August 12, 2013


Internet trolls: a guide to the different flavours : It's relatively easy to deal with those who pour forth hatred online. But the greater threat comes from the more subtle spreaders of misery and doubt (Claire Hardaker, 7/01/13,

Many of us have a working idea of what trolling is - causing mischief online for fun. But fewer of us realise that trolling comes in a wide variety of flavours. A small handful of those in my research include RIP trolls, who spend their time causing misery on memorial sites; fame trolls, who focus all their energies on provoking celebrities; care trolls, who purport to see abuse in every post about children or animals; political trolls who seek to bully MPs out of office; and many others besides.

Moreover, trolls don't simply spew vile tirades of abuse. In fact, the data repeatedly shows that such obvious trolls are easier to deal with. When someone pours forth unprovoked hatred, there is really only one interpretation: they're aiming to manipulate your feelings (eg to hurt you) or even your behaviour (eg to delete your Twitter account). However, such attempts are so painfully obvious that they are easy to identify, block, and if serious enough, to prosecute.

Where we need greater understanding is in the world of covert trolling. This craftier breed is neither obviously hateful, nor openly offensive. Instead, these trolls live in the twilight between what we think their intentions are, and what they really intend. The fact is that we never know another person's intentions. We are only ever guessing, based on the evidence they present us with, and a crafty troll will present just enough evidence of being credible that to block them would seem like a dangerous step towards infringing free speech. Such trolls will even use this defence, and accuse those who block them of cowardice, censorship, and losing the argument. The average individual is left stuck between doing the morally upstanding thing (upholding free speech, engaging in a debate) and the wise thing (protecting their own peace of mind).

In short, while obvious trolls are an unsophisticated hammer on the nerves, covert trolls are the insidious, fine-tuned torture of doubt and misery. These are the trolls whose behaviour is most difficult to capture under current legislation (and indeed, some free-speech activists would argue that their behaviour should not be captured), yet they are also the type that, for the ordinary user, can be most damaging. The most common question I get now is, "How should I deal with trolls?"

Our theory regarding trolls is pretty simple : while it is unobjectionable for commentors to be merely wrong (in other words, to disagree with us) we're ultimately responsible for what appears on our site, so we don't tolerate them being malicious.  

We set ourselves some rules for the front of the blog:

(1) No profanity. 

(2) Minimal self-reference (though none would be unnatural) 

(3) Minimal linking to other blogs. 

(4) Minimal reference to comments.  (Folks who write comments don't get to do so on the front page, so we try not to write about them on the front.) 

(5) Try--though I'm bad about this myself--to only quote about three paragraphs, or no more than a third,  of any story you blog.  We want folks to go read it at the site that owns it.  But if you need to use more to make the excerpt make sense, no problem. 

(6) Always link to the original--we want folks to read the whole thing--and don't use links that pop up a new browser window.  It's annoying for readers and if we aren't interesting enough for them to navigate back to us, that's our problem. 

(7) Never let it interfere with real life. 

And, in turn, have a few requirements in the comments:

(1) No profanity

(2) No personal attacks

(3) No linking to dubious sources

(4) No espousal of hateful political theories (which, predictably, only ever occurs in discussions of religion, Darwinism and immigration)

And, lastly, a guideline, rather than a rule:

(5) Ask one question or raise one point at a time and we'll be happy to address it.  Ask or raise 5 and we'll still address just one.


Posted by at August 12, 2013 4:22 AM

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