Human Rights Group Deploys An 'Empathy Test' Captcha System To Help Sites Fend Off Trolls

from the because-i-love-being-talked-down-to-by-a-dialog-box dept

Fact: if you have a site with any amount of traffic and open comment threads, you're going to draw trolls. There's no method that's been proven to completely rid your site of trolls, though not for a lack of trying. (This one is particularly mischevious.) Various sites have tried anything from aggressive moderation to requiring Facebook logins… all to no avail. (Although the latter method has proven that certain people are more than willing to troll without the protection of anonymity.)

A new anti-troll tool from a rather unlikely source has just been unveiled, one that hopes to combine the “fun” of solving captchas with something akin to a “blush response:”

A human rights group is introducing a new take on CAPTCHAs, those little boxes that make you type in a word to prove you are human before you can comment or register for a site. Their version doesn’t just present a scrambled word to be deciphered, but instead forces a person to choose the right word to unscramble based on the proper emotional response to a human rights violation.

Civil Rights Defenders, the Swedish-based group that developed the tool, hopes the Civil Rights Captcha will help sites block spiders and bots, while letting humans in — and hopefully educating the humans at the same time…

But perhaps forcing a troll to repeatedly choose an empathetic response will, over time, soothe the ravages of comment sections around the net. Okay, that might also be asking too much, but at the very least spreading information about human rights abuses certainly can’t hurt, even if the jerks of the internet (see, for example, YouTube comments) remain beyond help.

That's right. It's Voight-Kampff for comment threads. Instead of trying to parse a set of badly scanned words and Street View cam house numbers, Civil Rights CAPTCHA instead asks you how you feel about certain horrific situations, hoping that you'll make the “right” decision before spewing your vitriol and ignorance into the now-unlocked comment box.

While its heart is certainly in the right place, the implementation still requires captchas, something most users would rather not encounter every time they make a comment. (Yes, I know. But sometimes, decent , non-trolling humans don't want to “create an account” or “enter an email address” in order to participate.) On top of that is the fact that each captcha has only one “right” answer, making the system more than a little heavy-handed in its moralizing. This assumes that your regular, non-troll commenters are going to be fine with being preached at while jumping through hoops. It also assumes that all dedicated trolls are morons incapable of deducing the (obviously) “right” reaction to each situation presented.

This particular captcha service might prove useful in limited situations, like being pre-loaded with questions related to a particular cause or event being discussed/promoted at the website deploying it. It also might prove popular with the sort of people who are willing to annoy a certain percentage of their community in order to “raise awareness.” It will become a form of penance for those involved, much like forwarding “concerned” emails and switching Facebook statuses to show support. You know, the sort of thing that will morph into “I solved Captchas for world peace. What will YOU do?” t-shirts popping up on Cafepress.

I can't see this solving the troll problem, but I can see it annoying most of a user base, leaving the site deploying it with a smaller audience consisting of people who like being moralized at frequently. Like any other captcha, the spambots and trolls will find a way around it, with the only ones affected being decent human beings, which would seem to be the sort of “demographic” you'd want to annoy less. Pushing them through a “think our way or hit the road” filtering system doesn't make trolls any less prevalent or make non-decent human beings any more “decent.”

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Human Rights Group Deploys An 'Empathy Test' Captcha System To Help Sites Fend Off Trolls”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, I am saying that sites that attract trolls are often those taking fairly extreme positions.

Techdirt also gives an example of behavior that attracts trolls: The masses try to police it, and in doing so, engage in aggressive troll-like activities of their own. In order to protect and support their extreme positions, people get very nasty towards anyone who doesn’t agree.

The result is troll wars / flame wars.

My thought is that if you are attracting a lot of trolls, you might want to look at your stands to see if in fact you are way off the mark.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You will always have trolls. The question is how strident and demanding they will be.

I am sure that God Hates Fags gets some serious trolling, where as a “fish are friends, not food” board might get little.

Further, the more extreme your views, the more that normal views seem like trolling.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

In some ways, you seem to be mistaken as to what trolling is. Trolling, by definition, is making extreme statements to get a reaction. It may be easier to get a reaction from a site whose own agenda is extreme, but the reaction is what feeds the trolls, not the views of a site. Any popular site will attract trolls, regardless of the nature its own views.

