Troll-hunting 101.

I see that Ace of AoSHQ has had enough of his comments section. I don’t know the details – and I don’t give a tinker’s dam about the details, frankly – but I do have several rules of thumb for running a comments section.

  • Be vicious to trolls.  It’s not like you’re depriving anybody of food or oxygen.
  • Be capricious.  If you’re consistent, they’ll know where the line is; if they know where the line is, they’ll skate to the edge of it.
  • Be indifferent to trollish suffering. Being called a facist (not a typo: most trolls can’t spell) who’s suppressing free speech* is not a cause for concern; it’s semantically equivalent to “You’re doing your job.”
  • Be obnoxious. Trolls do it because it amuses them to do it.  Being made fun of is not amusing, particularly when you can enforce a ban.  Remember: they need your site more than your site needs them.

It all boils down to this: every so often you have to shoot a troll, the better to encourage the others. It’s fun!

Moe Lane

PS: None of this applies to this personal site, as my commenters here are all perfectly nice people who don’t provoke a heavy hand.

*By the way: the Internet is not public property.  It’s a collection of various sites, most of which are privately owned.  You do not have free speech rights on private property.  It’s amazing how many ‘libertarians’ don’t get that.

47 thoughts on “Troll-hunting 101.”

  1. I disagree with all but point 3. Silence is the only thing that kills trolls. Being obnoxious gives them the oxygen of attention. Ignore them if their trolling is mild; eventually they’ll go away. Delete or ban them when it crosses the line. Never argue, insult, or interact with them, as it only encourages them.

    1. Oh, no, Lawrence: you do all of this WHILE YOU BAN THEM. Then they go out and boost your site by bitching and moaning on other forums. We used to try to encourage I-Hate-RedState sites for that very reason, until we realized that the people who try to create them aren’t exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer.

      Also, mild trolls are the best kind: they’re smaller and slower, so you can get a good impact splatter going when you squish one. 🙂

  2. Been a long time lurker at AoS, the insight from them will be missed. Hopefully they will be up and running soon. I only comment here because I like Moe and the other commenters, this place tends to stay friendly and I hope we can keep it that way. I think the fact we are all pretty geeky helps keep it that way.

  3. Moe, I like your attitude toward trolls. Many are just creeps who inject their nasty little comments for irritations’s sake, but some are political trolls who are there to take a comments thread off-subject, and of course some are just miserable little cowards who don’t have the guts to say venomous things to people’s faces. Any of them, however, should be dealt with exactly as you so cleverly describe.

    I mostly lurk at AoSHQ, although I have been known to comment there occasionally. I’m probably one of their most polite posters (I know, that’s somewhat out of place there, but I have a weird sense of humor). I may not, anymore, because I don’t want my comments showing up on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else. It’s too bad, really. It was fun while it lasted, but trolls spoil a lot of things. That’s why I wish the ban-hammer were considerably more active than it is.

  4. Ace went dark on Friday as a protest over the Brett Kimberlin stuff. He posted a single, lengthy post detailing the situation and offering solutions. Despite repeatedly being told to stop, several commenters kept up with posts about violence towards BK, harassing him like he’s allegedly harassing several bloggers (SWATting, lawsuits, etc) and generally doing everything Ace asked them not to. He repeatedly told everyone, last night and in the past, that “this isn’t blog war bullshit, this is about people’s safety and well being being endangered.” They didn’t listen, so he shut it down. I think that’s a mistake, but it’s his life, his site, his call.

  5. Spegen, I have bad news for you: most geeks/nerds aren’t conservative in the least, and even the less liberal of them tend to be more libertine than libertarian. Visit your local SF/fantasy convention and experience this bitter truth for yourself, or learn from my experience, it’s up to you. Me, I am grateful to our gracious host for maintaining one of the few lonely outposts of conservative nerdiness on the Net.

    Also, I completely agree with his attitude toward hereticstrolls. They must suffer for our amusement before purging. 😉

  6. It don’t think the problem isn’t Trolls so much as it is idiots and *ssh*l*s.
    A Pathfinder fanboy who posts on the D&D Next forums is a Troll. He might also be adding something useful to the discussion. Any comment that is deliberately written to provoke an emotional response is “Trolling”. But these can be some of the best comments, and provoke the most interesting discussions.
    Ace’s problem isn’t Trolls. Nearly all of the regular posters qualify. It’s the idiots and the*ssh*l*s.

  7. Wombat: I agree more of the geeks at conventions are more libertarian, I also suspect the more conservative ones just stay quiet like many others in society. It is easier to be quiet than to be attacked, ironically bringing it back to what’s happening at AoS

  8. my commenters here are all perfectly nice people

    HEY! Who’re you calling “nice?!”

