A gadfly screws with other people because it's amusing. Then there is the infamous Troll. What separates this character from a gadfly is that what they do is not supposed to be funny- or at least not to anyone but themselves. It's just cruel. All they want to do is see someone suffer or make a fool of themselves.
The term trolling comes from fishing (i.e. trawling), of all things. The idea is that you set out some bait and watch as your victim grabs it and writhes for your amusement. Malcontents on the internet protected by anonymity have been doing this for years, hence the widespread usage of the term. When encountered in a game, a troll is often called a Griefer. While the word and concept are based on these beginnings, the term has spread from there such that it has become a widely used term to discuss pointlessly cruel characters.
If they just want to see their victims flail, then they're a true Troll.
See also For the Evulz. Compare and contrast The Gadfly, who is relatively harmless, but can be easily mistaken for a troll on the internet. Supernatural versions of this trope can also be a Jackass Genie. Also compare and contrast Attention Whore, which nearly all trolls are accused of being, since their evulz rely on people actually responding to them. (Note, not all attention whores are trolls, but trolls are one of the worst kinds of attention whore.) The very worst trolls may qualify as pathological Sadists.
Psychology Today announced that a serious scientific study was performed on the phenonemon and baldly pronounced that "... the associations between sadism and GAIT (Global Assessment of Internet Trolling) scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists" and "both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground!"
For an article about mythological trolls, see All Trolls Are Different.
The film of the same name is over here.
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Anime and Manga
Nui Harime from Kill la Kill. She cheerfully admits to murdering Ryuko's father during her first appearance, and then later disguises herself as a male student just to screw with Ryuko all over again.
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has Meru Otonashi, who (true to her name) is extremely shy around others, and only communicates through text messages... pretty much all of which consist entirely of outrageous slander of the recipient. And don't even think about taking her phone away, because she has extras. And don't bother waiting for the battery to die. She has extras. Many extras.
Hisa from Saki. Her initial reason for having Nodoka play with her stuffed penguin, Etopen, was to collect "joke material," on her, but she soon found that Nodoka having it at her side like she did when she played online made her play better. She also allows Momo to get the impression that something happened between her and Momo's close friend Yumi, causing her to freak out.
Shippo in InuYasha, to some extent. He often makes cheeky remarks and plays pranks on Inuyasha, and needless to say, it never ends well for the young Kitsune.
Mai Minakami from Nichijou is infamous for her extreme levels of being a troll. She plays pranks on her friends, on other people and sometimes even on her own dogs, which are also trolls to some extend, or even herself, while keeping her emotionless-looking face the whole time.
Loki, the Norse trickster god, constantly trolls the rest of the cast of The Mighty Thor and the Marvel Universe at large.
Iron Will of Fan Fic/Iron Will's Foalcon Necrophilia Sex RampageIron Will trolls Sweetie Belle by dressing up as his own mother during sexual intercourse.
Yukari of the Touhou series gets this treatment a lot in fanworks, given her habit of messing about with the other characters for her own amusement.
As does Tewi of the same series, with Reisen Udongein Inaba as the most frequent victim of her pranks. Sometimes she'll prank someone else and leave Reisen to take the fall like the Karma Houdini she is.
Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg, a character from the Nasuverse, can be accused for being the responsible of most crossover fanfictions, the reason being for fun. He is the wielder of the Kaleidoscope, the operation between parallel worlds, making him able to travel anywhere across the multiverse. See 'Keep calm and blame Zelretch.'
In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the plot is kicked off by the duo's reaction to trolls on a movie review site. The movie also ends with them flying to each troll's house and beating the ever loving hell out of them.
Joker: Make me. It doesn't matter. I win. I made you lose control. And they'll kill you for it.
Grantaire in Les Miserables (2012), solely directed at Enjolras. Just look at his face during "Red and Black".