To give an example, it would be easier to get a successful troll by wandering onto a pro-Westboro forum and making extremist pro-gay statements, but you could still get a reaction from a completely moderate or even gay-friendly Christian site. Some would prefer doing that, since it’s more of a challenge to get a reaction. I’ve seen many discussions on science derailed by fundamentalist religious types, as another example – the site itself may be for moderate discussion on scientific data, but an extremist troll comes in and attacks science itself with distorted biblical “facts”? That may get bites.

“Further, the more extreme your views, the more that normal views seem like trolling.”

Which doesn’t explain the trolls here, of course, since most discussions are relatively moderate before they show up. Most of those idiots seem to assume that people here hold extreme views that they’ve never held or stated, and often make personal attacks against posters. Hence the fact that a moderate discussion about a business model or the benefits of copyright reform is too often derailed by people who start accusing everybody agreeing with one side as being pirates or thieves, or part of some grand conspiracy headed by Google. Don’t mistake the defences people make against these morons for extremism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“Which doesn’t explain the trolls here, of course, since most discussions are relatively moderate before they show up. “

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made is assuming that one’s views are moderate. They always seem moderate to ourselves, but are they truly that?

Abolish patents, abolish copyright, embrace piracy, support free speech, free Kim Dotcom, f–k the **aas… I dunno, doesn’t seem very moderate to me.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Ah, see what I mean? Those are views that I’ve never espoused and most I definitely disagree with (yet I get attacked for them anyway). Some have never been stated (AFAIK) by any of the authors here, and so you’re judging the “site’s views” from some often-anonymous comments that may be in and of themselves trolls.

Yes, the fictional version of the site you just attacked does seem rather extreme. What does that have to do with the real one?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Ah, “I won’t back up my claims, do my work for me”?

Whatever. The point is that even if such views have been promoted in posts here and there, there are plenty of opposing views present in the comments that aren’t trolls. There’s plenty of room for debate, and most people are capable of discussing any subject without going off the deep end one way or another.

I certainly don’t hold any of the views you listed apart from the support of free speech. It’s possible to engage me in conversation about any of those and you’ll get a nuanced reply open to discussion about the issues – you will find that my *actual* positions on most of these subjects are quite moderate, unlike the fictions often ascribed to me. Unless, of course, you start trolling and blatantly lie or attack me as a pirate, or the many other tactics people use to troll, in which case you’ve already signalled you’re not interested in factual adult discussion.

Therefore, the site is not “extremist”, even if some commenters and/or authors can appear so at times (and in which cases you’d do well to look at what the opposing argument is. For example, if it’s an article about someone in political power claiming that anyone who questions the RIAA’s lies is a thief who needs to sit down and accept any laws that are passed, no matter how damaging – damn right you’re going to get a more “extremist” reaction as there’s no middle ground).

If you find differently, and you’re not deliberately trolling, I’d look to see why you get the reaction you do. Most discussions don’t enter the “extremist” level until people start having to defend against lies and trolls.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

Seems to me he’s a troll himself. And the discussion you just had with him is quite enlightening. They see any opinion that diverge from their own as extremist. They don’t accept that there may be a middle ground, that even if you are right you can also be wrong at the same time depending on the circumstances.

Still, they provide both good laughs and fertile grounds for some quite good replies from other users so I’ll risk a statement here: Trolls in a moderate amount actually help enrich a community even though they themselves won’t get anything valuable from the community because they aren’t willing to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

“Ah, “I won’t back up my claims, do my work for me”?”

Congrats on sinking a good discussion with adhoms and personal attacks.

“Therefore, the site is not “extremist””

yes, in the view of people who agree with you, it’s no extremist. the KKK site isn’t extreme to the members of the group either!

You made one mistake – you took things that are examples of what is GENERALLY said on this board, and though I applied them to your personally, I did not. your response is to act like a troll.

Congrats, you sank a good discussion by being an idiot.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

“Congrats on sinking a good discussion with adhoms and personal attacks.”

Erm, please point out where that was either. I merely commented on the fact that you ducked the request to provide evidence for your own claims, and provided examples of why I think you’re mistaken. If you consider polite, moderately phrased counterpoints left open for debate to be personal attacks, you may have problems.

(In case you’re confused, I used the royal “you” in those paragraphs. I wasn’t referring to you personally, unless you do admit you are trolling in which case why are you complaining?)

“yes, in the view of people who agree with you, it’s no extremist. the KKK site isn’t extreme to the members of the group either!”

Please explain, with evidence, how the positions generally stated on this site are extremist. Difficulty: it has to be reality, not the fiction you tried pushing above, and must be a generally identifiable theme rather than offhanded comments by ACs or comments made in response to personal attacks. You’re making the claim, you prove it.

