Difference Between a Troll & a Cyberbully

By Micah McDunnigan

Internet trolls are indifferent to the distress they cause.
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The Internet may be a domain of unbridled free expression, but not all of that expression takes the form of polite discourse. Some use the openness and anonymity of the Web to spew hateful messages. Among these are cyberbullies and trolls. While the distinction between the two may seem irrelevant to their online victims, there is a difference between what trolls do and what cyberbullies do. Trolls seek to rile online communities and attract attention to themselves, while cyberbullies just want to use the Internet to hurt their victims.


Trolls are visitors who leave inflammatory comments in public comment sections. Whether they comment on blog posts or online news sites, they are looking to grab the attention of other visitors and disrupt discussion that would otherwise be about the page's content. Trolls do this by posting comments that are hateful, racist, sexist or profane. Trolls might make the content, the author or even other commenters the target of their incendiary comments.

Troll Aims

Internet trolls seek attention. They want to shift attention from the author's content and conversations about the content onto themselves. They want responses to their inflammatory comments from the original author as well as other commenters. The more attention they get, in the form of comments directed at them, the happier the troll is. The more attention they get from a website and its readers, the more likely they are to troll that website again.


Whereas trolls focus on being a nuisance to online communities, cyberbullies target individuals. Rather than post generally inflammatory statements, they post vicious things about a single person with a goal of shaming or intimidation. This could take the form of mean-spirited messages, private pictures or private video concerning the individual the bully is targeting. They could post the information publicly, or send it only to their target as a form of taunting.

Cyberbullying Goals

While trolls try to attract attention to themselves, cyberbullies want to demean and hurt their victims. Trolls are indifferent to the harm their comments may cause. They do not care if their comments cause people emotional distress or not. All they want is a reaction from the community they are trolling. Cyberbullies do not want attention for themselves, but negative attention on their victim. All they want is to cause distress for their victims.