27 February 2018

On pa-troll

The rising political passions of an election year tend to bring an increase in trolling, though 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 a blog, not a discussion forum -- it's my space.  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 to criticize and attack, or they hijack a thread off-topic -- 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.

One 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 simply goes off on a tangent, telling 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, fine -- but on his own blog.

Another type which has been growing more common lately is the "time-waster" troll.  His gambit is to post a quite short comment, usually only a sentence or two, at minimum cost to himself in time and energy.  His comments are often full of typos and grammatical errors, since he doesn't bother to proofread them.  They're often barely related, or unrelated, to the post topic.  Their purpose is not to make a coherent point but to get others to waste time and energy responding -- which they often do, to the tune of full paragraphs of argumentation, which the original troll seldom even bothers to read.  At the cost of less than a minute of his time, he's made you waste twenty or thirty minutes of yours.  He wins.

All this being said, again, it's 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 target this blog, both several years ago.  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 a blogger were to 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.  You probably don't.  But be aware that some people do.

[Re-posted from September 2012 with some modifications.]


Blogger Harry Hamid said...

I haven't generally had much trouble on my page (I don't do a lot of politics there), but I've seen some of my favorite pages get destroyed by the kind of behavior you're talking about.

I've always wondered why some bloggers allow a disgruntled commenter, who appears to hate the blog anyway, basically take it over. Maybe the bloggers are just too polite or don't see that it's happening.

I don't have enough time to spend on this sort of thing to allow the time I do have to be wasted on such folks. Good for you for sticking to it, too.

28 February, 2018 06:51  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Harry: I think part of it is a misunderstanding of the free-speech issue. They think they're obligated to provide a public forum.

I've already had a troll comment on this post (zap!).

28 February, 2018 08:10  
Blogger W. Hackwhacker said...

"This is a blog, not a discussion forum -- it's my space." -- Exactly. Your prescriptions for dealing with trolls, etc., are excellent guides and reminders that, to feed a troll is to give up precious time that you'll never get back!

01 March, 2018 06:35  
Blogger Donna said...

YES, thank you!

I’ve actually had people I know get all trollish on my Facebook page of all places. At first, thinking these were actual friends (they were people I’d known in real life), I went full metal diplomat. When that didn’t work and it became clear that these people had devolved, I cut the cord.

People are strange. SONG CUE!

01 March, 2018 14:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Hackwhacker: Exactly. They drain your time, and also your energy. It's a kind of vampirism. The key is to just not engage with them when they appear.

Donna: If they start acting like that, they were probably never real friends to begin with. It's happened to me a few times.

02 March, 2018 05:36  
Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

Some wise words there. I've always thought it a mistake to give trolls free rein on one's blog - even when the trolls in question aren't attacking me personally, I've found that just the fact they're tolerated seems to give the blogs they haunt a hostile vibe, even if that isn't the bloggers' intent.

"Change the subject" trolls annoy me too, and I think I've mentioned some of my experiences with them before. The comment threads on one blog I used to frequent (before realizing what an utter dumpster fire it was) used to be particularly bad for them - the trolls in question would often just leave links to other blog posts or articles that they thought everyone should be focussing their attention on rather than the OP. (To me, that sort of thing seemed akin to somebody rocking up to a party they'd been invited to, and saying, "Hey everyone! There's a much cooler party happening two streets over - let's all go to that one instead!") There was also a (better) blog I gave up on when I found that, almost without fail, every comment thread there would get hijacked by the same handful of assholes who'd turn the conversation to whatever their particular hobby horse was. Not surprisingly, this tended to drive everyone else away, so that eventually every comment thread would degenerate into the same small group of idiots having the same tedious debates among themselves.

Given you made passing mention of spammers, one thing I've always been meaning to ask you is whether you have much trouble with those. From things I've heard other people say, they're a lot like trolls in that if you delete their bullshit without mercy, they're a lot less likely to keep bothering you. I can't stand blogs where spam comments are allowed to stay either; few things discourage me more from leaving a comment myself than discovering that most of the previous comments are garbage spam ones (sometimes they're all identical too!). I particularly hate the transparent attempts so many spammers make to hide the fact that their comments are spam - that sort of generic bullshit message of "This was a very useful blog post! Your blog has all the information I'm looking for! Be sure I will be coming back many times, and telling all my friends about your blog! [And now that those pointless pleasantries are out of the way, let's get down to why I'm really here, which is to plug counterfeit Viagra, Albanian snuff porn, or whatever.]"

Ironically, I probably wouldn't have discovered your blog if it weren't for a troll. I don't know if he was the Christian fanatic you mentioned, but there used to be some utter loon called Gideon[*] who'd leave the most putrid comments on the blog of someone you know (I think it was Tommykey of Exercise in Futility). So morbidly fascinating did I find this particular creature that I looked around to see who else he'd been annoying, and found some other blogs where he'd apparently made himself an unwelcome presence (or at least attempted to), another being Robert the Skeptic's (sadly defunct) Plead Ignorance blog. Anyway, I found out about your blog through one of those, so at least this particular troll did some small amount of good!

*People who'd dealt with him often referred to him as "colander head" since his gravatar was a knight's helmet.

04 March, 2018 03:45  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Zosimus: Hi there -- long time no see! I actually did get deluged with "spamments" for a while, years ago. They seemed to be bot-generated rather than true trolls, though. The deluge has diminished to a trickle since then. It must be a really ineffective advertising method, so maybe it's fallen out of popularity.

I know what you mean about letting spamments stand. Same with troll comments and all the bickering they lead to. Comment threads like that can get pretty long, and once the trolling and troll-feeding start, you have to scroll past a lot of junk to get to the substantive comments (if anyone is still writing them).

The "change the subject" nuisance isn't even limited to actual trolls. I've had people post completely irrelevant comments just because whatever they were talking about was a big news story and they simply assumed everyone wanted to discuss that rather than whatever the post was about. Then there was this post, where the first commenter tried to discredit Sam Harris (who was in one of the videos) by saying he had once said something foolish about a minor issue that had nothing to do with the topic, and the comments got completely threadjacked. I eventually got frustrated enough to close off further comments -- and one person then tried to continue the off-topic exchange on this post which I had written to explain why it was irrelevant! And none of these people were trolls. The effect was the same, though.

Ol' Colander head! Yep, that was him. I guess he did me one favor, though, if he led you to discover me. Haven't seen him in years, though, not anywhere. I suppose he got off the net or just choked on his own bile.

04 March, 2018 06:14  

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