Do You Have Examples Of Constructive Responses To Hateful/Abusive/Trollish Speech Online?

from the please-share dept

Do you have examples of communities or individuals coming up with unique, creative or innovative ways to respond to hateful, abusive or trollish speech? Please let us know in the comments as we’re trying to help an important research project on this — including getting people past the kneejerk reactions to seeing speech they dislike by assuming that the only thing one can do it about it is ban it. I’ll explain more below — but if you have good examples, please share them — preferably with links so that they can be investigated further.

This is a project that we’re trying to help out with, put together by Susan Benesch from American University and the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard. Over the last year or so, I’ve been fortunate to get to spend some time talking to Susan. Coming from a human rights background, she’s done some amazing work on free speech, and on how speech can lead to violence or other dangers. She’s also behind the related Dangerous Speech Project, which has looked at examples of the kind of inflammatory and violent rhetoric that often precedes mass violent outbursts to find patterns. I know that, among many free speech advocates (like ourselves), hearing some of that may raise the hairs on our necks, fearing that what comes after that is a demand to shut down that kind of speech. Yet, Susan has focused not just on understanding what kind of speech precedes violence, but also on what works in counteracting that — and she argues (and we agree!) that censorship rarely does.

But… many people who are first encountering either such trollish/abusive behavior and/or seeing the aftermath of actual violence often jump to the conclusion that banning such speech is the only or best solution. Partly this is an emotional response. And partly it’s a response due to the simple fact that, in the spur of the moment it’s both difficult to think of alternatives and it’s difficult to envision the unintended (potentially negative) consequences of silencing such speech. Also, it should be admitted, that blocking such speech is often “easier” than alternative solutions, even if it rarely works and is open to abuse of its own.

So we’re now trying to work with Susan to help explore various alternatives and to categorize what they are, what’s good about them (and what’s bad!) and just lay out the wider spectrum of possibilities. And, while Susan’s work has gone way beyond just speech on the internet, the internet is fertile ground for this kind of research. But (and this is where you come in), it’s not easy to track down these examples — especially when the responses are organic or community driven, where they may only be known about in smaller circles. That is, at this stage, we’re not necessarily looking for what, say, internet platforms do, but how users of internet platforms respond themselves.

I’ll give a few examples of what we’re talking about. First is one that we discussed nearly a year ago, in which an ISIS-associated Twitter account an account that would translate ISIS statements posted on that “called on” Muslims to “join the fight,” and a bunch of Muslim Twitter users responded by making jokey excuses about why they were too busy to do so [Update: in our initial post we incorrectly suggested that the original tweets themselves were from an ISIS-associated account, rather than an anti-ISIS activist who was translating the content for others to read — and that some of the responses were from people who knew that. This still works as an example of a type of response, but of a somewhat different nature. We aplogize for the error.]

Another example is an interesting project in Germany called “Donate the Hate,” in which a group of internet users are giving donations to various charities in response to racist or xenophobic comments that they find online, leaving a note that a donation was made to a certain group in their name.

There are lots and lots of other examples — not all of them necessarily good, but they’re examples of the way individuals and groups are dealing with these things. And we’d love to see more examples that you may be aware of. A few more examples to keep you thinking: Professors at Colgate jumped onto Yik Yak a few years ago to counter a bunch of racist speech with happy, positive speech. There are examples of people actually befriending trolls — such as the famed academic Mary Beard who even wrote a job reference for a troll — but also naming and shaming some of the trolls sending abusive content her way and publicly exposing them. This reminds me of another story in which somoene would take rape threats she received and would track down the troll’s mother and send them to her.

Again, whether you approve of any of these individual methods or not, there’s a wide range of ways in which individuals and groups have come up with unique ideas for responding to speech they (at the very least) find uncivil or (at the very worst) threatening or frightening. And we’d love to know more examples — big or small — that people have come across, so that we can look at as many examples as possible to try to sort through them, categorize and analyze them, and see if we might all learn something useful about them. So please, add any examples you might have in the comments.

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 “Do You Have Examples Of Constructive Responses To Hateful/Abusive/Trollish Speech Online?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

One needed word missing, one superfluous word:

Yet, Susan has focused not just on understanding what kind of speech precedes violence, but also what works in counteracting that — and she argues (and we agree!) that censorship is rarely does.

Yet, Susan has focused not just on understanding what kind of speech precedes violence, but also on what works in counteracting that — and she argues (and we agree!) that censorship –>is rarely does.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t suppose it works on forums because the motivations and setting is a bit different, but one technique I’ve seen work fairly well to frustrate and eventually stop abusive troll comments in online video games is to just continually reply with “ok”.

After a few times of you replying with nothing but “ok” they tend to get frustrated or bored with their trolling and give up.

