- They reply to a non-hashtagged tweet of yours
- They reply to a non-hashtagged conversation between only people they don't follow
- They reply to month-old (or more) tweets
to argue in any of the following ways:
- They mainly speak in talking points.
- Everything they say seems designed to be more inflammatory than informative.
- They engage in nitpicking minutia to make the conversation into arguments over that, instead.
- They attack only in fallacies; Strawman everything you say, use Ad Hominem attacks & Genetic Fallacies, they appeal to authority or popularity, etc.
A subset of this is the hyperbolic strawman - replying to a comment that does not contain absolutist words like "all," "always," "only," "never," as if it did, or replying to a statement containing "can be" as if in instead contained "is" or "are."
Example: You say "Women can also be violent." They reply "There are many women who are nonviolent! What are you talking about?" You didn't say "All women are violent." The person is using a hyperbolic strawman.
- They respond to you discrediting one of their assertions by simply abandoning that one and making another assertion, often seeming to move down a list of the aforementioned fallacies.
- They get mad if you make your position too clear and specific for them to spin it into a strawman. This will often be demonstrated by a use of loaded questions to try to redirect you to the strawman they want to confront, followed by a temper tantrum if you refuse to deviate from your actual position in response to their loaded questions.
- They demand explanations for the obvious & proof of long-established facts, but refuse to explain or provide evidence for anything they say, regardless of how outlandish their assertions are.
Example; it's on you to prove getting stabbed can be painful or a well-known documented historical stabbing happened, but it's not on them to prove that stabbing is a gendered behavior or that the effects of being stabbed are different for people of different ethnic backgrounds. This behavior often gets defended by articulating the fallacious belief that if some perceived truths turn out to be false, nothing can ever be genuinely known to be true. A simple look at physical representations of elementary-level math equations demonstrates why that is a stupid belief.
- They seem bent on steering the conversation away from its original topic/point or on steering you into defense of a point that is beyond the claim you have made. Any response you make will be twisted into evidence of your position on the new topic, and the game continues from there.
Example: You cite evidence that an assertion about person A, who also happens to be black, is untrue. Troll tries to steer you into defending the unstated argument that the assertion is never true about any black person. Your response is "evidence" that you concede, that you hate black people, or that you think they are above any & all criticism.
- They respond to a topic using a counterargument against an off-topic assertion you did not make, usually based on presuming your political perspective based on the current discussion. This is to drag you into a debate over the new topic in the apparent hope that you'll defend the off-topic strawman. They'll usually treat pointing this out as an act of dodging that topic.
Example: You tweet opposition to an unethical action. Troll takes your tweet as endorsement of the political opponent of the person who engaged in that behavior and from there, presumes you to be politically aligned with that opponent. Troll then replies to your tweet with a counterargument against an item from said opponent's political party's platform.
- They run in packs. While you are engaged in discussion with Troll A, Troll B (who often doesn't follow either of you) will begin replying to your replies to Troll A using some of the methods described above.
Another telltale sign is if you get two or more accounts that never respond to you at the same time & all talk the same way, same vernacular, same vocabulary. Watch for the same spelling errors. When this happens you're dealing with one person piloting several sock puppets.
- The Churlish Shuffle: engaging in deliberate obfuscation. Example, treating counterargument against point A in a thread about point A as if it is an assertion about point B which is not part of that thread, or treating your argument as if it is self-contradiction based on an acceptance you did not make of an assertion of theirs.
- I Love Egg Salad: The troll has a contingent of accounts with almost no followers, no avatar, and little to no history who do nothing but "heart" or "like" and retweet the troll's tweets. Even more interesting, sometimes several of these will revolve around one troll, and their retweets & likes of that account's tweets seem timed to drag you back to the discussion after it's over. It's particularly telling when the troll account also has very few followers and the discussion isn't highly visible yet a few dozen "egg" accounts come out of the woodwork to like and retweet the troll's tweets, one at a time, at regular intervals, all over the course of a day or two.
- "Shift change" syndrome: At some point in the discussion, the person you're arguing with appears to have no memory of earlier parts of the conversation. This manifests in anything from repeating previously debunked arguments as if they're new arguments to asking repeatedly for information you have already provided to outright denying that earlier parts of the discussion happened.
- The debate that never ends: After reaching a dead end with you, or in the midst of a heated exchange on a particular topic, they make a vague reply to earlier parts of the conversation several tweets up the thread, which they've already replied to (and you've already answered their replies.)
Doing so from a dead end is a way to keep a finished conversation going.
Doing so in the midst of a heated exchange is an attempt at confusing you or getting you to respond to a reply to tweet A as if it is a reply to tweet B, which says something different. It's a direct attempt at tripping you up by getting you to reply to what it appears was being argued instead of what actually was.
- Replying to you only in "retweet with comment" tweets rather than direct replies when the "comment" is not a comment to others about your tweet, but a direct response to it. This breaks up the discussion and makes it harder to trace back through earlier parts of the argument to prove what what already has been said & who said it.
The overall point of these trolls is to redirect you away from conversation about concepts, ideas, news, or other topics that challenge a narrative the troll wishes to protect. I've found that these tend to be most active whenever certain news topics begin to trend, such as conservative political events, news stories which expose information about the Oligarchy within the U.S. government, men's rights or antifeminist topics, and evidence against the narrative used to attack #Gamergate.
While the temptation to engage them simply because "OMG, someone on the internet is wrong!" the most effective way to deal with these trolls is to point out that's what they are, and move on. Being targeted by a Red Herring Troll should indicate to you that you were doing something important, and doing it effectively enough that someone, even if it was just the troll himself (no need for this to be a conspiracy for it to be happening,) wanted you stopped.
How do you win? By not letting them make that happen.
Kick the troll aside, and stay on target. Let them rant and rail, call you names, accuse you of bad faith and ill will... and keep talking about whatever it was you were talking about when they began their attempt to derail.