“I did not. your response is to act like a troll.”

Nonsense. I clarified my position and that of the site politely. My only criticism was of those who troll – such as by pushing the lies about the sites position you stated above. Your response is the troll, I’m afraid, if any is to be seen here. The rest of us are interested in the type of honest discussion that usually takes place before the trolls arrive.

“Congrats, you sank a good discussion by being an idiot.”

Ah, now THAT’S a personal ad hom attack, congrats.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:12 Re:

What is your major malfunction?

Paul took a perfectly good discussion, took general things personally (feels guilty, I suspect) and got all uppity about it.

Fuck him. He’s an idiot, and you appear to be his butt buddy. It’s guys like you and Paul making it very hard to have an open and free flowing discussion around here.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:13 Re:

“Paul, there is no discussion with you that doesn’t end up being a series of angry, personal attacks. “

Wow… Compare what I have said (what was angry about it, exactly?) with the following:

“Fuck him. He’s an idiot, and you appear to be his butt buddy.”

If one of us is an immature angry troll, I would suggest you look into a mirror. If you consider any of my comments extremist compared to what you, yourself, have written – which includes wild misrepresentations of this site’s positions and those of its regular commenters – then you really need to look into a mirror.

What a shame that so many comment threads get derailed by people who can’t even address the reality of the very comments they’re replying to and have to attack such silly strawmen instead. At least the evidence is still here for anyone who is capable of addressing reality. The lack of an edit/delete button is helpful for when these people try to lie again in the next thread, even if it’s annoying when you want to correct a genuine error.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:14 Re:

Paul, all I can say is that you earn the abuse.

Stop being so mortally offended by everything, stop thinking the world is all about you, and perhaps you might get somewhere. For now, you are just an idiot troll who is on the “right side” where, so you get support for people equally as silly and self important as you.

Go back and read the whole thread. Where did it go off track? When you took something personally that wasn’t at all about you personally.

The shit starts with you. It ends with you. It’s you.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:15 Re:

“Go back and read the whole thread. Where did it go off track? When you took something personally that wasn’t at all about you personally.”

What the hell are you blathering on about? Which post are you referring to? Was it when I took exception to your complete misrepresentation of this site’s content and asked you to explain where you got that from? That was all it took to set you off?

I politely asked you to explain your comments, you first refused, then you started screaming and swearing like a child. That’s really not my fault. But it does prove the point that this thread started with – some people are idiot trolls and they will attack anything no matter how moderate the actual content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

… support free speech…

Those are views that I’ve never espoused and most I definitely disagree with

You do not support free speech?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone: According to June 2012 poll by the First Amendment Center, about 13% of Americans believe that the First Amendment “goes too far”.

And when it gets down to specifics, even more Americans do not support free speech.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

“You do not support free speech?”

Let’s see, reading comprehension and debate class 1:

“most I definitely disagree with”

Notice the word “most”? That means not all, as in there is at least one that I do agree with. I agree with free speech, and I haven’t said anything about not supporting it. Yet another example of someone questioning a belief I don’t hold…

For lesson 2, look at my profile and see how American I am, then ask yourself how relevant your reply to me was.

For lesson 3, try not cherry-picking a single point and only addressing that one? Do you have any questions about my character based on the other views I apparently rejected or do you only pick easy targets?

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Define normal..

Trolls are nothing like they used to be, in fact the art of trolling is sadly dying.

Basically trolls are needed to keep communities from growing stagnant though there is a wide difference between trolls and high end harrassment/threatening behaviour. One can be controlled and if done properly can even lead to the trolls becoming a relevant and much needed part of any online community. The other is illegal and should be stopped instantly with all resources at the communities disposal. And before the “cyber” brigade starts waffling on about ‘cyber law’ needed IT HAS ALWAYS been illegal offline and online.

Though your emphasis in the last few posts about ‘extreme views’ is intriguing since ‘extreme’ is very ambiguous and quite biased dependant on viewpoint, and I’d say that then one persons troll is another persons critic. Who decides?

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Um, sorry. I have to call BS on this. I read quite a number of sites with comment threads and there are more than a few trolls that would gladly argue with you if you stated “The Sky is Blue” or “The sun rises in the East”.

Trolls are after one thing… Attention! They often espouse a position, not because they actually believe it, but because they know it will elicit a response – any response – from others, it gives them a feeling of power.

Hence on many of the sites there are warnings… “Don’t feed the trolls”.