In Interstate 60, O. W. Grant, who is (mostly) benevolent in granting wishes, considers messing with people to be the best form of entertainment there is.
In Whiplash, Fletcher is an especially malicious one to Andrew throughout the film. His trash-talking and belittling ranges from harassing Andrew for his tempo and comparing him to a little girl to mocking his personal history. By the final performance, Fletcher even fools Andrew into thinking his new class will be playing "Whiplash" only to humiliate Andrew by having the band play a different song as his form of vengeance.
NyarlathotepThe Crawling Chaos of the Cthulhu Mythos is definitely this. A lot of his actions can be summed up as "he loves to meddle into human affairs without directly harming them."
In Ender’s Game, Peter and Valentine troll message boards in order to learn from the angry responses. Step 1: Troll message boards. Step 2: ??? Step 3: World domination!
Pretty much the entirety of Edgar Allan Poe's only full-length novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, is a long, mean-spirited practical joke at the expense of readers. In an age where exploration narratives were one of the most popular forms of literature, he published it without a label indicating it as fiction, made it completely unbelievable, and turned most of the plot into a series of anticlimactic moments, and the ending is infamously abrupt. First editions tend to have marginalia along the lines of "I don't believe a word of this!" and "Damned liar!". Despite this, the work has often been analyzed, especially the final chapter, which is also notable for being one of the earliest known examples of Cosmic Horror.
Wedge Antilles, in the X-Wing Series, loves to give straight-faced lies to his friends and peers. (Subordinates are mostly exempt.) Han Solo tends to fall for them, Leia generally sees right through him - "You're such a liar", she says once - and even Luke was fooled at least once - the Marvel Star Wars story in which Wes Janson dies has been worked around into a story Wedge tells. Wes himself similarly enjoys trolling Wedge, who plays straight man for him unless a line is crossed, as in Solo Command, which led to a truly amazing reversal.
A Song of Ice and Fire: There are a lot of characters in this series who dabble in occasionally baiting others in a number of ways, some more dangerous than others. But, most manage to restrict it to extreme snarkery of various descriptions and have some reason behind it that follows other goals and motives, even if they do cross the line. But, for balls-out, pointless, verbal sparring just to be as annoying as possible expressly to get a rise out of the poor victim? You really can't beat LordWalderFrey: he's built a reputation on it and manages to take a perverse pride in it. He even admits to it being one of the few pleasures in life he has left (well, apart from his young wife). And, then he serves up the Red Wedding with the help of his Family and all the "style" it entailed: it's the Westerosi equivalent of repeatedly teabagging a corpse you could only hope to create by spawn-camping with an Infinity+1 Sword you borrowed off a mate in another Guild — for a couple of hours. And, then posting it on YouTube. That's when you realize, that, although he's also being used, he's not kidding about how seriously he takes his petty amusements.
In Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser series The Mouser frequently makes comments designed to provoke, bait, annoy, or harass, solely for the fun of it. Fafhrd and the sorceror Ningauble of the Seven Eyes are frequrently the target of these remarks.
According to the spinoff book for The Thick of It, The Missing DoSAC Files, Malcolm Tucker is one. Apparently, when he can't sleep, he spends all his time thinking about how much various public figures annoy him, and vents his anger by drafting abusive emails to them, which his assistant edits down into heavily Bowdlerized, friendly versions - such as Malcolm's suggestion to Bono that he go and contract AIDS getting turned into a 'radical new proposal to increase AIDS awareness', and 'fuck off and die, pal' becoming 'have a fucking great day, pal'. However, when he sends the draft of a foul email to Sky News presenter Adam Boulton to Sam, it gets returned saying that there's 'nothing wrong with it', so Malcolm sends it as is.
Kaitou from Kamen Rider Decade is a mild example in that he only purposely trolls one particular person, but every time he's onscreen with Tsukasa, he takes the opportunity to mess with him and try to ruin his plans, complete with a grin on his face. As the show continues, he eventually becomes a bit more friendly, but then in the finale, after tearful confessions of camaraderie, he beautifully comes full circle when he unexpectedly shoots Tsukasa in the face for a season-ending cliffhanger.
