03 September 2012

On pa-troll

The rising political passions of an election year tend to bring an increase in trolling, but it can happen at any time, and the craziest and most hateful trolls operate purely based on the random neuron-firings of their own scrambled brains, with little reference to current events.  Here's how I deal with them.

First off, there's no freedom-of-speech or censorship issue involved in moderating or deleting comments.  This is my space, period.  Freedom of speech gives a person the right to put a political bumper sticker on his car.  It doesn't give him the right to put that same bumper sticker on my car, not unless I choose to let him.  It's amazing how many people don't grasp this point.

Not everybody who disagrees with me is a troll.  I almost never reject a comment just because of disagreement.  It's when somebody adopts a rude or hectoring or superior tone, or a particular person never comments except when they have something to criticize -- well, it's obvious when you see it.  I know that rudeness is pervasive on the internet, to the extent of being accepted by many people as part of the norm.  I don't care.  I won't put up with it here.

The comment moderation originally was, and still is, necessary because of the volume of spam "comments" I get.  If it weren't for moderation, every post's comment section would turn into a thicket of ads for everything from viagra to designer handbags to Japanese porn sites.  The only reason you don't see that stuff is that I see it first.

One increasingly-common type of troll, what I call the "change the subject" troll, is actually pretty similar to a spammer.  Such a troll starts with "This is just an attempt to distract from....." or "This is ignoring....." or similar, then proceeds to tell me what he thinks I should be writing about instead of what I actually did write about.  Sorry, no.  If he wants to discuss something else, even designer handbags, fine -- but on his own blog.

All this being said, again, it's actually pretty rare that I delete a comment from a real person.  But I've seen what happens to bloggers who let trolls comment freely.  Once allowed to take root, they settle in and multiply, and comment threads turn into an interminable, exhausting mess of back-and-forth bickering.  In the case of right-wing political trolls, it's been credibly claimed that this is a conscious strategy.

As for the real psychos, the ones Cristina Rad (amusing video below) calls "haters" -- the kind of people who develop a weird obsession with you and harass you for, in some cases, weeks or months -- I've had at least two of those in the six years since I started this blog.  (It might actually have been more -- over time memories of these people kind of run together in my mind.)  One was a Christian fanatic, the other was an atheist with serious mental issues.

What I've learned from experience is that trying to reason with psychos does not work.  Trying to debate them does not work.  Telling them to go away and leave you alone does not work.  Their whole purpose is to get a rise out of you.  If you give them any sort of reaction at all, especially if you're spending substantial time and energy on them and/or getting angry and frustrated, you're feeding them.  And they will not go away.

So I give them nothing.  I delete their comments in moderation, I don't reply to them, I don't answer their e-mails, I don't write cryptic-sounding posts obliquely referring to them, I don't give them any response at all.  Once I get their schtick, I don't even bother to read their comments before deleting.  Eventually, un-fed, they go away.

I've seen what happens on other blogs when bloggers don't get this.  I've seen bloggers write paragraphs meticulously correcting some troll's distortions of what the blogger said (the Christian psycho mentioned above was quite good at deliberately twisting things I'd said in hopes of goading me into replying to correct him).  I've seen them beg and plead with trolls to stop commenting, while I'm rolling my eyes and thinking "just delete the damn comments and save your time and energy".  I've seen them responding with debate or with anger or with ridicule or with whatever, but still responding.  And the troll never goes away.  He knows he's getting under their skin.  He's being fed.

Predictable as the pattern is, it's not normal behavior.  If any blogger were ever to simply tell me that my comments weren't welcome, I would immediately stop commenting there.  Why not?  There's more interesting stuff on the internet than I could ever possibly have time to read.  Why waste time on a blog where I'm not wanted?  But the hard-core, obsessive troll is a mental parasite.  He gets his jollies from inflaming you.  I don't play that game.


Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

Amen - or whatever. ;) Anyway, I totally agree. There are a lot of excellent blogs around which I enjoy reading because I always get something out of them but I no longer leave comments when they turn into a "fuck-fest." I've never cared much for "debating" the fright-wingers anyway. Not only are they impossibly ignorant but they're so horribly disrespectful and I feel it's a total waste of time. There's nothing to be gained and, as you say, there's more interesting stuff on the Internet.

03 September, 2012 06:47  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

Well said. I think I'm going to try out your method, because I simply cannot afford to have my blood pressure reach Mt. Vesuvius levels during this campaign season.

03 September, 2012 07:17  
Blogger Ahab said...

Out of curiosity, have you also seen an upsurge in spam comments at your blog lately? I've been getting more spam (but fortunately few trolls) over the past month, and I simply delete their comments.

03 September, 2012 07:27  
Anonymous Virginia said...

I know all about directed trolls and what they try to do. Good post and nice to meet you.

03 September, 2012 08:55  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

LP: Years ago I used to almost enjoy debating them, but I'm burned out on it. It turns into the same old thing over and over, especially when one has a set of recurring "regular" trolls, as some blogs do.

MM: Exactly. It's easy to get mad and ruin one's day. Some of these people can be pretty nasty.

Ahab: I haven't noticed a rise in the level of spam particularly, but I'm not sure I would notice.

Virginia: Thanks, and hi!:-)

03 September, 2012 09:28  
Blogger krissthesexyatheist said...

Two thingies..you have enuff traffic to have trolls (play that sad violin for me) andf I forgot the second one. Have a great BBQ day.


