Can someone define "concern troll" for me?

Continuing the discussion from A case of discrimination based on white-passing status and assumed cultural appropriation:

I have heard the reference to “concern troll” a few times, and I think I understand what people are getting at – but can anyone define it succinctly for the audience, with a few clear, simple-to-understand examples?

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I’d say a concern troll is someone who makes a comment using words and phrases that sound like a person who is actually concerned/cares, but in reality is being an asshole.

“I’m really worried about your health, do you think that chocolate shake is really a good idea for you?”

The same phrase, to a diabetic relative might be real concern for a loved one’s health, but it is more often a way of shaming someone, while maintaining deny-ability. It’s a kind of camouflage.


A “concern troll” is someone who opposes something, but disingenuously pretends to be an advocate for it while offering sabotaging criticisms - faking concern.

Republican: “I like Obama, I wish I could vote for him, if only he was more of an advocate for eliminating affirmative action I would.”

A lot of people get labeled “concern trolls” when they aren’t, so it’s rarely a helpful label.


Eh, I’d say when used correctly it is one of the most cunning identifications possible. Like with anything, overuse or overly broad use is where the problem is. For example, in some circles “that’s ad hominem” is just about the most useless thing you could say because it’s being used overly broadly (ad hominem is when your argument is actually to discredit your opponent by maligning their character rather than the substance of their argument; in circles like I’m mentioning here, countering someone’s points and then calling them a fuss-ended bus-widget might be mislabeled as ad hominem).

A good example of concern trolling that I see almost daily is someone dumping on a fat person who eats well, exercises daily, and whose doctor says they’re perfectly healthy. “I’m happy you’re happy but aren’t you worried your unhealthy ways are going to catch up to you? I want you to live a long life, not die in ten minutes.” Slight exaggeration on the form in the second half of that last sentence but otherwise fairly par for the course.

Having not delved into the original context, I can’t say whether or not I’d agree concern trolling was actually going on. But I’m not the final arbiter anyway.

EDIT: Having now read the context, I don’t see a point for the thread to exist in its current state and also don’t see the thing being accused of concern trolling as concern trolling. Don’t feel like delving into that conversation and where I fall on it but I think the “concern troll” in question responded in pretty much the same tone as OP and therefore qualifies as a smackdown. Again, not making any judgments on the merits etc. of either side.

Further edit: I’m not saying the original thread should be deleted. Simply that it’s not clear why it should have been made on BBS.


The biggest problem is that it’s speculating about someone’s motive on the internet. That’s rarely knowable so in throwing it out you plant seeds for fruitless arguments about motive.

Secondarily, there’s already a better term for the phenomenon, arguing from bad faith, which is more clear, while “concern troll” is muddled and unclear as the original question shows.


I’ve seen it used to describe someone who is worried about something fairly unlikely and irrelevant. Like say there’s a post about a kid running a lemonade stand and giving the money to charity. A concern troll will usually pop up on that thread talking about sugar causing diabetes, the kid not following health regulations or getting a proper permit, the kid could be kidnapped, etc.


Yeah, I’ve often seen it used to refer to people who derail a discussion by effectively making “what about the kids” arguments. Not necessarily implying that they are being disingenuous, but they are “trolling” (disrupting the conversation) with their misplaced “concern”.


You can spot a concern troll by the broken arm from patting themselves on the back.

A concern troll thinks they are making a valuable contribution to the discussion, but everyone else can see they are motivated by setting themselves above the crowd. “My view of the issue is more considerate of others than yours.” No, your desire to make others feel inferior is a drag on the whole community.

Who will think of the children?


I think a troll is someone who says stuff in order to instigate replies, preferably contentious replies, rather than to help someone, express an opinion, or reveal a point of view. Websites sometimes employ trolls and newspaper “letters to the editor” sections purposely print the most trollish things they can find, in order to encourage interaction and boost income.