Best exemplified by his cameo in the Kamen Rider Den-O movie The Onigashima Battleship (where he trolls someone else for once), which is nothing more than teleporting in, siccing copies of past Riders on the DenLiner crew, and teleporting out.
Thanks to Villain Decay, Narutaki ended up as this: after the first few episodes, he did very little other than taunt Decade every time something went wrong.
In Top Gear, the America Used Car Challenge special essentially required them to troll Alabama by writing slogans on each other's cars. This leads to them having to quickly run for the state border after their "Man Loves Rules, Ok" slogan in particular earns the ire of a veryangrymob.
Clarkson tends to be most prone to doing this and even invoked it during news segments for a while.
Sherlock Holmes on Elementary frequents a conspiracy theorist BBS as a hobby. The joke, of course, is that the hobby is studying the other forumgoers, up to and including making up conspiracies out of whole cloth.
Sherlock: I adore them. As one does a barmy uncle, or a pet that can't stop running into walls.
Joe Carroll manages to escape from prison, and take control of his cult. He occasionally calls Hardy on the phone, just to give him a Hannibal Lecture. It backfires in episode 12. Carroll calls Hardy, who reveals they found the cult's armory/training ground. Carroll and the other cultists quickly realize this means they're screwed.
In episode 13, Hardy manages to troll Carroll mocking him over the fact that Roderick has been arrested, and that Roderick kidnapped Joey. When Carroll tries to give a Hannibal Lecture, Hardy just hangs up on him. Carroll who does not take any of this well.
In season 3 of Babylon 5, Sheridan pulls an elaborate troll move on the League of Nonaligned Worlds in order to get them to agree to let Whitestar ships patrol their space. A classic case of reverse-psychology on a group who would normally argue the toss about anything that was for their own benefit.
In Sherlock, half of Moriarty's interaction with Sherlock tends to invoke this in one way or another.
Sean Connery on Saturday Night Live's Celebrity Jeopardy. He seems to get a kick out being a giant dick to Alex Trebek.
The First Evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even more so than Angelus, enjoys messing with people and causing them pain. It's not just because it cannot take corporeal form and needs to manipulate others to do it's bidding, it does so for the sheer enjoyment of hurting others, getting it's jollies at taunting about the death of those it takes the form of, and driving the heroes to evil, madness or suicide.
In Salute Your Shorts, when Mona Tibbs returns to Camp Anawana as a park ranger, she and Ug end up getting into a fight when she points out several violations around camp and threatens to shut it down if they aren't fixed. The boys decide to manipulate Ug into refusing to comply and continue to fight, reasoning that if the camp gets shut down, Dr. Kahn wouldn't send the campers home because that would mean he would have to give refunds to all of their parents, but with nowhere else to go, they would probably be sent to hotels, and all the closest hotels were next to the beach. This plan backfires horribly when the girls point that if Dr. Kahn is too cheap to give out refunds, he would also be too cheap to send the campers to a hotel, and as a result they would all instead be sent to separate camps for the remainder of the summer (all of which were even worse than Camp Anawana). The boys quickly take a 180 in their plans and encourage Ug to fix the violations and patch things up with Mona.
In one episode of MASH, the medics receive letters from fourth-grade children. Winchester, after initially dismissing replies as pointless, starts amusing himself by sending the children witheringly insulting letters criticising their ignorance and poor grammar.
Mythology and Religion
The Nigerian trickster god Edshu: In one story, he walks down the road wearing a hat that is red on one side and blue on the other. When people on one side of the road ask "Who's that going by in the red hat?", they get into fights with people on the other side who insist that the hat was blue. The god takes credit for this, saying "Spreading strife is my greatest joy."