Bruce C. says:

Re: feeding the trolls

Not necessarily constructive, but one that I’ve been able to pull off in a couple of forums is to lead them down a thread of explaining their position, not disagreeing with them, but asking them to explain counter-examples, etc. Eventually they lose patience and call me out with some questions of their own designed to trap me in some sort of inconsistency. At which point I respond with complete ambiguity, like “I wonder…” or “The answer to that question is left as an exercise for the student.” and stop replying to the thread.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’ve seen a version of this in some MMO’s except they make it funny.

For instance, one of the games I play has a running joke, whenever someone is quite obviously trolling in general chat or the conversation is getting overly toxic, people will start flooding chat with amusing takes on names of books or movies with the names of in-game items inserted into them (usually stacks of junk loot), such as “Harry Potter and the [5 broken daggers]”.

Eventually general chat gets so overwhelmed that the trolls can’t keep up and go silent, or the conversation gets hijacked by a particularly funny incarnation of a title and people start focusing on that and cracking jokes about it to the same effect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Shades of Minority Report

“…hearing some of that may raise the hairs on our necks…”

Sure, let’s undertake a program to map trollishness onto precrime. The more pseudo-scientific the better, since it’s easier to bamboozle people with “science,” e.g., lie detectors. What could possibly go wrong with that once the FBI gets wind of it?

Vaultnode (profile) says:

I have unfortunately suffered through the obscene damage that unconstructive responses to Internet trolling can do. I’d be glad to see constructive responses to trolling used instead of the community-destroying fuck-ups by spearheaded by Vox, Vice, Buzzfeed, ect….

More on the constructive end – are any distinctions being drawn for hateful/abusive/trollish speech? Different persons have different motivations for their conduct and would respond differently to a given solution.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

oh ffs...

first, one has to define ‘hateful’ , ‘abusive’, ‘trollish’…
oops, a whale fail from the get-go…
secondly, WHAT EXACTLY -repeat: EXACTLY- is THE problem ? ? ? that *someone’s* feelings *somewhere* are hurt ? WTF ? that is UNAVOIDABLE, especially given the ‘criteria’, much less the subjective nature of feeling hurt…
here is what needs to be done : NOTHING !
it is incumbent upon the reader to accept or reject what is being said, NOT THE WRITER TO SELF-CENSOR so as to not POTENTIALLY ‘hurt’ the most sheltered and incapable of the species…
half the problem we have is AVOIDING talking about all kinds of issues openly and honestly because people dont want to be ganged up on by tone police and other PC garbage…
i fully realize a LOT of people don’t like REAL free spedch cause it is yucky and oncedest made a sparkle pony cry…
oh well, too fucking bad for sparkle ponies, may you go extinct with the approx 200 species a day we are wiping out…

Yeah man... says:

Re: oh ffs...

I love it when people harass me online. The best part is when they call my house and threaten me with violence.

I agree there is nothing wrong whatsoever with saying anything to anyone all the time. People just need to get thicker skin and take those death threats with pride.

And when they are actually killed by someone who threatened them, well maybe they shouldn’t have gone on the internet in the first place. The important thing to remember is its probably the victims fault.

I applaud this individual for having the courage to say what everyone is thinking. The spelling errors and the CAPITALS really help drive home your point. Well done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: oh ffs...

“I love it when people harass me online. The best part is when they call my house and threaten me with violence. “

I have to say… those are two different things. Someone harassing you online? Yes whatevah… clearly a freedom of speech case.

But if someone takes the time to find your phone number to call you and harass you then they need a little talking to by the boys in blue! Clearly not a freedom of speech issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 oh ffs...

Wait, he said the online part was harassing, but the home phone call was one of violence.

In my response I should have used the word violence instead of harassment on the phone call side.

But in this context I did use the wrong word, sorry about that, but I meant the violence part was illegal activity.

So yea… harassing no big deal… but threaten with violence… yea that is ILLEGAL… and regardless of if he does it via EMAIL, Forum, or Phone.

Of course, a certainly level of harassment using any of those forms could become illegal as well.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 oh ffs...

Ah, now I understand. That makes more sense

But also – isn’t this kind of demonstrating the difficulty of your initial point? There aren’t so many clear lines. Sometimes harassment rises to the level that it’s illegal; sometimes what appear to be threats of violence are protected speech because they don’t rise to the level of credible threats. These aren’t just "two different things* – they also exist on a spectrum, by some measures, and so it’s a messy situation.

I could for example say "I’m gonna fucking kill you" to someone in a way that doesn’t make them fear for their safety at all; conversely, it’s possible for someone to stalk and harass a person online to the degree that they deeply fear for their safety, without ever making an explicit threat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 oh ffs...

Well yea… context definitely plays into the decision making process.