Trolls are the ‘grown up’ (in age) teenagers that always have to be the center of attention or at least control the flow of a conversation.

A classic example of a troll that meets this definition goes by the handle of ‘fartface’ on the site HackaDay.

A true troll does not post because they have a differing opinion (though they may), they post because they know they will get people to react.

So, it bears repeating “Don’t Feed the Trolls!”, just ignore them. If everyone does that eventually, they will go away because they don’t get a response.

Differing opinions are a good thing (I think). I don’t visit a site to be part of a circle jerk. I welcome informed, or genuine debate and differing opinions on most any subject. A differing view is not necessarily a troll.

Doug (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think SlashDot has become a prime example of ‘creating your own troll’. Many articles on the site are phrased as flamebait and if you post a reply taking the other view you’ll be modded ‘troll’ and end up with bad karma. It’s a shame…there was a time /. was a great site but now I think they just post as many articles as they can to generate pageviews.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Honestly, Techdirt is getting closer to that as well. The posts are often ones of almost mock outrage, yet to disagree is to get RD and his band of merry idiots clicking the report button, which has become their censorship tool of choice.

It’s not easy to have a different opinion here.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Just out of curiosity, why did you single out that one user and how do you know he’s reporting you? Do you have facts or is this one of the imagined conspiracy theories you trot out when you realise you have no valid argument?

Lots of people post different opinions here yet they don’t get reported. I wonder if you’re capable of understanding why that is?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Now see, there’s a difference between giving a person or group the benefit of the doubt, assuming a rational, mature motivation behind their actions, versus just flipping reality the bird and ignoring the blatantly obvious motivations behind a person or group.

Now, I’m all for giving people the benefit of the doubt at first, and letting their actions shape my perception of them, but to try and paint trolling as some noble counter reaction to injustice or extreme positions… that wouldn’t even begin to make sense in the twilight zone, and it certainly has nothing to do with reality here.

Let me try and make this as clear as I can: Trolls Are Children. Physical age is immaterial here, mental and emotional maturity is all that counts, and trolls regularly and consistently display a mental/emotional maturity that one would expect to find in an adolescent.

They throw fits when contradicted, often going on a personal attack against the person/people that contradicted them, their ‘arguments’ are almost always emotional based rather than based on logic, they throw out swear words left and right in an attempt to look ‘adult’, and their actions seem to be, for the most part, an attempt to either a) get someone to pay attention to them by any means necessary, or b) cause as much strife as possible in some sad attempt to make themselves feel powerful.

None of this, needless to say, is in any way shape or form mature, adult, or rational, hence the categorization of trolls as, for all intents and purposes, children. Children who are able to use a computer, and type out (sometimes) readable messages/posts true, but children nonetheless.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Have you seen some of the Captcha stuff?

Damn anyone who can stay calm whilst truing to figure out if * is that an S or a 5?
* is that a l or a 1?
* do I have to write both words in lower/upper/proper case?

and then not throw keyboards at the screen and rage to the heavens is EXACTLY the type of person who will bring about world peace.

Wally (profile) says:

So what will happen when a Nexus 6 Android takes the test?

According to the book the idea was taken from, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, By Philip K. Dick. If you are paranoid schizophrenic, you would fail Voit Kamph.

Well looks like I have a bit if reading to do, thanks TechDirt ๐Ÿ™‚

And don’t forget to fill your empathy box if you practice Mercerism ๐Ÿ™‚

Pete Austin says:

Fails as a Captcha; works as marketing

As with all ‘personality’ tests, any of the answers could be right depending on the full circumstances of the decision. So it’s about parroting the slogans of the author. Typical tactic by a lobbying group. See; copy; remember.

This is already available for marketing:

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually, this entire post is a good example of the way Techdirt works.

Tim is working on a redesign of the site, and one of the things discussed is a troll button. Alas, we get posts about trolls. Perhaps a test to see how people react, to decide what to try to do about trolls.

This of course means that the Techdirt crew doesn’t understand the value of an opposing view.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hello mr troll. First of all the troll button was a joke in the insider chat. So you get both a point for reading it and and loses it immediately for failing in understanding jokes.

Second, you’ve been proven wrong repeatedly regarding opposing views. They are valuable and have been discussed here not only in the articles but also in the comments. Sometimes they provide points of view that had not been noticed before them and other times they provide good points to be discussed in details and debunked.

Try harder.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You’re joking, right?

If you’d been paying attention to the Insider chat, there has been very clear opposition against a troll button, more so than support for it.