Also from Norse Mythology, Ratotosk the squirrel: Yggdrisil is the World Tree, its roots and branches reach into all nine realms. At the bottom of the tree lies the dragon Nidhug, who spends his time gnawing on the world tree's roots and sucking the blood out of dead bodies. At the top of Yggdrisil is an eagle named Hraesvelg, who actually creates the wind whenever he flaps his wings. The eagle and the dragon hate each other. Why? Because a squirrel named Ratatosk spends all his time running back and forth, up and down the tree, telling the eagle and the dragon that the other is talking smack about them. Why is he doing this? Because he's a dick. Seriously, Ratatosk has no grand scheme, and the eagle and the dragon aren't prophesied to fight or do anything. Ratatosk is spending his free time perpetuating an animosity for no reason whatsoever.
Of course, Horus trolled him back, too. See all the entries in "The Set-Horus War of Dickery" in this article for more information.
Akita Neru is a Vocaloid character created during a troll attack in the Japanese 2ch message board accusing the characters of being pointless moeblobs, and calling everybody who used the program a misogynistic freak who wanted the illusion of controlling women. She is now considered an Anthropomorphic Personification of trolls.
The Chaos god Tzeentch can be considered this, given that he's the god of scheming, magic, and backstabbing. One example is a traitor governor asking a daemon for something that would break the Dark Angels' siege on his fortress. The daemon complies, giving him a teleport homer that allows Dark Angel Terminators to deep strike around him, quickly ending the siege.
In fanon, Eldrad Ulthuan and Ursukar Creed are considered as such. Eldrad is a powerful Eldar warlock who uses his gift of prophecy to do things like manipulate events so a Banshee's Breast Plate falls off and generally be a dick. Creed is an Imperial general with a special rule that allows a unit to be hidden anywhere◊, which was quickly taken to include Baneblades and Titans. This is usually followed by someone yelling or raging out a single word: CREEEEEED!
Asdrubael Vect of the Dark Eldar. To wit, this is a guy who once disposed of a rival archon by sending him a black hole in a giftbox. He also at one point seduced a young noblewoman and manipulated her into assassinating her own annoying father.
In one short story, he ordered a particularly resilient slave to be brought before him. He poured a glass of wine for the slave, sat him down in a comfortable chair, and began to tell him the story of how The Fall happened, and how the Dark Eldar and their way of life came to be. When the slave asked why he was doing all this, Vect explained that he simply enjoyed telling the story and that everyone in his household already knew it. Vect intentionally piqued the slave's curiosity by refusing to finish the story, and sent the slave back to the torture pits, but not before informing him that the wine he just consumed is not fit for human consumption and causes them chronic stomach cramps. What a dick.
The Jar cards of Yu-Gi-Oh!, such as Morphing Jar and Cyber Jar. They are a group of weak monster cards who all have nasty effects, such as destroying every monster on the field and Special Summoning cards at random, or forcing both players to discard their entire hands. With the exception of Fiber Jar, they are all drawn goofy smiles on their faces in their card artwork.
In The Sims 3, Sims with certain traits, evil most notably, can troll forums, and derive fun from doing so.
Hazama / Terumi from BlazBlue practically revels in trolling and taunting everyone he comes across, as shown heavily on Ragna and Rachel. By Continuum Shift, he has practically trolled the entire cast because no matter what you do, even if you Astral Finish him, he always wins. He's even been named the god of trolling! Interestingly, since he actually depends on the hatred of others to keep himself alive, his opponents are literally "feeding the troll".
As of Chrono Phantasma, he gets his just desserts but not before killing of a main character as a final fuck you.
Forum Warz is an RPG where you play a troll - an Emo Kid, a Camwhore, a Hacker, a Troll or a Perma-Noob. People contact you to bring down forums by "fighting" forum threads, derailing them, and posting nonsense until you "pwn" the entire forum.