I look at it like this. If there is clearly animosity occurring, then any threats of violence should be considered illegal and with someone getting their arse arrested and tried in court.

If ambiguous or banter or just shit talk, ignore it! So everyone needs to know that when they are in a heated situation… they need to watch their mouth, and for a good reason!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 oh ffs...

Well to be honest that is everyone right?

Every officer has their own standard along with every judge, and along with every ninny with a milk stain on their bib.

I qualified mine with the fact that animosity is clear. Which means a drive by fuck you, eat shit and die would not qualify for and illegal threat.

I have been in a lot of conversations, arguments, and fights and I have yet to ever be in one where there is ever a legitimate way to tell someone you are going to violence them.

I am definitely interested in you coming up with a situation where my logic would get an innocent put in jail.

I am also making it clear that intent is a non-sequitur here. I do not care if someone never intended to harm someone… just the threat of it at the same time that animosity can be clearly established should be all that is necessary.

This means that a spouse threatening to kill the other while still married gets a pass.

This means that a spouse threatening to kill the other during a divorce, separation, or restraining order gets the asshole in jail!

This means that a kid saying he will shoot up a school because he is frustrated or joking is not illegal.

This means that a kid just expelled from school and claims he will shoot it up DOES get his ass in jail.

If there is a logical fallacy in my argument then I will err on the side of person making the threat should walk but gets monitored.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 oh ffs...

This means that a spouse threatening to kill the other while still married gets a pass.

This means that a spouse threatening to kill the other during a divorce, separation, or restraining order gets the asshole in jail!

lolwut? Are you serious? Do you realize how stupid that sounds?

This means that a kid saying he will shoot up a school because he is frustrated or joking is not illegal.

This means that a kid just expelled from school and claims he will shoot it up DOES get his ass in jail.

And do you realize how much stupider that sounds? How do you define “animosity”?

How the hell does a divorce or an expulsion make any goddamn difference there? I mean damn dude, pay attention to the world — people kill their spouses all the time; and I don’t think any of the school shooters were on an expulsion or suspension when they shot up their schools. What the hell are you even talking about? Those circumstances don’t offer much to help you determine whether a threat is credible…

And aren’t your guidelines way MORE likely to put an innocent in jail? Isn’t a spouse in the middle of a divorce, or a student freshly expelled, way MORE likely to make a flippant threat in an isolated moment of anger?

And you honestly believe that intent is not important? I don’t understand that at all. Let’s use your own examples:

– Husband tells his wife that he’s going to kill her. He has every intention of doing so, and she is genuinely terrified. But because they aren’t currently going through a divorce, that threat is legal.

– Recently-divorced husband gets in a screaming match with his ex-wife over child support, and at one point blurts out “i’ll fucking kill you”. Even she doesn’t for a second believe he means it, and he doesn’t. But that threat is illegal.

Yeah, that’s a great system you’ve got.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: oh ffs...

This comment is so disconnected from reality.

Nobody is talking about “PC garbage” and the “tone police”.

Is “the problem” with ISIS representatives trying to radicalize people online that we don’t give them an open enough seat at the table because we’re too PC?

Is it “PC garbage” to have a problem with rape threats? Is “the problem” there that we’re just not letting the people who say “I hope you get raped” be open and honest enough, because we’re such “tone police”?

When someone gets doxxed and faces a constant onslaught of verbal abuse and threats not just via the internet but in their mailbox and via their won’t-stop-ringing phone and from people standing outside their house, are they just “sparkle ponies” who are “crying” and need to toughen up?

I don’t support outright censorship as the response to any of these problems (and neither does this post that you didn’t read) — but brushing them all off as invented problems that only whiners pay attention to is staggeringly inhumane and self-centered of you.

Vaultnode (profile) says:

Re: Re: oh ffs...

The traditional media responses to the harassment you’re describing has incited orders of magnitude more harassment in retaliation which results in retaliation to the retaliation and so on.

There’s a lot of one-eyed kings being made over institutional responses to sensitive topics like rape. I plead that you don’t go down the path that Vox, VICE, Bizzfeed, and other such outlets have gone down. I’ve seen too many innocents on the periphery get hurt badly by activists. I’ve seen too many literal sociopaths falsely don the mantle of “anti-abuse crusader” only to be the most heinous abusers of all.

You speak of harassing phone calls and protesters. I’ve had a very kind friend end up homeless as a result of “anti-“abuse activists purposely trying to get her fired.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: oh ffs...

I’m not sure what point you’re making. That the abuse is okay because the "traditional media response" has had problems? I don’t recall saying anything about traditional media responses or even what response I think is best — I simply said it’s inhumane to dismiss the problem as inconsequential or nonexistent.

Vaultnode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 oh ffs...

And I’m saying that blind zealotry towards trying to resolve this problem has created far more problems and far more abuse than its resolved.

