintelligibly? Take our quiz to learn how to rise above the Tower of Babel that is the comments section:

Question: You spot an egregious factual inaccuracy, break in logic or unsubstantiated claim in an article you're reading. You proceed to:

a). Give a frustrated sigh, log into your commenter account -- which features your real name -- and compose the following message: "Hey, [insert author name here], in paragraph three in which you describe [XYZ], you seem to be in error. [Explanation]." Then you drain the last dregs of your coffee and return to work.

b). Merely scroll to the bottom (having not actually finished the article), copy a link to your inane website/blog/product, pen a message akin to "What a useful resource for a person like me!" (bonus points if the sentence doesn't actually make sense) and paste said link under said message. You may, in fact, be a robot.

c). Completely disregard all previous comments and correct the author of his or her mistake, even though about 15 people already have done so.

d). Nearly black out with rage, roar into the abyss that is the idiocy of the internet and -- fingers all akimbo -- type: "YOU'RE SO FREAKING STUPID!!!!! I AHTE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SHUT THE HELL UP!!!!!!!" After which, you down the last drops of your Monster Energy drink, wipe the Cheetos residue on your athletic shorts and bellow up the basement stairs, "MOM!!! WHAT'S FOR DINNER???"

Now for the key:

A: Useful -- if not slightly caustic -- contribution to internet society

Congrats! You are the glue that holds the Web together. A descendent of the "lady who writes letters to the paper," you keep bloggers and writers on their terrified toes.

Other platforms to consider: Why not start your own blog? You seem to have all the answers. We suggest a simple platform, such as Posterous or Tumblr, and a branded, slick-looking homepage that integrates your blog and all of your social networks (your Twitter feed, Facebook status updates, etc). Try Flavors.me, which makes designing such a website easy.

B: The shameless self-promoter

The offspring of the still-kickin' telemarketer, you spread your insipid message where it is clearly not welcome.

Other platforms to consider: Might we suggest a less annoying option? Link exchanges. Merely ask another site to link to yours if you link to theirs. Thus, everyone wins and no one vows to track you down and murder you in your sleep.

C: The echo

Instead of making like some highly trained macaw, why not contribute to the conversation? Isn't that what a comments section is for?

Other platforms to consider: Twitter. Just go retweet some stuff, mmkay? That way you're sharing an opinion/story/something of value with your followers with proper attribution, instead of driving the moderator to alcohol abuse.

D: The classic troll

We know, we know -- puberty can be a difficult time. There's your changing body, the fact that you have yet to kiss a member of the opposite sex, the -- Huh? You're 45? Nevermind. Say "hi" to your mom for us. ...

Other platforms to consider: Formspring.me. This platform allows members to ask anonymous (if they so choose) questions of other users who are crazy/brave enough to invite such inquiries. The site has gained some cred lately -- allowing users to post questions to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Blogger and Wordpress -- but it's definitely a prime spot for those who enjoy ragging on others for no reason except their all-consuming insecurity (i.e., amid the legit interesting queries, questions of the"'Why are you so stupid?" variety are unfortunately common.) Do what you will, but don't blame us when someone terms-of-services you into oblivion. Actually, better yet ... go outside for once.

[TECH: NEWSPULSE]

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