Borderlands 2 gives us Handsome Jack. He's a petty bastard who enjoys calling up the Vault Hunters to fire insults at them. Sometimes it's just childish, sometimes it's brutally twisting the knife after a Player Punch, and sometimes it's to point out that the player is really doing terribly, but it's never for any point beyond aggrandizing himself and angering the Vault Hunters, luckily you get to derail his 5+ years of work and watch him whine about it at the end, before putting a rather satisfying Bullet/Magnetic Rail/Pseudo-Nuclear explosion (I'm serious look up the Torgue-manufactured Nukem) into his head.
This is subverted in the beginning of Video Game/Borderlands:The Pre-Sequel! where he is actually an alright guy, but the rest of the game is his descent into the Handsome Jack you meet in Borderlands 2.
Kid Icarus: Uprising has Hades, the Lord of the Underworld. This guy loves to troll pretty much everyone around him.
Mass Effect 3: Javik has been described by players as the galaxy's oldest and greatest troll. Most of his dialogue consists of him claiming various ways the protheans were more advanced than the galaxy's current "primitives", and he also loves letting someone else run their mouth and then completely shutting them down in a single statement.
He's also been known to wind up his teammates with outrageous lies about how things were in his cycle, knowing they'll never be able to tell between him making something up and a genuine Prothean tradition. For instance, when observing a poker game in progress, he casually mentions a game the Protheans "used to play" involving a sort of sacrificial combat arena... which he made up out of whole cloth, since his real hobby these days is mocking primitives.
EDI is also far too fond of jokes about robotic overlords and mechanical failures for some of the crew's taste.
Zinyak of Saints Row IV is, like, troll grand master. Every single thing he does is to mock and hurt others, and he loves causing misery to people, he loves rubbing salt into the wound, and he loves pulling petty stunts simply for shits and giggles.
GLaDOS from the Portal games enjoys torturing Chell with promises of escape from the facility and then yanking the chance away from her while taunting her childishly. Naturally, Chell being a Silent Protagonist means she'll never give GLaDOS a reaction.
Nox aka Norah in Child of Light takes pleasure in mocking Aurora for her innocence and for her choice in friendsafter she betrays Aurora. In the final stages of the game, Nox appears to prep herself for battle against Aurora's party, only to reveal she has instead activated a poison gas trap in the Temple of the Sun. When their battle finally begins, Nox declares that to Aurora that she'll help her half-sister rejoin her deceased family members so Aurora can rule down under.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines gives us Andrei, an older vampire who tends to look down his nose at most things.note Being a Tzimisce, his air of refinement and snobbery comes with a lot more casual horror than most examples of old vampires, including others in this game, but it's still there. Late in the game, in an event the player can easily miss, he calls into a late-night talk show to troll the host by telling her about various supernatural happenings, knowing full well she'll assume she's gotten a crazy on the line. This has led to speculation from players that the host of the show is herself a vampire, which would mean Andre is still trolling her knowing full well she can't give him a real response on the air.
Two old-school examples who directly target the player are the Yeti in SkiFree, who does a gloating victory-dance upon killing your skier, and the sniggering dog of Duck Hunt.
Thief has an unusual example of an Artifact of Doom also being a Troll. The Eye likes to taunt and whisper to people that come near it or carry it... for no apparent reason, it just seems to like getting a rise out of people. When in the possession of the Order of the Hammer, it repeatedly moved itself out of their vaults and over their Cathedral's altar whenever they weren't looking, which disturbed them. It also locks the front door when Garrett comes to steal it (why? Apparently just because), forcing him to sneak his way through hordes of undead to escape.
In arcs where she is the one who goes insane (especially Meakashi-hen), Shion Sonozaki from Higurashi: When They Cry becomes a truly horrifying troll, taking sadistic pleasure in the havoc she wrecks through phone calls and misdirection. Normally she's The Tease.
We also have Takano, who actively provokes the Hate Plague in at least 4 of the first 6 novels.