03 September, 2012 10:15  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

You are right on, trolls clearly obtain a vicarious thrill out of stirring controversy... like poking a hornet's nest with a stick. Responding to them in any manner simply dumps fuel on the fire.

We actually had a real-life troll in our Homeowner's Association - the more we tried to address the guy's issues, the more he spun out of control. Finally we discovered that ignoring him actually denied is ability to self-indulge.

Once someone has established them self as a troll, I delete any input from them unread.

03 September, 2012 10:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

KtSA: Traffic is way up today for some reason -- maybe this post struck a nerve? Nobody's tried to post a troll comment on it yet, though. (Trollception!)

RtS: Glad you've come to the same conclusion. This at least is one line of attack that only works if we let it.

03 September, 2012 10:50  
Anonymous KanaW said...

Infidel753 - it was definitely a hit with me!
A couple of my fave bloggers allow all comments to show, and it's to the point where I don't even want to bother reading the comments there anymore.

And a resounding YES to this:

Freedom of speech gives a person the right to put a political bumper sticker on his car. It doesn't give him the right to put that same bumper sticker on my car,

That statement can be applied to just about every situation!


03 September, 2012 10:56  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Okay. This was written for me, even if that wasn't your intention.

I've been forced to go to comment moderation because of one troll, and I'm tiring of having to refute what a couple of others continue to do when they come to my blog.

There definitely is something sick about a troll who takes the time, day after day after day, to harass a blogger he/she disagrees with.

I've deleted and deleted. But after dealing with over 40 spam comments, plus sexually suggestive comments about me by this troll's sock puppet, I do admit I've been somewhat discouraged.

Eventually the moron will tire and go away, I know. Someone with that low of an IQ will need to find some other sort of low-quality amusement to distract him.

Thanks, Infidel753, for enforcing what I should already know.

Needless to say, the trolls are conservative bloggers.

03 September, 2012 16:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

KW: Thanks! That's another problem with trolls, of course -- when they're allowed to take over, they drive away the readers a blogger actually wants, who might otherwise contribute to a worthwhile discussion.

SK: This was certainly not aimed at you, but Progressive Eruptions was one of the blogs whose troll infestation I had in mind for some of it.

Thersites, I think, is just a pathetic weirdo, but Skudrunner, RN, and Silverfiddle are working straight from the (allegedly) Rovian play-book I linked to, whether they've ever heard of it or not.

You're such a prolific and intelligent blogger, I hate to see you get besieged and bogged down that way.

03 September, 2012 16:36  
Blogger S.W. Anderson said...

Your policy is understandable and I'm sure it's effective. I admit I've fallen into the trap described many a time. In recent years I've adopted a middle course, doing a brief exchange and then ignoring them after that.

I had one right-wing commenter as a regular for several years. He followed the (alleged) Rove playbook, right down the line. His specialty was demanding I provide some lengthy, detailed and documented proof of a point I was making, or to back up an argument against a point he was making. I finally began telling him nothing doing; he should get his own blog, do his own research and documentation, if he wanted that kind of thing.

I know there were and are a bunch of paid right-wing bloggers. It stands to reason there are also paid right-wing trolls.

All that said, and although it sounds like something Rove would do, the article cited and attributed to him can't currently be verified. The link to an item on The Young Turks site doesn't bring up any such story, but a sort of service page.

Googling the article and Snopes was no help either. I suspect it's bogus, or couldn't be proved authentic by The Young Turks, so the YT site had to delete it, most likely at Rove's behest. Who knows?

Even if that alleged Rove piece is someone else's handiwork, it rings true.

I will also admit there have been times when I go to a good blog, like Shaw's, leave a comment, maybe two, and then depart and participate no more in a particular thread. The three trolls you mentioned hijack the conversation and turn it into a talking-points dump of things they want to rave on about. Never mind what the post was about. I do get sick of it and sometimes don't want to go back for awhile, in part because I hate to see a good blog so disrupted and hijacked.

So, your policy makes sense. I intend to be somewhat less tolerant going forward.

03 September, 2012 20:47  
Blogger S.W. Anderson said...

Ahab asked, "Out of curiosity, have you also seen an upsurge in spam comments at your blog lately?"

I began seeing an increase in comment spam last spring, and a sharp uptick beyond that in June. I strongly suspect this is meant to harrass, waste liberal bloggers' time and discourage them from blogging. One reason I say that is because most of the posts aren't promoting an actual product or service. So, what purpose besides harrassment would they serve?

I also notice my blog is being monitored daily by IP locations in Arizona, Kansas and Texas, along with others in China, Ukraine, Russia and Romania that are known prolific spammers.

03 September, 2012 20:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SWA: It's almost immaterial whether Rove wrote the blogger-harassment play-book or someone else wrote it; it doesn't even matter whether the political trolls have read it. It describes the strategy they're following.

And yes, once the trolls have turned a comments thread into back-and-forth bickering, it's very difficult to revert to just discussing the original post. Any comment that doesn't participate in the squabbling is easily overlooked.

04 September, 2012 05:09  
Blogger S.W. Anderson said...

". . . Any comment that doesn't participate in the squabbling is easily overlooked."

That is so true.

Infidel, I have added your blog to the blogroll at Oh!pinion. I would would appreciate it if you would reciprocate.

04 September, 2012 11:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SWA: Done -- though depending on your display it may be hidden behind the video at the moment (alphabetical order).

04 September, 2012 12:21  

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