Keyboard Warriors in Close-Up

Bob Leggitt | Monday, 12 March 2012 |

‘Keyboard warriors’. Don’t you just love ‘em?… I dare say you’re not completely in the dark about what a keyboard warrior is and does. But just in case … In broad terms, a keyboard warrior is someone who anonymously sits in (invariably negative) self-appointed judgement over other people on the Internet, in an animated, confrontational, and deliberately disparaging manner. That's the overview. I wanted, however, to analyse the keyboard warrior a little more closely, paying special attention to his online relative, the troll…

The obvious starting point, then, is to distinguish the keyboard warrior from a troll. Trolling can sometimes be quite difficult to identify, and may only become fully apparent when the troll’s behaviour is sufficiently repetitive. Trolls operate in a range of different ways. Some might even appear supportive, when in fact they're just being sarcastic. This, coupled with the fact that trolls often make extremely short posts (sometimes just one word), means that a single comment isn't always enough to mark them out. Only when several of their posts are pooled together, does the overall picture emerge of someone obviously motivated purely to annoy - the classic troll synopsis.

But a keyboard warrior is easier to spot. A more theatrical and more heated character than a troll, the keyboard warrior is someone who can normally be recognised as an embittered plankoid within a single post. Whereas a troll might just use a simple line like: “Duh”, or “Don’t give up the day job”, a keyboard warrior is more prone to grandiose and verbose announcements like: “... God knows I’ve seen some crap in my time, but that is unquestionably, and beyond any shadow of a doubt, the single biggest pile of utter and complete verbal excrement I have ever seen in my 35 years on this planet!!!!!” Note the exclamation marks. Until you start using at least four exclamation marks at the end of your key sentences, you can’t possibly qualify as a keyboard warrior. There just isn’t enough venom or anger in your manner. As a keyboard warrior, you will also need to exaggerate. A lot. You cannot merely decry a restaurant as “not very good”. It must be “singularly the most abjectly abysmal restaurant you have ever had the displeasure of visiting!!!!!!!!!”

Trolls are not necessarily angry in their tone. Many of them are not even trying to make a point. They’re just trying to get on someone’s nerves, like a naughty child. Keyboard warriors on the other hand, are usually livid. However (and this is what distinguishes keyboard warriors from regular, normal people displaying their anger online), they’re livid about something that doesn’t remotely matter. Something only they, and a select group of about four other people in the entire world, could possibly be annoyed about. And that makes them even more angry. The fact that only four people in the world agree with them adds at least another twenty-five exclamation marks (!!!!!!!!), and possibly a raft of surplus CAPITAL LETTERS, to each of their posts. The very most avid keyboard warriors will also use bold print, or, if they’re truly accomplished in the art, red bold print, liberally, and with abandon.

So why are keyboard warriors so angry over such unimportant matters? Well initially I don’t really think they are. They’re more angry because someone other than them is getting attention. Let’s say you’ve come up with an idea, and people on the web are starting to acknowledge your idea as good. The keyboard warrior isn’t annoyed by your idea – he’s annoyed that it’s making you popular, and it’s taking attention away from his posts.

He is genuinely angry, because people are more interested in you than him. But he obviously can’t divulge his motive, because jealousy isn’t a characteristic that’s gonna make him look good or win him friends. So he makes out that he’s instead angry about your idea, or something you’ve done, or something you’ve said… It doesn’t really matter what. He just wants to invert the balance of attention in his own favour, by getting people to think you’re stupid, and that he, as the person who spotted the fact, must be clever in comparison. This explains why most of the stuff he’s apparently so angy about, doesn’t remotely matter – except to him.


People say you should ignore keyboard warriors, but I’m not so sure that always works. I've had replies from keyboard warriors whilst posting on forums, and their typical message has been that I’ve basically written the most stupid thing they’ve ever seen on the Internet in their lives. One, I remember, swore a lot and just ranted, and another said I wasn't mentally right or something like that – although it was sometimes difficult to pick out the actual words amid the sea of exclamation marks. I've tried both ignoring and responding to keyboard warrior posts, but have felt better about the situation when I've responded.

I think keyboard warriors are easier to deal with than trolls, because they say more. It can be really hard to put down a troll, especially if they only micro-post insults at you. You can’t illustrate how stupid they are, because you simply don’t have any information on what their own stance is. Consequently, you pretty much have to ignore a troll. But keyboard warriors usually do give you their own point of view, and best of all, it’s usually wrong – because let’s face it, if they actually knew anything, they’d be doing something more useful than storming round the web stamping their feet, wallowing in jealousy and tearing into people who are trying to do or say something of value.

I personally feel the best approach with keyboard warriors is to patronise them. Never lower yourself to the point where you're throwing insults back at them. Simply explain why they're wrong, as if they're about six years old, then take their most venomous insult, frame it as a quote, and post a laughing smiley beneath it. That's more or less what I did with one guy on a forum, and he didn't have anything to say in response. In fact, I don't remember seeing him ever post on there again. But I'm sure he's still out there somewhere in cyberspace, reviewing shoe shops, complaining about buses, or roaming the environs of Twitter telling celebs they can't act... No, on second thoughts, maybe not Twitter. He'd need more than 140 characters for his exclamation marks alone.

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