Barring ANGE-Beatrice, the witches of Umineko: When They Cry are all trolls of varying degrees of maliciousness, ranging from the capricious and amoral Lambadelta, all the way to full blown monster, as is the case with Bernkastel. The copius amounts of trolls gave the series the Fan Nick Name "Trolls trolling trolls trolling trolls."
Fate/stay night Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg is known to be a vampire, one of the most powerful beings of the Nasuverse, and the only user of the Kaleidoscope, the operation between parallel worlds. He is also known to be a prankster. This is why Zelretch is considered as one of the biggest troll of the Nasuverse, along with Kotomine Kirei, even if you never see him.
The twelve trolls in Homestuck are actually major characters. They start off as simple internet trolls, but later befriend the four protagonists and act as exposition. And they are literal trolls, i.e. aliens from a different planet.
For Dolan, a badly drawn, Ax-Crazy, rapist knock off of Donald Duck, cruel emotional torment (for his own entertainment) of the other toons is the least of his terrible acts. All of this played for Black Comedy. One of his more infamous incidents involves giving Gooby a car as a gift, only to reveal that it was a stolen vehicle, resulting in Gooby being framed for grand theft auto.
Parodied in a College Humor sketch featuring an Internet troll living under a bridge. He blocks the road and shouts racist, sexist, homophobic, or just plain inflammatory comments at people until they lose their temper, at which point they get sent flying Monty Python style. The only way to defeat them is to agree with everything they say until you can get them to unironically and genuinely admit vulnerability and the need for friendship, which imposes the same fate on them as their victims.
Parodied in episode 48 of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, where Internet trolls abduct Téa and prepare to cook her to death with their flames ("ONE STAR! DOWN THUMB!").
in one angry letter Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation was called "A Professional Troll". To him it invokes an image of a hideous creature under a bridge handing out business cards.
Russell Wilson is the designated troll in NFL Quarterbacks On Facebook, getting pretty much every quarterback who's lost to him to threaten him in the most ridiculous way possible. He particularly enjoys pissing off Aaron Rodgers.
Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic gets this reputation in the first two episodes of season 2. And continues to live up to it every time he appears from that point on.
Starscream of Transformers Prime often enjoys the suffering of others, one of the best examples being when he tried to destroy Bumblebee's T-Cog (the Cybertronian equivalent to an organ) after holding it hostage, then taunting Bee about it before escaping.
"Time to jet. Because I can!"
On Wander over Yonder, Wander deals with a tiny troll who tries to get the food from a planet of sheep warriors. Every time someone responds to his insults, the troll gets bigger and more powerful. Wander figures that the way to defeat him is to ignore him, which causes him to shrink down.
Lex Luthor admits to being one in Justice League Unlimited, as least during the second season where his entire presidential campaign was a farce to get under Superman's skin.
Avatar The Last Airbender: In "The Deserter", Aang trolls the HELL out of Admiral Zhao by using his lack of self-control against him. It's actually very effective: Zhao accidentally destroys his entire fleet in the process.
A Quailman special in Doug features S.T.U.A.R.T., an Acme-like company whose products always fail. Quailman finds out that it's because S.T.U.A.R.T. specializes in trolling their customers by deliberately having their products malfunction.
Mr. Krabs on SpongeBob SquarePants is a bit of one, mostly toward Plankton, but he also once did it to Spongebob and Patrick.
Referred to in the introduction to David Hume's Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, in which he calls people who are "entirely disingenuous, and really do not believe the opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy from affectation, from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of showing wit and ingenuity superior to the rest of mankind" the most irksome of all types of people. Hume goes on to state that "the only way, therefore, of converting an antagonist of this kind, is to leave him to himself. For, finding that no body keeps up the controversy with him, it is probable he will, at last, of himself, from mere weariness, come over to the side of common sense and reason." Had he lived to see the internet, he might well have retreated that statement.