A concern troll is someone whose trolling is as previously described, but who uses the form of cultivating worry and concern. “Sure I understand your point of view, but someone could get hurt so we must trample your rights ivare enim euge” is a way of saying something that is intended to draw replies, preferably contentious replies.

Hypothetical situation:

One of us posts about something nifty, like, I dunno, a new game that some kid made up that you can play with your adorable pet rat.

The concern troll is the person who hijacks the thread with lots of hand-wringing about how horrible it is to keep a rat confined in a cage. Or how horrible it is that the child’s parents are allowing them to be named online (thus violating their privacy forever). Or how horrible it is that kids are playing games inside, instead of engaging in free-form pretend play outdoors with only organic twine as a toy. Those are only a few examples. Concern trolls are nothing if not creative.

Bonus troll points if they come back later and explain that they were only “playing devil’s advocate” and don’t really think the thing they were complaining about is actually a problem.

For what it’s worth, I’ve not noticed an uptick in this at the BBS. And I don’t think there’s anything inherent to the BBS structure that would make concern trolling more likely.


One that trolls with concern.

I think that this thread might offend some folk that struggle to come to terms with their feelings, and sometimes become concerned out of confusion. Could we have a little more consideration please @codinghorror ? This place reeks of privilege.


I think it’s the “hijacking” part and the “only playing devil’s advocate” part that makes them trolls, as opposed to just people with non-mainstream concerns.


As do I.
I get the feeling some people think it’s “concern trolling” when other people call them out for comments that are insulting to, say, trans folks or black people. Stuff like that isn’t concern trolling, that’s pointing out when somebody is being rude and should start rethinking the way they talk about others.
Concern trolling, to me, requires a certain amount of disconnect from the topic of the post and it requires the hijacking thing.

It’s interesting how hard it is to succinctly describe, though. There’s definitely a Meese-ian “I know it when I see it” quality happening here.


What’s the consensus on this one?

Well, I am going to flag that as off-topic, so there’s my answer.


It is possible to read the Court’s opinion in Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California, 354 U. S. 476, in a variety of ways. In saying this, I imply no criticism of the Court, which, in those cases, was faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable. I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court’s decisions since Roth and Alberts, [Footnote 2/1] that, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard core pornography. [Footnote 2/2] I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

Potter Stewart concurring in Jacobellis v Ohio in 1964 Ed Meese may have said, it, but several years, if not decades later, and if he did so in any context involving obscenity law, he was almost assuredly paraphrasing Stewart.

I wouldna consider it off-topic, but I’m very strongly suspecting a troll.

On the other claw, if he’s not a troll, but instead speaking honestly, it would be a worthwhile endeavor to spread some enlightenment.

Glurg. My bad. Misremembering details from j-school “Law and Ethics” course.

I don’t know if my definition is more correct than anybody else’s, but I agree with @timquinn @echolocatechoco @maggiek and @Jardine. the word “troll” is confusing because even though they have a trolling effect, it’s not an on-purpose troll designed to provoke the reader into anger/response. I think of a concern troll as someone who genuinely believes what they say either because they’re Church Lady-like holier than thous, or because they’re jealous of people living their lives and/or scaredy-cats who must take everyone to task for anything they perceive as dangerous. They believe they are helping, or saying what their conscience dictates, but it’s due to shortcomings in their personality.

that’s just how I use it. it seems more common than what @cleveremi and @nemomeno describe, but that could totally just be because of where I go online or my naivete.


As often as not, it takes the form of a scolding that seems designed to rebuke people for having careless fun at the alleged expense of The Innocent Children or The Helpless Animals or The Sincerely Devout or whatever poor downtrodden voiceless minority is being oppressed by our childish and self-absorbed japery.

I would have thought that those involved in the outcry against the Quadcopter Cat might have been concern trolls, except there were so many of them that their concern actually mapped over a safely mainstream-sized chunk of the population.

To a certain extent, if Ariel Castro’s body were mounted to a quadcopter and flown around the countryside, those that howled over the indignity of it all might be labeled concern trolls by some.

Not by me, though. I refuse to deal in such hypotheticals.