  9. Yeah, what Beej said. Also, Moe, I have to respectfully disagree with you on one thing. Anyone who’s a real libertarian understands that the foundation of liberty is property rights, and that my rights as a forum owner trump the rights of anyone else to speak without permission. The people you see pulling that crap usually fall into one of three categories: 1) people who could be libertarians as soon as they get a bit more educated, 2) people who have a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment and what it says, and 3) trolls who seem to recall conservatives/libertarians being “big” on free speech and who seek to use it as a weapon. The overlap between those categories is quite large, too.

  10. “Permission” was a bad word. “Sanction” would have been a better choice.

  11. “trolls who seem to recall conservatives/libertarians being “big” on free speech and who seek to use it as a weapon”
    There is also, IMHO, an active campaign from the left to stifle conservative speech. One of the ways to do that is to make their forums unpleasant, to force them to abandon their sites out of disgust. They are desperate to see things back to the pre-Rush, pre-Internet times when their allies in the press monopolized the flow of information.

  12. Rob: that was the point I was trying to make, the left is doing all it can to scare people into silence. Most people aren’t willing to become the next victim of the lefts 2 minute hate

  13. Also, another point for Ace: Learn what proxies are, or make sure somebody on your tech side knows what they are. Know in particular what Tor (The Onion Router) is, and prepare countermeasures.

  14. We had to close our comments years ago due to
    trolls from atf. I like your trolling advice Moe.

    PS And, we’re a very small blog!

  15. 90% of comments (including this one) are crap anyway. It’s not like the rest of us suffer when the banhammer comes down on a marginal troll (or a Godwin or a “me too”). It should be used early and often.

  16. Admittedly, I do enjoy a good rhetorical teardown of the poster children for Romans 1:22 known as “trolls” … but there is more than mere enjoyment that justifies a vigorous response to a troll, as opposed to the usual advice about silence.

    When falsehood is left unchallenged in a public forum, others may see it and – in the absence of a counter-opinion – assume it is the truth, if for no other reason because it was left unchallenged. That’s how idiocy gets turned into conventional wisdom.

    OTOH, a vigorous, well-thought-out rebuttal is an opportunity to educate dozens (or more, depending on how popular the forum is) of people who you may never meet … let alone interact with on a comments thread … about the fallacy being advocated by the troll, and your alternative way of looking at things.

    I recommend, as an example of just such an exchange, pulling out a Bible and reading Matthew chapter 4 … where the ultimate troll is vigorously rebutted thrice, with a high-and-hearty “IT IS WRITTEN!”.

    I don’t expect the troll to change his/her mind, usually … my target audience for the rebuttal is more the lurker, or the thinking man who might need a better way to explain/present what he already believes in, in the face of unprincipled challenge.

    As for charges of censorship that get thrown around when a troll gets banned … my recommended response is that sometimes used by one of the earliest milbloggers, Lt. SMASH:

    “It’s not censorship … it’s quality control.”

  17. Be capricious. If you’re consistent, they’ll know where the line is; if they know where the line is, they’ll skate to the edge of it.

    Heh. When I was blogging, my rule boiled down to this: Don’t piss off the host. And of course only I knew what would and wouldn’t cross that line on any given day.

  18. The world wide web is made of web sites. The Internet includes the world wide web and much, much more. It is amazing how many bloggers don’t understand this. That said, I can’t think of any part of the Internet that is public property.

  19. David – DNS root is ultimately a US Department of Commerce operation though they do farm it out to Verisign. Also .mil and .gov and their shadows elsewhere are almost by definition public property.

    Everybody owns chunks of the Internet including governments.

  20. I must admit I love to nuke trolls. Insult them and destroy the last little bit of their self-esteem. Make them feel completely ignorant with my encyclopedic knowledge of the facts they are trying to argue.

    I generally cut them off when they begin repeating the same arguments already refuted.

  21. What has always amazed me is
    1)how much trolling appeals to the left;
    2)how many leftie trolls there are; and,
    3) how much time leftie trolls have on their hands.

    I am convinced there is a loosely organized effort by Dems/libs/leftists/Communists/statists/totalitarians/Occupiers/”Anarchists” to troll and derail comments at conservative/libertarian sites (just notice how often the very first comment in a thread at such a site is from a liberal doing his/her best to cause chaos). It’s almost like they never really believed all that stuff about free speech and the Constitution they spew when they can’t get traction.

    Being a leftist dupe is such an angry, cynical profession.

  22. Tch. I came here for a discussion of the Norwegian movie. Sigh.

    (A quite good movie, by the way, except for the annoying shaky-cam. The trolls are especially angry when they find Christians. Highly recommended.)

  23. “troll” is much too lame a name – I suggest we start calling it “cockroach”.

    It’s a must more descriptive term.

    It runs when the light is turned on, but damn, you’re not sure where it’s been or what it may have touched.

    Some even stink when you squish them.