I agree abuse is an issue. I’m just gun shy after having been abused by activists manipulated by trolls into attacking subcultures I associate with. Not fun to see veteran forum mods quit because they had death threats mailed to their physical residence.

Vaultnode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 oh ffs...

You are correct that I’m referring to the events surrounding GamerGate. I am extremely bitter about what happened and the dehumanizing, one-sided nature of the news coverage.

SRK forum mod reveived death threats mailed to his house for so much as allowing discourse regarding GamerGate on his forum (ElderGod received a death threat titled “GG or family” sent to his house)¹. A friend of mine (different person) ended up homeless for 4 months as a result of two guys socially engineering her medical info out of her and then misrepresenting it to her boss². A different person attempted suicide because of casual, dehumanizing abuse from “anti-“abuse crusader who created GG Blockbot (I imagine you know who I’m referring to)³.

I literally FOIA’d the FBI on the investigations surrounding GamerGate. The doxing, SWATing, harassment, and death threats all came from third parties pretending to be GamerGate⁴.

Detailing all of this would make this post an essay and not get as much engagement as a shorter post would. Let me know if you have any questions.

¹ –
² – My friend requested not to be identified as she didn’t want to relive the hell she went through due to people asking her Qs about it if ID’d.
³ –
⁴ –

Vaultnode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 oh ffs...

Do you understand the concept of scapegoat?

The serial harassers didn’t get a taste of their own medicine. The Bill Waggoner Crew and Super Extreme Shitposting Team hasn’t been inconvenienced in the slightest.

No, innocent third parties got targeted because of “anti-“abuse activists charging at a poorly researched target like a raging bull.

That’s not schadenfreude you’re feeling. It’s sadism.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 oh ffs...

All I’ll say about Gamergate is this:

I have never seen an explanation of the “ethics in games journalism” issue that convinced me it’s really what people care about. In fact, every explanation I’ve heard has been deeply unconvincing, practically the opposite of convincing.

I suggest you find a different cause to care about.

Vaultnode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 oh ffs...

I am not here to promote GamerGate. The years of reporting on it being “ultra right wing” became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Turns out news reporting can act as advertisement that attracts demographics to the target group – who knew?

I only mentioned it in the context of online harassment to present the perspective that efforts to fight it, when done poorly, causes far more harm than good.

Vaultnode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 oh ffs...

If you want an explanation as to why “ethics in game journalism” became the tagline – GamerGate wad originally stated by the /v/video games board of 4chan. It just happened that one of the obsessions /v/ has had for years was “ethics in video game journalism”.

Even back in 2013 they were creating musicals mocking unethical video game journalism¹²³⁴.

So much of a clusterfuck happened in the first few months of GamerGate that other groups effectively took it over but never bothered to change the tagline. The endless “right wing antifeminist” news reporting attracted a bunch of right wing antifeminists and demoralized the people who primarily cared about video games.

The phrase “ethics in video game journalism” is a relic of Internet cultural history at this point rather than representing what GamerGate was about for more than a month or two.

¹ –
² –
³ –
⁴ –

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: oh ffs...

Please… no emails…?

You ignore that trolling is in itself censorship. The point of trolling is to force reasonable people off the forum. And it’s highly successful.

It’s not merely about "hurt feelings." It’s about signal to noise ratio. It’s about making participation not worth the trouble.

The* groups on Usenet used to be wonderful. Full of people actually working in space programs. But once the AOL crowd got easy access, the groups filled up with chemically imbalanced conspiracy theorists and other blowhards. And so the regulars left and the groups died.

I’ve personally been followed around from forum to forum by a conspiritards who didn’t like my disagreeing with their "North American Union" and "Amero" claims. With claims that I was getting my parking validated by the CIA, US military, Mossad, Rothchilds, Them, They and more. It’s the trolls who want the censorship; they just have their own means without having administrative rights.

At some point those running a forum should be able to say "Look, we’re trying to hold a conversation here. We should be ALLOWED to hold a conversation here."

Vaultnode (profile) says:

Re: Re: oh ffs...

That’s perverse logic you’re using to describe speech as censorship. That could easily be twisted to be “any speech that regulars on forums don’t like is hate speech and thus stopping it isn’t censorship”.

I get nostalgia for social groups of the past. I do. But you’ll find that getting rid of speech you find distasteful won’t bring those groups back. At least, not in the form you want them in.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: oh ffs...

Facing a barrage of abusive posts for disagreeing. Being stalked elsewhere if you continue to disagree. A forum filled with abusive posts until the signal to noise ratio makes it not worth the effort.

That’s censorship, not free speech. It’s done without administrator rights, but its still censorship.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: oh ffs...

I think he is raising an important point though.

What actually is the meaning of a “constructive response”.

Is it a response that actually changes the mind of the troll?