See, now this is blatant trolling. Claiming that there’s something when in fact there isn’t, and digging one’s heels in when being proved otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

wait? what? they only want to let people who share the same opinion join the discussion?

I can already imagine the content of this forum:

– I agree
– we should do that!
– agreed nr 2
– that’s a great idea … we could also do this as extra
– yeah let’s do both ideas
– agreed nr3

You end up with a circle jerk session, where critical people are automatically excluded.
But it’s also going to exclude people with asperger syndrome, autism spectrum, …
The principle of this is unacceptable both on debate level (exclude critical & negative opinions) as human rights level (exclusion of empathically disabled people).

Ninja (profile) says:

I hate captchas. Most of them are simply too blurred or ‘disguised’ to read. Sometimes I have to cycle 5, 6 times before getting an image I can actually read. And my sight is pretty good, I don’t need glasses. Imagine when you get older. I figure I’ll simply stop using sites that require unreadable captchas.

That said, I would be one to abandon that site (and in fact I just dismissed the sudden curiosity I had about the site after I read about the captcha system). Even if it is easier to read it is much more annoying. So yes, excellent way to drive all users away.

Anonymous Coward says:


As an illustration of how this would fail, take a look at Conservapedia.

That site has humans (which should be even stronger than a CAPTCHA) trying to find out whether new users agree with their brand of morality.

Even then, the ones who troll that site (called “parodists“) are able to bypass any attempt to prevent them from editing.

But as the attempts to prevent parodists get more extreme, more legitimate editors are caught in the net. In the end, other than a very small core of editors, there are only parodists on that site.

bob (profile) says:

Hah-- everyone around here is a troll then

All of the gleeful “sharing” folks have absolutely no empathy for the content creators and they find it impossible to even imagine that the content creators put much work into something. So they just take and take and take and then look for any rationalization to make it sound cool.

If you measured the empathy factor of people here, most would fail.

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

The zeitgeist dictates that moral are subjective in themselves...

E.g. A captcha that tests for:

Mike designed a phone that infringes on Average Joe’s patent on PRESSING A BUTTON. Mike didn’t seek a license from Average Joe. Did Mike do the right thing?

Is obviously going to be subjective based on the type of blog it appears on.

What it actually may end up doing is take the debate out of the comments entirely and into the captchas – where one side will not get heard – it will be an echo chamber – like reading BoingBoing comments.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

one man's troll...

…is another man’s challenger of the status quo…

*NOT* that there are not ‘pure’ trolls, but -more often than not- they are people who disagree vehemently, nothing wrong with that; in fact, that is what is ‘right’ with the openness of the inertnets…

as an aside (as others like ninja have commented on), i absolutely HATE crapcha; i have corrected vision, i can figure out puzzles better than most nekkid apes, yet i am CONSTANTLY stymied by retarded crapchas that are unreadable by man or machine…

*THAT* alone has stopped me from posting, visiting, or even buying crap from websites… when you go through 3-4-5 stupid fucking crapchas that are unreadable, i’m ready to strangle whoever invented the ‘system’…

i had signed on with disqus some time ago thinking that *finally* we have a universal type of system where i don’t have to sign up or get an ‘account’ or whatever, for a million web sites (slight exaggeration), but -instead of becoming a standard accepted ‘everywhere’- i now have to sign up for a handful of *other* similar ‘universal’ services (plus farcebook, FOAD, zuck) in order to cover my bases…
pretty much sucks…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: one man's troll...

I too signed up for Disqus many moons ago, because it was slowly becoming the de facto standard on a great many sites I visit. Then slowly but surely, each site was wanting to pursue it’s own separate “universal” commenting system, to the point that where Disqus previously covered ALL my sites, now it covers maybe 2 or 3, and each other one has it’s own different system. At that point, I just quit commenting on all the sites on principle.

I was sort of hoping OpenID would take off, so I could just use it with my Google account, but even that seems to have fallen by the wayside. In fact, the only time I use OpenID to login, with my Google account, is to one site where you can sell/purchase Android phones (with guaranteed clean ESNs). But I do like that site and the fact that feedback assures you you’ll be dealing with reputable people.

Beyond that, to hell with “universal” commenting systems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well TD has it right just let the other users deal with the trolls. If I’m trolling everyone here most likely has no problem letting me know I’m being a moron as well as my post being hidden by default unless someone gets curious. If they are they can view my post and flame my ass for being a fucking moron.

Too bad other sites don’t work like this. “Well some do but not near enough.”

That’s why I’ll always

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop ยป

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...