Trolls are no longer simply villains in children’s stories, they are becoming an increasing problem in today’s social media age.

The modern-day definition of a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or offtopic messages online, such as in forums, chat rooms, blogs or social media with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise causing controversy. Their activities often come to light around high profile emotional or traumatic events.

For example, in recent weeks, one Twitter user has been given a community sentence for racially abusing Stan Collymore on Twitter; another user subjected Billy Sharp to horrendous abuse in relation to the death of his new-born son and a third user was jailed for 56 days after admitting incitement to racial hatred after posting a number of profoundly racist comments on Twitter following Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest.

Trolls’ activities are frequently highly offensive and upsetting, which is not helped by the mainstream media further publicising the trolls’ actions.

As can be seen from the recent examples, trolls may be in breach of a number of laws including the Malicious Communications Act, Communications Act, Protection from Harassment Act and Public Order Acts. Sending grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, racist or menacing messages is likely to constitute at least one criminal offence, irrespective of whether the person targeted actually reads the message and persistent messaging can constitute harassment which would entitle the victim to obtain an injunction.

The police will take action when they have the resources and prosecution is in the public interest, however, at least one force has admitted that a recent successful prosecution would not have been possible without a full investigation report being produced by a socalled “troll hunter”.

When someone has been posting anonymous comments, the first step to take is to identify that individual. There are a number of tools which can be utilised to do so, as Oliver Crofton from Vigilante Bespoke explains below.

Although the internet is seen by some as anonymous, everything we do online leaves a “digital fingerprint”, which in some instances can be traced to uncover valuable identifying information.

During investigations we look to uncover IP addresses (these are unique codes that relate to an individual home or office internet connection), which can often lead us to the street address of the person posting the nasty comments. In some instances, website server connection logs can be analysed, which can give us the mac address (a computer’s name and location) of the computer being used to post the unsolicited content.

Simple tools also help when tracing people online, such as indepth online searches for usernames; as these are often used across several websites and each website may vary in the amount of information available about their users.