Seems pretty unlikely to me.

Is it a response that makes the troll give up and frees the forum for a better dicussion?

Well one persons “better discussion” might be another’s “echo chamber”.

Is it a response that makes a good argument and persuades the uncommttied?

Well that isn’t any different from a regular respinse to a bad argument – it isn’t some kind of “special anti-troll strategy”.

Or is it just a response that makes the responder (and already like minded readers) feel good?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 oh ffs...

“What actually is the meaning of a “constructive response”.”

Like everything else… it is all in the eye of the beholder. Any attempt to silence someone comes with a price, and that price is typically higher than just letting them talk. So almost every attempt to silence someone eventually backfires. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow a reckoning will be at hand, and those having perpetuated the silencing will endure the full brunt of all the pent up energy that has been building up until the vessels attempting to contain them fail… and the explosive result will be collateral… exceeding far more damage than could possibly be prevented.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 oh ffs...

_But how do you get from there to *any* conclusion other than “the loudest, rudest, lowest common denominator gets to rule the world_

To be more precise:

How do you get to any conclusion other than “the person who controls the discourse (even if it is) by mechanisms other than having valid arguments gets to rule the world”.
As with all these things what it ultimately comes down to is this:

Don’t try using anything other than reason and facts to put your case.

Don’t use violence or threats.
Don’t use ad hominem arguments.
Don’t use name calling.
Don’t use over-long comments/posts
Don’t refer out to stuff that is too long for others to reasonably read and respond to.
Don’t use argument closing tactics like calling people **deniers, **tards, **phobics etc.

IN short – there is no way you can ensure that others are “the loudest rudest…etc” but you can make sure that you don’t fall into that category yourself.

(And others will secretly thank you for it.)

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re: oh ffs...

“Amero” claims
youtube. com / watch?v =R4I3xVGRzws

Cool story brah… can you tell us moar plz?

“chemically imbalanced conspiracy theorists”
“I’ve personally been followed around”
Methinks you are not telling the whole truth here Rodger.

Now… is this comment a troll? I am sure Rodger Dodger here will think so. But the fact is the Amero was being proposed along with the NAFTA super highway AKA trans Texas corridor. The proponents of that like to label anyone against it as a “conspiracy theorist” just like good little CIA dupes. Rather the concerns were killing off ports from Corpus Christi to Louisiana, and the allowance of trucks from Mexico that didnt follow the same inspections as we have in the states. The Teamsters Union spoke up about the issues as well as another one that escapes me now. Another concern was the superhighway splitting up farmlands:
npr. org / 2012 / 06 / 20 / 154852321 / in-indiana-a-u-s-superhighway-may-hit-the-skids

So… Am I trolling you Rodger? Could you PLZ cite some sources of where you were followed? Links maybe?

Anonymous Coward says:

This YouTube user has probably the most civilised comment sections I’ve seen for any video game channel:

When abuse/trollishness flares up he tends to chime in with very sensible and mature (and dad-ish sounding) responses, and his viewers tend to be very supportive of it. Not unique or innovative, but seems to work very well.

Contrast with this guy:

anonymous Dutch coward says:

I found a moderately redneck weapons site, with a video of a US soldier in Iraq in very small underpants/string. One nutcase commented that the soldier must be gay. The asshole was trashed in seconds, because you don’t insult US soldiers on these sites especially if they are putting their lives at risk for their country. Effective! Destroy trolls by defending your people.

Anonymous Coward says:

How about just ignoring the troll’s post. The whole reason someone posts trolling things is to get a reaction from people. When that reaction isn’t presented the troll will go away because they are left unfulfilled.

May not be super effective but why give them free real-estate in our life.

Another example is exactly what TechDirt does already with the comment section. I think it works out quite well.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

How about just ignoring the troll’s post.

Doesn’t scale.

You can ignore a troll, but you can’t force everybody else to ignore him.

And while ignoring trolls may work in most cases, the most tenacious trolls will simply escalate until you’re no longer able to ignore them anymore. A few years back, a group of trolls started flooding every Gawker site’s comments section with rape GIFs. That was pretty hard to just ignore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Trevor Noah had a video about “Trump Facts” but it could be used for other trollish/abusive behavior.

Key bit is at 9:14 mark

This “bad speech” is often an emotional response to something – but you can’t argue emotions with facts. You have to argue emotions with logic.

tl:dr – ask the person why. Either they get frustrated or they have a legit reason.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem with blocking an abusive troll so that you alone don’t see them, is that you won’t see the trolls abusive accusations about you. And they’ll declare to everyone else that your “unwillingness to respond” proves their claims. It’s like protecting yourself from someone who insists on fighting by closing your eyes.