  24. Great guidelines, though consistently enforcing high expectations might be more effective than capricious moderation. I especially appreciate not being required to register in order to comment. In return, I feel I have an obligation to be civil and reasonably on point. Moderation can be a nasty, tedious job. Hats off to those who do it successfully.

  25. Is a facist someone who faces up to facts? Maybe that’s why leftists call us that so much… (I’m libertarian: thanks to Demosthenes for his comment.)

  26. I’ve always thought of commenting on a blog the same way as if you were in the hosts house.
    If you’re a guest, you dont p*ss off the host. You may disagree with the host or other guests, but you will do so politely, and you will explain clearly why you are disagreeing.
    And you do not do or say anything that you think might get the host in trouble.

  27. I’m a fan of deletion. They’re comments just go poof, no warning, no explanation, _no attention_. You should make sure they’re actually trolls and not simply disagreeing with you, but this is the best way to take away the attention they crave.

    And you have to delete comments *replying* to trolls. Many commenters are well meaning but easily trolled. I’d give a simple explanation:

    “Any comments that are trolling, spamming or abusive in nature will be deleted immediately. Any comments, however well meaning, that replied to the comment before it was deleted will be deleted along with it. Any comments about this policy will be deleted. We’re here to provide a forum for discussion, not a place where some sad sacks can get their rocks off manipulating people.”

  28. Pardon a probably dumb question. Are there sites that survive on the number of hits or posts made on them? There’s a particular site, a big one few of you probably frequent, that absolutely refuses to ban even the most egregious assholery, even when it’s been pointed out over the course of YEARS. It’s not that the mods aren’t watching – they are. They’re often involved in discussions. But trolls drive arguments (you’d think people knew better by now) and they just let it run.

    So does tolerating persistent trolling = $$$ ?

  29. I’d like to encourage more trollery on left wing sites. Specifically pushback on common memes such as identified by Jonah Goldberg as unchallenged cliches. It can actually work, and it can actually change the course of debate.

    For instance, I always challenge “the rich take too much of the pie” meme. There is no pie, no one decides who gets what, and the “pie” is a measure of contributions to a total. Ergo the rich don’t take they contribute. It’s been gratifyingly effective.

    Try it you’ll like it. Don’t curse and keep the personal insults to a bare minimum, don’t allow moving goal posts or distractions. Ignore trollish responders, and be four times more civil. They hate that.

  30. Once upon a time, I thought that banning was an act of cowardice (yes, I used to go to Little Green Footballs, but didn’t post enough to be banned; left on my own). Now that three near-psychotic Jew-haters are hijacking almost every Israel-related thread over on Breitbart, the truth of your point of view is self-evident.

    BTW, Mr. Lane, thank you for being an evil giraffe.

  31. Many years ago, a blogger posting under Hog On Ice would not only ban them but also would rewrite their pseudonymously posted comments to make them look extra stupid. And then made fun of them when they privately emailed to object. I guess that was a wilder and woolier time.

  32. One of the problems with nailing down trolls is that there are two common definitions of trolling still in current use. The more pejorative sense is the fellow who lives under a bridge, which he doesn’t own, demanding a toll of all who pass: this is the troll who simply won’t shut up and responds to every single post as though they own the place.

    The other sense is that of a fisherman slowly passing throuh, dangling a hook out, seeing what will bite. Many times the first kind of troll engages in this, but much of what drives the so-called blogosphere lies in getting people to respond. Ergo, the entire system is a giant trolling operation.

  33. Unfortunately, many people don’t even know what a “troll” actually is.

    They consider any post that doesn’t just rubber stamp whatever they said to be a “troll”. If you think this post is a troll, you are one of those people.

  34. The problem isn’t simple disagreement, “Look”, but the refusal to engage in a meaningful debate. If someone hasn’t changed their position in ten years of starting fights on blogs, has never even changed their rhetoric, never even considered for a second that the other position has merit, they are a troll and should be given an instant banning.

  35. Rob, even though they might not change their mind, I will respect a reasoned opinion even as I dissect its flaws.

    OTOH, when the only thing you’re getting from ’em is the same ol’ D3 (discussed/debated/debunked) talking points we’ve all heard before, the best response I can suggest is to call ’em as you see ’em …

    … and ask them if they wanna cracker.

  36. You missed one important step:

    Edit the troll’s comments for “clarity”.

    Being able to leave their excrement on other folks blogs is their prime motivation. If you aren’t going to remove their comments, then at least edit them for your own amusement.

  37. “would not only ban them but also would rewrite their pseudonymously posted comments to make them look extra stupid.”

    I did unflattering troll edits all the time when I was actively co-blogging at the HQ.

  38. Moe, you smell like an elephant’s butt. In fact, all of the commenters here smell like elephant’s butts!

    Nah. I’m just kidding. You probably all smell fine and are nice people. Damn, I’d make a terrible troll.

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