A better alternative, if a forum must ban someone, is a “shadow ban”: An abusive troll isn’t told that they’re shadow banned. They can still post, but now only THEY see their own posts. No-one else sees them, so no-one feeds the troll by responding. All the troll knows is that people aren’t responding.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’ve never seen someone advocate a shadowban before.

They seem pretty fundamentally dishonest. You can make a case that a true troll (as opposed to a true scotsman…) isn’t willing to meet you halfway and properly engage with you, but refusing to be forthright in your judgement and punitive action seems pretty illegitimate.

Stephen says:

Troll Wildlife Refuge

Check out Google’s archive of Usenet on (ex-Dejanews archive). There is a goldmine in there. Here is one interesting example I remember (though proportional fonts skew the format) which appeared on Usenet’s back in 2003 but has also appeared elsewhere (I reposted it myself to a different group when I used to post to Usenet):

| Common name: Woodland Troll |
| Scientific name: Trollus Useneticus |

# #
# #
# The common woodland troll (Trollus Useneticus) is an #
# approximately 1.7m long nocturnal furry creature that #
# has been found to exist in nearly every climate and #
# latitude. Predominant features include: a very pale #
# complexion, a large bony ridge above the eyes, a dense #
# cranium, dragging knuckles, and a pungent odor. #
# #

# #
# #
# Most trolls spend the daylight hours under a large rock #
# sleeping. Unfortunately, the natural habitat of the #
# troll has been encroached by development (as is all too #
# common these days). The modern troll has to make due #
# with a slimy, moss covered rock. Often, trolls are #
# forced to endure poor sanitation and filthy living #
# conditions. Combined with the general lack of hygiene #
# among trolls, this results in a very unpleasant odor. #
# #

# #
# #
# During their active period at night, the common troll #
# engages in numerous activities, though the most #
# important of these is foraging for food. The one #
# characteristic that ties all different troll species #
# and sub-species together is their diet. Trolls #
# invariably survive off of a combination of cheetos, #
# arguments, and annoying others. A typical troll #
# requires approximately 10 arguments and flames per day #
# just to stay alive. With the increasing use of #
# killfiles and just regular ignoring of trolls, it has #
# become more and more difficult for trolls to eke out a #
# basic sustenance. #
# #

# #
# #
# Unfortunately, trolls have many predators. Most common #
# among them are the helpful researcher, the informative #
# poster, the cool headed responder, and the kill-filer. #
# The cool header responder is technically not a troll #
# predator however. Trolls are typically unfazed by #
# logical counter arguments and cool headed reason. #
# However, even though their posts do not deliver the #
# same level of sustenance that a “flamer” or an “annoyed #
# poster” may provide, they still provide a valuable #
# source of dietary fiber for the troll. #
# #
# The most dangerous predators for the trolls are the #
# helpful researcher, the informative poster, and the #
# kill-filer. The common troll is highly allergic to #
# fact, real data, and research. Upon skin contact with #
# actual hard evidence and real data, the troll will #
# experience intense itching and burning at the site of #
# contact, followed by lesions and blisters. Eventually, #
# this results in loss of skin near the area of contact, #
# and usually to loss of a limb (in the example of #
# contact near the arm or leg). Contact with facts and #
# data near the facial area usually results in a slow #
# painful death. Contact with extremely high doses of #
# fact and hard data can cause temporary loss of #
# consciousness and even permanent brain damage for the #
# troll. #
# #
# The kill-filer poses a much more insidious threat to #
# the troll. Not posing a direct threat to the troll per #
# se, the kill-filer simply deprives the troll of yet #
# another source of nourishment. Some trolls have #
# developed counter measures to thwart the kill-filers, #
# usually this takes the form of a type of camoflage. #
# #
# The trolls’ predators have reaped a terrible slaughter #
# over the years, resulting in the death of great hordes #
# of trolls. Trolls continue to breed rapidly though and #
# their population is stable. However, it is unknown how #
# long this situation can persist. Eventually, natural #
# predators and poachers may result in lower numbers of #
# trolls. Already we are seeing lower diversity among #
# the different troll species. That is why this troll #
# habitat refuge exists, to ensure the preservation of #
# the troll for not only our future, but the future of #
# our children. #
# #

/ This troll habitat refuge has been paid for in part by /
/ the anti Troll-Defamation League, the International /
/ Society for the Advancement of Trolls, and the Troll /
/ Habitat Preservation Alliance. /

Anonymous Coward says:

Also a lot of trolling comes from a place where the person doing it realizes the actual position they hold is untenable and tries to deflect from that by flooding the discussion with distractions. So for example if you think genocide is good but you objectively know that it is a bad and destructive position that the majority of people would disagree with you instead talk about something you know to be patently absurd hoping to get rational people to engage with you on an irrational discussion. This allows you to slowly tear down your opponent while never having to defend your own positions. You are always on the attack while never having to defend because anything your opponent says means nothing to you because your troll positions are false.

As a response I would suggest never engaging trolling behavior on their terms. Their terms are false and intended to mislead you. Don’t waste time trying to discern whether or not what they say is what they really believe. Instead try to find out what their real positions are (they are often easy to discern) and force them to defend the ideas they actually hold close.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t waste time trying to discern whether or not what they say is what they really believe. Instead try to find out what their real positions are (they are often easy to discern) and force them to defend the ideas they actually hold close.

They have a well-practiced response to that, though: if you suss out and criticize their values, they accuse you of "ad hominem" and demand that you respond only to their initial argument and nothing else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“demand that you respond only to their initial argument and nothing else.”

Hey… sometimes that demand is legit! Like the AC said… some people just warped right into outer space in their responses.

ad hominem’s are just for adding flavor to the soup… if people are worried about those, they need to get themselves a padded room with a bib, pacifier, and a box of diapers instead of attempting to engage people as an adult.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Hehe, yeah people who worry about ad. hominem in conversation are all babies! That’s an excellent point sir. The nice thing is, no matter how valid their arguments are regarding why ad. hominem attacks warrant concern.. You can always use it, because it targets the arguer and not the argument itself.. It’s a brilliant point really.

Anonymous Coward says:

How does a troll response back to a troll help anything? Does an ISIS representative care if you flood their twitter account with random comments? Are those random comments going to sway someone away from being “radicalized” if they were already on that path? I think it’d make a hard case that someone telling ISIS they don’t have time for a Jihad right now because they need to catch up on Star Wars is meaningful to anyone.

Likewise with the donation drives. Maybe you can get someone fired up online by saying you’re donating to a charity in their name for bad behavior but what message does that send to people who aren’t already firmly on one side of the issue/person?

When I pulled the article based on the headline, before reading the actual content, I’d assumed you’d be looking for ways people have responded to hate speech that have shown dividends in at least swaying people away from conducting more hate speech (or abuse, or trolling, whatever) but that clashes with the examples given in the content.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Let me dissect the ISIS trolls.

Idiot posts a call to take up arms.
– This confirms for some people that all Muslims are a nudge away from being baby eating terrorists.

– Jokey responses help break down that stereotype, and show that maybe not all Muslims are that way. It also adds to the idea that they are to be mocked, not feared.

For all of the people who race to the media demanding “moderate” Muslims denounce this & that, they don’t have that same requirement for other groups. People taking potshots irritates the ISIS idiot & shows them denouncing the ideals.

Or we could sit silently and give up our right to speech, because we need big brother to silence anyone they disagree with.

“Radicalization” doesn’t happen from just words on the internet. It is helped along by women who hold their purse tighter or cross the street when they approach someone. It is helped along by the drunken idiot who doesn’t have enough money at the counter screaming at the sand nigger behind the counter. It is helped along by “good people” who think throwing pork on a mosque is fighting the war on terror. It is helped along by those who attack those who are “Muslim Looking” who are innocents.

Maybe telling the ISIS troll that Mom won’t let you stay out past 10 seems stupid, but its better than anything else being done.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

BMO Has A Solution

Boeing briefly lost a billion dollars in market value last week because of a Trump tweet. This week…

“President-elect Donald Trump issued a single tweet blasting defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. at 8:30 a.m. on Monday. By lunchtime, he had wiped $4 billion off the company’s market value.”
– from a Politico story

“Everyone now has to keep their Twitter feed right next to their Bloomberg terminal.”
– Jack Ablin, CIO at BMO Private Bank

Dave Cortright (profile) says:

Sunlight is the best of disinfectants

Sorry I don’t have any personal examples to link to, but I’ve found that taking screenshots of people’s bad behavior and commenting on that is one of the best ways to respond. TechDirt and others do a good job of this when the continue to write new stories over “right to be forgotten” stories that have been taken down. Or celebs who think they can just delete a tweet or post to mitigate or eliminate the controversy of something completely outrageous that they said.

On NextDoor (the neighborhood community social network) I’ve had posts flagged as “offensive” simply because they were speech that some people didn’t like (speaking critically of a local charter school). I turn around and call those people out publicly for being censorious asshats.

And the same goes for cyber-bullying. The way for that to stop is for the kids on the receiving end of the bullying to screenshot that shit and post it publicly. The bullies don’t like it when they are outed like that.

Anonymous Coward says:

I was going to respond, but hey, no point. It would only start an argument that would just go round and round and round and round in circles and in which neither side would find any common ground with the other.

Like all those round table discussions as in

  • Anthropogenic Climate Change vs Natural Climate Change vs No Climate Change
  • Democrats are no good leftists vs Republicans are no good rightists
  • Obama is a evil president vs Obama is the best ever president
  • Evolution vs Intelligent design vs anything else
  • String theory vs non-string theory physics
  • and all the other guffy stuff going on

There be trolls in all camps, there be non-trolls who hold opposing ideas. The biggest problem, at times, is just trying to determine which is which.

Even this post will be seen by some as trollish and others as just plain idiotic and others as insightful and others as obvious.

There is no generic way to determine if someone is a troll or not. You just have to look at each on a case by case basis.

Violynne (profile) says:

I’ve no examples to provide on how I deal with negative online comments.

The reason is simple: I ignore the comments. Wasting even one ounce of my energy replying is a wasted effort, and this article shows the issue isn’t the trolling behavior, but instead how people cannot ignore such behavior.

Just look at the comments above! See how one person made an asinine comment? Look at the responses.

Notice anyone not posting on the trolling comment?

That’s why I can’t offer any examples. There’s simply no easy way to example ignoring a comment until the situation presents itself.

If people want to make a change, then they need to stop trying to shift blame on the comment and focus on their behavior instead.

If sites are trying to manage their comments on behalf of the positive users, then they need to tell their users to stop blaming negative posts for their unhappiness.

Even users of Techdirt use the option to hide comments they don’t like (a feature I absolutely hate with a passion), all because *they* can’t simply ignore the problem.

So my advice to the team trying to come up with a fix: don’t waste your time if your users won’t take any to fix their behavior.

Ninja (profile) says:

O wow, we have plenty of examples right here in TD. There was ‘out of the blue’, ‘average joe’, ‘bob’, ‘Daryl’ and many others that have plenty of comments that will surely enrich the research. The interesting part is that at some point they seemingly got tired/got something else to pass time and simply vanished. It seems we have less prolific trolls nowadays and they are more varied.

TD is a nice case study.

timmaguire42 (profile) says:

I have no idea how to respond to an ISIS recruiter other than to report them.

In terms of comment threads and chat rooms, ignoring works best. Whatever you do, never take the bait. In any argument (whether with a troll or with someone posting in good faith), never forget you are not trying to convince the other person, you are trying to convince the 50 or 500 people silently reading. The winner is usually the person who doesn’t seem crazy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Journalist are infallible and should always be trusted, unlike Preachers, Scientist, or the Police

Getting rid of comments, explaining that that’s how you expand conversation,call everyone who disagree hateful racist bigot abusive trolls. Band together and get other media outlet to do the same to form consensus. Lie, Godwin, accuse people of CP, and revoke the gayness of ingrates.

I respected Snopes because they’d use to constantly tell us to be wary of “authoritative” sources itself included, the whole lost legend section dedicated to this idea, and the exploits of Joey Skaggs serving as a cautionary tale of how callous the media can be. It sadden me to see all my lose all my heroes to the current madness and it fills me with a great degree of self doubt.

Why can’t TD and the like simple try their best attempt at the truth and have faith that those interested in that sort of thing will gravitate towards that even if its a small minority, its a wonderful thing. Instead it seems the greater the influence the more assured they become that secretly 90% of the viewership is reading out of spite.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Journalist are infallible and should always be trusted, unlike Preachers, Scientist, or the Police

Anonymous Coward wrote:

I respected Snopes because they’d use to constantly tell us to be wary of "authoritative" sources itself included… It sadden me to see all my lose all my heroes to the current madness and it fills me with a great degree of self doubt.

Is Snopes doing anything differently than always they have done? They’ve always debunked lies and wild stories with facts, and cited their sources.

If you’re uncomfortable with Snopes’ fact-checking, but can’t show where they’ve erred (and not corrected it), maybe they’re not the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Journalist are infallible and should always be trusted, unlike Preachers, Scientist, or the Police

Funny nobody asked for citation but I will be glad to supply them to you:
The author claims its mostly False.Zero citation and original research. The evidence against the mostly false includes University’s Newspaper, which is pro-protest, supplying ample examples due to self-righteous students lack of self awareness.

Aside from the cringy framing of this myth. The claim that its mostly not true, is not only false its demonstratively false. The internal research of the article itself renders the judgement demonstratively false. The author’s line of reason isn’t exactly difficult to read. She felt that the this information was being use as a political cheap shot, which it was, and want to set it proper context. Which I agree that Hillary was just doing her job as a appointed defense attorney, failing to do so would not only be unprofessional, a violation of ethics, but literally illegal. In an interview she did in fact made a arguably tasteless joke about “no longer trusting polygraph, after it help prove her defendant innocent” and laugh at it. This in a sense also shows remorse, but it also in context made her sound a cold bitch, IMO, but it could be explain by poor social skills that still apparent 40 years later. However, nothing about the claim that “Hillary Clinton successfully defended an accused child rapist and later laughed about the case” is false.

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 »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

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